Faith, identity, status and schooling: an ethnography of educational decision-making in northern Senegal

Newman, Anneke (2016) Faith, identity, status and schooling: an ethnography of educational decision-making in northern Senegal. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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This thesis investigates how families in northern Senegal negotiate between state and
Islamic schools. Studies of education strategies within anthropology of education
predominantly employ Bourdieu’s concept of capital. These studies are useful for
illuminating the role of education within people’s strategies of social mobility, but tend
to render invisible preferences based on non-material considerations like spiritual
benefits. To overcome this challenge, this thesis uses economic theory which
acknowledges both intrinsic and material factors informing school choice. It draws on
fifteen months’ ethnographic fieldwork comprising life histories, informal interviews
and participant observation.
The thesis contributes to several debates in anthropology of development and education.
Findings reveal the importance of a caste-like social hierarchy in shaping education
strategies, and challenge simplistic predictions common in development discourse about
how gender or being Muslim influence educational trajectories. Results also show how
education preferences reflect context-specific routes to social mobility. In northern
Senegal, lack of formal sector employment makes the secular state school’s promises of
economic advancement largely inaccessible. Qur’anic schools present a more certain
investment for men of privileged social groups who monopolise access to this
education, for the prestige of Islamic knowledge and insertion into trade and migration
networks. Intrinsic benefits of Qur’anic schooling, like blessing and moral education,
also inform school preference. These factors are neglected in development discourse
and state education provision - including recent reforms to engage Islamic knowledge to
meet Education For All and the Millennium Development Goal – due to secularist and
rationalist biases. This undermines families’ access to affordable schooling that
combines the intrinsic and material benefits which they prioritise, and privileges those
who can afford private alternatives. Inspired by applied anthropology committed to
social justice, this thesis draws on people’s strategies to overcome these challenges to
recommend non-formal alternatives to enable education provision compatible with
popular worldviews.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > Anthropology
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology > GN301 Ethnology. Social and cultural anthropology
L Education > LG Individual institutions (Asia. Africa. Oceania) > LG401 Africa > LG551 Senegal
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 27 Apr 2016 06:18
Last Modified: 30 May 2017 10:13

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