Australian Journal of Cultural Studies
Vol. 1 No. 2, December 1983

Making a difference to whom and to what?

Jane Kenway

R.W. Connell, D.J. Ashenden, S. Kessler, G.W. Dowsett. Making the Difference: Schools, Families and Social Division. Sydney: George Allen and Unwin, 1982. 228 pages.

Making the Difference: Schools Families and Social Division is one of George Allen & Unwin's best-selling non-fiction books of 1982 and has been acclaimed by a majority of reviewers as the most important book about Australian schools to have been published for many years. The book's authors, particularly Bob Connell and Dean Ashenden, have gained considerable prominence in educational circles in Australia. This is largely due to the success of the book, but is also due to the authors' appearances on many media outlets and at a variety of meetings of teachers and parents. Their populist style and linguistic, theoretical and personal accessibility, their em phasis on practice, and their claims that social change may be brought about through hard work and 'strategic gains' on the ground, contribute to the strong appeal which their writing and their rhetoric have for teachers and parents. Also, one suspects, certain kinds of 'bourgeois' academics find in their work a congenial form of leftism. Since Making the Difference, Connell and Ashenden have been in heavy demand as speakers at conferences for educational researchers and teachers. They have used these occasions to publicise two major preoccupations which appear to have emerged for them in the process of producing the book. The first is a call for educational reform the second a refusal of reproduction theory.

The justification for, and the content of, the research group's call for reform is contained in the final chapter of the book. It includes a summary of the extensive, tangled and largely ineffective debate about the causes of and solutions to educational inequality and notes particularly the failure of those reforms which have arisen from the notion of equality of opportunity. Connell et al.'s call for reform is one which rejects the 'competitive/academic curriculum' for one which works in the interests of the majority of the population rather than the 'ruling class' minority. On the basis of the predictable conclusion in Making the Difference that certain private schools are organic to the ruling class—and their distressing evidence which shows the extent to which state schools are a disruptive, disempowering force in the lives of the working class—the group call for a form of schooling organic to the working class.

This is probably one of the more important outcomes of the book, particularly given the group's success in placing the question—in this form—on the agenda of mainstream educational debate. Unfortunately no more than three and a half pages of the book are


devoted to thinking this claim through. Many of us can be forgiven a sense of deja vu, as all that we learn, essentially, is that the con tent and purpose of these schools should be rethought (without rejecting all that has gone before), that learning rather than competitive ranking should be emphasised, that this learning should begin with the experience of working class kids, 'with the circumstances which shape it, but not stop there,' that the curriculum should be negotiated with the local community (but not too much so), and that ties with the Education Department should be loosened. So what's new? We are offered (with qualifications) the ruling class school as a model of a school organic to its class. Finally we learn that as teachers are central to the education process, they should bear the main burden of thinking through and bringing about much of this change Parents, administrators, unions, researchers, and the women's and labour movements are encouraged to be 'involved'

Those who are concerned about education's role in reproducing social injustice and who believe in the emancipatory possibilities of schooling can not help but endorse the worthiness of this call for reform, and admire—even envy—the political energy and charismatic swagger of its two principal proponents. However, they may also wish—and even endeavour to ensure—that these calls for educational change move beyond the delivery of effective slogan systems on to the terrain of detailed critical discussion and debate about such things as what is 'really useful knowledge', how might a school become 'organic' to the working class, where does one begin and what might be the wider social impact? Slogans, while powerful emotional energisers, have a limited political life, particularly when they are directed at the practice of a body of state school teachers overburdened already with the demands and pressures of their job. Change emanates very slowly from the ground and teachers who may initially be moved by the rhetoric will soon tire, without structural changes which can only arise from within the 'practice' of other concerned people, particularly those holding power, at a variety of levels in a variety of institutional and political settings. Only time will tell whether the educational politics of Connell et al make any significant difference at all.

The validity of Connell, Ashenden, Kessler and Dowsett's claims to have gone beyond reproduction theory can be assessed now and that is the purpose of the rest of this paper.

At the Sociology Association of Australia and New Zealand Conference in Melbourne, August, 1983, Dean Ashenden began his address on Theories of Cultural and Economic Reproduction by asserting that 'Reproduction theory is up a cul de sac, it no longer produces good work but inhibits it. ' A week earlier at the National Curriculum Conference in Adelaide Bob Connell, as one of the keynote speakers, argued for 'alternative methods of theorising the ways in which schools contribute to relationships of domination and oppression. Such claims are not new to either Ashenden or Connell. Since


1978 both have argued this in a number of articles, which not only critique the content of reproduction theory, but also lament both its pessimism and its limited political value (Abbey and Ashenden, 1978, Ashenden, 1979; Connell, 1979, 1980). Connell centres his critique upon the work of Bourdieu and Passeron, Lefebvre, and particularly that of Althusser. In a polemic with many similarities but neither as sustained, entertaining nor as vitriolic as E. P. Thompson's attack on Althusser (Thompson, 1978), Connell clearly demonstrates his place among what Richard Johnson (1979) has call ed the 'Culturalists' and, as I shall demonstrate later, Making the Difference embodies many of the strengths and weaknesses of the work within this loose categorisation. Not surprisingly, given the success of Making the Difference, George Allen & Unwin have recently published a collection of Connell's essays which includes the works just mentioned (Connell, 1983). Given the brief sortie against reproduction theory in Making the Difference and the very limited overt statement of the theoretical perspectives within which the group are working, I believe the book may be best read in con junction with this recent publication which includes articles on class, patriarchy and culture. Prior to the publication of their book, Connell Ashenden, Kessler and Dowsett published a number of papers arising from their Home, School and Work project which emphasised in various ways the need and their intention to break with reproduction theory (Ashenden et al., 1980; Connell, 1981). More recently, in a rather injured response to Doug White's assertion (in his unsympathetic review in Arena) (White, 1982) that they simply give reproduction theory a 'human face', the research collective (as they like to call themselves) produce yet another rebuttal (Connell et al. 1983)

What is their alternative? What are its virtues? Does it achieve what it sets out to do and at what cost? I shall now consider these issues

Making the Difference was written in opposition to what the group regard as the highly abstract, ahistorical, structurally deterministic, elitist and politically 'useless' nature of reproduction-and-education theorising. Working within a broad framework of humanist Marx ism, drawing from the theories of practice of Giddens and particularly Sartre, and from the class-constructionist work of Thompson, Connell et al. have produced their conceptual and methodological alternative to reproduction theory and to what I call 'reproduction ethnography' (as exemplified in the work of Willis). The essential ingredients of their alternative include the replacement of static metaphors of position with those of motion (dynamics, project, negotiation, process, strategy, reciprocity); and a perception of people as insightful and creative, not created by structures or blinded by ideology. We see a focus from the ground up rather than top down, one across, rather than frozen within time. Connell et al. stress the 'doing of history' at the individual, group, institutional and structural


level. The concepts basic to their approach are 'practice' _ the activities of people as they live their daily lives, 'situation'—the lived milieu in this case of home, school, and to an extent work and 'structure'—the social and cultural characteristics of the social formation. Each level is seen to be a different aspect of the same dynamic reality and each exists in a reciprocal relationship with the others. So, in the context of the above, people actively choose their own life 'projects'. They develop 'strategies' for negotiating and bringing about these choices within the 'conflicting demands and possibilities' of situations and structures. These situations and structures in turn are seen as evolving from the interactive practices of people preceding those presently 'positioned' and which continue to evolve through the ongoing interplay of choice and action of people around them. To Connell (and presumably Ashenden, Kessler and Dowsett), social relations of domination and oppression (at least those they focus on—class and gender) are constantly being constructed in ways similar to but not replicating ('intelligently succeeding, but not reproducing') those which have gone before (Connell, 1980).

In their research procedure, the authors have 'a bob each way' in the hope of avoiding the worst excesses of the two research paradigms most popular in the sociology of education over the years ie. the structure-blind myopia of much of the ethnographic work of the 'new sociology of education' and the superficiality of much of the 'number crunching' of the social stratificationists. Their final sample of 100 'ruling class' and working class white anglo-saxon adolescents from two-parent families in Adelaide and Sydney was sieved through survey methods. This approach gave them a comparative breadth within the restricted sample they chose to work with and allowed for intensive unstructured interviews of students (100), parents (196), teachers (118) and principals (10). The intensive interview produced the bulk of their data and was the cornerstone of their approach. It was through these interviews that they constructed personal, family and school (classed and gendered) biographies. This gave them a rich, fascinating and bulky body of material to work with, one which apparently will form the basis of another joint production on school teachers

This almost total reliance upon microsituations, as perceived by actors was, given the authors' theoretical and political preferences, an obvious methodological choice. For the researchers to have taken on the role of observing social scientists with the implications this has of being outside ideology—of seeing more clearly than participants—would have been regarded as elitist and intrusive. In addition, it would have been very difficult—if not impossible—given the historical aspect of the studies. Recognising all this, it is the phenomenological focus which contributes to some of the weaknesses of the work; as I will show later.


It is not my intention here to go into detail about the contents of the book. This is done in a number of reviews elsewhere (eg. Samuel, 1983). However, I will outline the essential questions the book addresses. First, what is it about the interactive practices within and between both ruling-class families and the private education they purchase for their children which contributes to the ongoing pro cess of class domination? Second, what is it about the interactive practices within and between both working class families and the state schools their children attend which contributes to the ongoing process of working-class subordination? Third, how do gender pro cesses of domination, oppression and emancipation operate within each family and school (class) setting? And finally, set within the context of the broad sweep of the history of Australian education, how have these two sets of dynamics impinged upon the class and gender nature of Australian society? The work centres on 'kids' and includes throughout a very moving wealth of case-historical detail. It begins with families and schools, then moves on to the implications for society of these forms of schooling. It concludes, as I mentioned earlier, rather weakly, with a short section on implications for a democratic strategy for Australian schooling

Rhetoric, alternative conceptual apparatus and wishful thinking aside, does Making the Difference provide a viable theoretical and methodological alternative to reproduction theory and reproduction ethnography? My impression is that it has moved beyond what I call early reproduction and education theorising but that it fails to go beyond some of the more recent developments within this broad theoretical paradigm. In order to demonstrate this point, a detour through these developments is necessary.

Theories illuminating the role which the cultural and ideological aspects of schooling play in the production and reproduction of social division and social injustice have made considerable progress since the early work of Bowles & Gintis, Bourdieu & Passeron, and Althusser. In fact Bowles & Gintis, amongst others, have substantially revised their earlier work (Bowles and Gintis, 1981). People such as Giroux (1981), Apple (1982) and Wexler (1981) from the US., Arnot (formerly MacDonald) and Whitty (1982) from the UK, and Sharp (1980) in Australia have performed a valuable theoretical service in acknowledging the contribution of this earlier work and arguing for the retention of its best aspects, in highlighting a number of its defects, and in offering a variety of directions for theoretical development by re-applying the insights of various bodies of work from outside education. Reproduction and education work is now more wide ranging and complex, drawing upon a mainly (but not exclusively) neo-Marxist range of theories of class, patriarchy, ideology and critical theory, history, culture and youth subculture, linguistics and semiotics, the labour process, the state, and depth psychology. A number of collected essays have become available over the last few years which illustrate this range (eg. Apple, 1982; Dale


et al., 1981, 1982; Barton et al. 1980). While it is difficult to generalise across such a rapidly growing field, a number of broad themes and distinct emphases are recognisable. Reproduction and production remain the rather overworked, overarching concepts and Gramsci is the most central theoretical figure. The current emphasis is upon complexity and contradiction; conflict and struggle; the production and reception of meanings; and upon acknowledging history. Efforts are being directed towards theoretically and empirically work ing through the complex linkages between structure and agency; class gender and ethnicity; and accommodation and resistance. There is an increasing recognition of the importance of interaction between schools and other social sites such as the family, the state, the media youth culture, and the youth culture industry. In addition and very Importantly the non-reproductive aspects of schooling have been acknowledged. There has been a particular concern, as a consequence, to produce work of political value in empowering oppress ed social groups—hence the work on critical pedagogy. The boom in the publication of this literature has occurred contemporaneously with the preparation of Making the Difference. In fact, three of the collections mentioned earlier were published in the same year Given that Connell et al. chose to offer a selected Reading Guide rather than an extensive bibliography we have no indication as to the degree of their familiarity with the extensive and varied theoretical reflection and growth of the last five years. Certainly much may have occurred while Making the Difference was in the process of publication. Both factors make it difficult to know whether they are rejecting this body of work as a whole and are claiming to have moved beyond it, whether they are rejecting the earlier work and failing to recognize the wealth of work done since, or whether they believe that the work I have just outlined belongs outside production and reproduction theory.

Whatever the case, readers will note many similarities of inspiration and intention between the developments which I have just outlined and the work of Connell et al. They will note, for example, the obvious debts to Gramsci's concepts, to the work from the Birmingham Centre for Cultural Studies on youth cultures, to Willis's work on resistance and schooling and upon reproduction through the production of class cultures in schooling. Readers may also note that the insights of Bourdieu and Bowles & Gintis haven't been entirely lost. Beneath their wealth of personal details Connell et al. have to acknowledge the alienating effects of curriculum content and assessment upon the working class, the importance of cultural continuity between home and school, and the anticipatory socialisation of the hidden curriculum. However, in ignoring the empowering relationship between the culture of the ruling class and the curriculum (and incidentally failing to admit that ruling-class children do equally well in state schools without the benefit of a market or network) in minimising to the point of obliteration the connection between


the State and private schools (cf. Teese, 1982), and in true populist fashion refusing to take seriously the concept of ideology and thereby failing even to confront recent developments in this particular theoretical field, Connell et al. exclude some of the most important insights that reproduction theory has produced.

Despite the group's openness about the problems of their research design and their egalitarian approach to group research, their methodology is essentially untheorized. With the odd, somewhat trite exception, the interview is largely treated as an unproblematic mode of data gathering. The following assertion from one of the group s working papers illustrates their superficiality in this regard. As their primary sources are different people's accounts of broadly the same events, the group argue that 'this allows us to cross check and validate information ... and more importantly to see how differently the same events register with different participants'(Connell et al., 1981). The contradictions in this claim are obvious. I believe Connell et al. s failure to problematize the data produced through interviews stems primarily from their failure to grapple with the more subtle nuances of theories of ideology and with ideology critique (Sumner, 1979). It seems that they don't wish to recognize that people's accounts include moments of both insight and blindness, that they are selective, partial and often 'interested', even in the most successful of interviews, or even that certain phenomena may be simply outside of people's consciousness.

Ideology critique and even ethnography demand more than insiders' perceptions. Both require that the researcher pay attention to what is said and to what is done. Ideology critique also requires that consciousness and surface reality be 'read' against the grain—even treated with some suspicion; that attention also be given to silences—to what is not said and not done. One would therefore not expect fully to understand the operations of a social site without some study of its actual practices, and material artifacts. One may then validate the accuracy of one's interpretations not simply as did Connell et al., by feeding back to the producers of the data that which surfaced in their consciousness in the first place, but by seek ing alternative modes (difficult given their methodological choice, I recognize). No doubt as 'culturalists'. Connell et al. are good listeners, but had they deigned to take the best from the 'structuralists' and conducted some 'readings', their account would have been more comprehensive and less subject to the ideologies of their interviewees. For example the group produced an account of ruling class schools which, despite the condemnatory market metaphor, showed them to be places where parents' wishes may well be accommodated, where a highly professional body of teachers show considerable dedication in producing disciplined and educated students well equipped to enter 'meritocratic careers', where a school 'family' is produced despite contradictions and differences. This is an image which the schools, I am sure, would be delighted to endorse and


at one level of reality such a description has validity. But this is also, of course, part of the schools' ideology.

Part of the success of the class project of private schools has been due not just to client power and market forces but to the ability to claim a near monopoly upon the concept of 'good schooling', on such popular education discourses as academic excellence, community involvement, school discipline, teacher professionalism and even, in girls' schools, on non-sexist education. This outward projecting ideology may be tapped best through documentary evidence such as school prospectuses, speech night addresses, or newspaper reports It has the effect not only of enhancing the image and drawing-power of private schools (as no doubt will Making the Difference), but also has a disempowering and demoralising effect upon state schools. This ideology ignores much else of what private schools are about. It ignores their narrow definitions of valued knowledge; the intensive, stress-creating, exam-directed learning; and an emphasis upon conformity which devalues such things as religious and cultural difference. Connell et al. failed to observe the extent to which the demands of the school actually intrude into the life of the family in many small but significant ways. For example the meticulous demands of school uniforms, the ongoing expectation of voluntary services, and the continuing pressure for financial expressions of loyalty. Such factors may help a school help a class to unify itself but they certainly irritate many parents. Do such 'petty' irritations often surface in interviews?

My impression is that the book has made a significant contribution to reproduction theory in a host of valuable ways and, if the politics of international publishing permit, the book should put the authors into as many bibliographies as Learning to Labour put Willis. It offers a distinctively Australian version of reproduction through education and this is important, particularly for those of us here who for so long have largely had to extrapolate from European, British and American versions. Further, though—in being so consciously critical of the theory, it overcomes many of its defects. It brings to a body of work often weighed down with conceptual complexity not just 'a dose of awkward facts', as they say, but a surge of life—the complexity of the day to day—of flesh and blood, of worlds of success and failure, frustration and complacency, resentment and pride, and the hurt and healing of people struggling to maintain or improve the structured conditions of their lives. In concentrating upon history and practice at all levels and upon the complex linkages between certain social situations, it builds a picture of a divided and unjust society in action. Part of the book's political power is that it forces this recognition.

What it does not do, however, is prove the truth of Ashenden's earlier claim—or provide the alternative Connell called for. Despite its rich 'on the ground' detail, its perceptive and sympathetic analysis of this detail, and despite the exceptions to and complexities of


reproduction, which this analysis throws up, we still see the structures of domination and oppression proceeding relentlessly forward in changing ways via a multiplicity of modifications within the practices of people. Connell et al. may escape charges of functionalism, ahistoricism, theoreticism and elitism. Through their emphasis upon practice and therefore on possibility, they also escape charges of pessimism. However, in relating the marriage market only to girls and in talking of mothers in paid work as part-time mothers without applying the same term to fathers, they don't entirely escape charges of sexism—despite their excellent work on gender. Moreover, overall, despite their best intentions, they do not, as they claim, avoid reproductionism. They have made a difference, but most certainly not the one which they had hoped to make.

Murdoch University

Note: Many of the insights which provide a backdrop for this review were reached through discussions with Bill Green and Shirley Grundy.


Abbey, B., and Ashenden, D. (1978) 'Explaining Inequality,' Australian and New Zealand Journal of Sociology, No. 14, pp. 5-13.

Arnot, M., and Whitty, G. (1982) 'School Texts, The Hidden Curriculum and the Curriculum in Use,' Discourse, Vol. 3, No. 1 pp. 1-21.

Apple, M.W, (ed.) (1982) Cultural and Economic Reproduction in Education: Essays on Class, Ideology and the State, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Ashenden, D. (1979) 'Australian Education: Problems of a Marxist Practice,' Arena, No. 54, pp. 43-58.

Ashenden, D., et al. (1980) 'Class and Secondary Schooling, Discourse, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 1-19.

Barton, L., Meighan, R., and Walker, S. (1980) Schooling, Ideology and the Curriculum, Sussex: Falmer Press.

Bowles, S. and Gintis, H. (1981) 'Contradictions and Reproduction in Educational Theory,' in Dale, R., et al. (eds.) (1981).

Connell, R.W. (1979) 'Complexities of Fury Leave . . . A Critique of the Althusserian Approach to Class,' Theory and Society, Vol. 8, No. 3, pp. 303-345.

Connell, R.W. (1980) 'On the Wings of History,' Arena, No. 55, pp. 32-55.

Connell, R.W. (1983) Which Way Is Up? Essays on Class, Sex and Culture, Sydney: Allen and Unwin.

Connell, R.W., et al. (1981) 'Class and Gender Dynamics in a Ruling Class School,' Interchange, Vol. 12, Nos. 2-3, pp. 102-117.


Connell, R.W., et al. (1983) 'In Defence of Making the Difference,' Arena, No. 62, pp. 88-95.

Dale, R., et al. (eds.) (1981) Education and the State, Vol. 1: School ing and the National Interest, Sussex: Falmer Press.

Dale, R., et al. (eds.) (1982) Education and the State, Vol. 2: Politics, Patriarchy and Practice, Sussex: Falmer Press.

Giroux, H. (1981) Ideology, Culture and the Process of Schooling, Sussex: Falmer Press.

Johnson, R. (1979) 'Histories of Culture/Theories of Ideology: Notes on an Impasse,' in Barrett, M., et al., Ideology and Cultural Reproduction, London: Croom Helm, pp. 49-77.

MacDonald, M. (1979) 'Cultural Reproduction: The Pedagogy of Sexuality,' in Screen Education, Nos. 32-33, pp. 141-153.

Samuel, L. (1983) Review of Making the Difference, Radical Education Dossier, Winter Issue, pp. 16-19.

Sharp, R. (1980) Knowledge, Ideology and the Politics of Schooling: Towards a Marxist Analysis of Education, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Sumner, C. (1979) Reading Ideologies, London: Academic Press.

Teese, R. (1982) Review of Making the Difference, Thesis II, Nos. 5-6, pp. 328-331.

Thompson, E.P. (1978) The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays, London: Merlin Press.

Wexler, P. (1981) 'Body and Soul: Sources for Social Change and Strategies for Education, ' British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol. 2, No. 3.

White, D. (1982) 'Review Article: Making the Difference,' Arena, No. 61, pp. 169-176.

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