Parents Associations, Social Reproduction and Interculturality: Notes from a Sociological Research
School of Education and Social Sciences Leiria Polytechnic Institute Leiria, Portugal
My research has focused on the relationship between two central institutions of our current societies, schools and families, which I have theorized (Silva, 2003a) as including a) a relationship among cultures, i.e., a relation among the local culture(s) and school culture ? this one theorized by Bourdieu and others as the social dominant one and predominantly written, urban and middle class; and b) a double dyad (home and school strands; and individual and collective dimensions of action).
My investigation ? about the influence of social class and gender in home-school relations ? led me to deal with several social actors and realize that parents associations (PAs) can be an important social actor, either a central or a peripheral one, depending on each context and conjuncture.
What and whom are PAs for? This main research question led me to raise several others: Are they a middle class job? Do ?professional parents? (Beattie, 1985) tend to relate equally to all groups of parents, regardless social class, gender and ethnicity? Do they relate preferably with teachers and school administrators, also middle class jobs? Can they be ?partner-parents? (Stoer and Silva, 2005) and become a privileged bridge between school culture and the local community, even when this one is basically composed of popular culture and ethnic minorities? How do PA leaders tend to articulate individual and collective action? How do they manage to act in both home and school strands?
In order to get an answer to these questions I conducted, during two years, a study in three public elementary schools and their communities in the centre of Portugal, where, through a reflexive ethnography, I used participant-observation, ethnographic interviewing, document analysis, fieldnotes and content analysis (Silva, 2003b).
I found that PA leaders tend a) to be (new) middle class; b) to act as organizational centaurs (Ahrne, 1994); and that c) different PAs develop, implicitly or explicitly, multiple purposes which may not take into account parents expectations and interests. Only having this in mind can we ensure a democratic cooperation and dialogue among social actors and promote equity in home-school-community links and a bridge among different cultures.