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School of Education
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
+44 (0)1865 488466
Patrick Alexander is a social anthropologist specialising in education, childhood and youth studies. Patrick's research and teaching interests include the sociology of schooling, youth and youth subcultures, gender, ethnography, and social theory.
Patrick is Research Lead for the School of Education, with oversight for research and knowledge exhange activity. Patrick is also Director of the Centre for Educational Consultancy and Development (CECD), where he leads consultancy and contract research actvity in the field of education.
A Fulbright Scholar, Patrick is a Fellow of the RSA, HEA, Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI), and a Fellow of International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (IUAES). Patrick is also Research Fellow at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford. Patrick is Editor of the journal Teaching Anthropology.
Patrick teaches across a range of postgraduate undergraduate modules focusing on the sociology of childhood and youth.
Patrick teaches across research methodology, academic writing, and social theory on the EdD programme.
Patrick supervises a number of doctoral students focusing on anthropology of education and related disciplines.
Patrick's most recent research explores schooling in the UK and United States, with a focus on how young people imagine the future and how they are socialised to anticipate particular future outcomes through the process of schooling.
Patrick is an active member of the Humanistic Perspectives Research Group in the School of Education.
He is also a member of the Oxford Brookes Gender Network.
Patrick is an active member of the Council on Anthropology and Education and the Anthropology of Childhood and Youth Special Interest Group of the American Anthropological Association.
ESRC Impact Accelerator Award (with Oxford University) (2017)
Daiwa Foundation Award (2015)
Fulbright-Peabody Scholarship (2014)
In 2016-2017 Patrick carried out a Brookes-funded research project with Professor Graham Butt and John Loewenthal exploring aspiration and imagined futures in rural and urban contexts in the UK. Find out more here.
In 2014 Patrick was awarded a Fulbright Peabody Scholarship to conduct research as a Visiting Scholar at New York University. This project comprised a two year comparative ethnographic study exploring aspiration and imagined futures in urban public/state schools in NYC and London. Find out more at the project blog.
Patrick is also involved in the Remembrance in Schools Project, exploring remembrance practices in UK schools.
Patrick leads an ESRC Impact Accelleration project exploring how teachers can engage with anthropological questions about culture and difference in schools. Patrick is working closely with the Interational Baccalaureate (IB) and colleagues teaching in IB Schools to develop this project (2016-2018).
Patrick delivers regular talks and workshops to schools both in the UK and internationally, with a focus on aspiration, imagined futures, and transition to life after school. If you would like Patrick to speak at your school or organisation, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
In 2017 Patrick devised FutureYou2020, an immersive mutli-media art-research installation aimed at engaging young people with questions about their futures and how the future is imagined. The installation has been seen by thousands of people in locations including The Ashmolean Museum, Pegagus Theatre (Outburst), the Oxford Science Bazaar, and eslewhere.
This book examines the nature of age as an aspect of social identity and its relationship to experiences of formal education. Providing a new and critical approach to debates about age and social identity, the author explores why age remains such an important aspect of self-making in contemporary society. Through an ethnographic account of a secondary school in the south-east of England, the author poses three principal questions. Why are schools in English organised according to age? How do pupils and teachers learn to ‘act their age’ while at school? Ultimately, why does age remain such an important and complex organising concept for modern society? Cutting across lines of class and gender, this timely book will be of interest to students and scholars of self-making and identity in educational contexts, and others interested in how schooling socialises young people into categories of age as the foundational building blocks of modern society.
This article uses a social generations approach to explore the lives of young people transitioning to life after schooling. Drawing on ethnographic research in England during the geopolitical uncertainty of 2016–2017, we track the trajectories and narratives of six individuals. The research begins with final year pupils in schools talking about their futures, during and after their A-Level exams. We then follow these individuals on routes to Higher Education and employment, exploring how they are socialised into imaginings of the future and/or struggle to inhabit these futures. A deeply ingrained, modernist, neoliberal reckoning of future time is normalised through experiences of schooling. However, this logic is troubled profoundly in the transition to life after school. Young people’s experiences in an unpredictable present run in stark contrast to the ordered trajectory of future action they have been socialised to expect. Amidst this uncertainty, ambivalence towards shaping the future (‘Fuck It, Shit Happens’) can in some ways feel like the most agentic stance to take. Furlong et al.’s (2011) social generations approach to understanding youth transitions reveals how we must critique the very concept of ‘the future’ if we are to understand the reality of youth transitions in the present.
Each November, commemoration of the First World War armistice (and subsequent military events and conflicts) is almost ubiquitous in UK schools and has been given increased importance during the centenary years of the First World War. Yet as seemingly isolated occasions outside the regular curriculum, school practices of remembrance, and the understandings and perceptions surrounding them, have been subject to surprisingly little scrutiny. The Remembrance in Schools project (2013–19) investigates armistice commemoration in primary and secondary schools in three counties in southern England. This paper considers the theorisation of public commemorative rituals and relates this to teachers’ reports of school-based events. It analyses teachers’ accounts and perceptions, from survey and interview data, of the ways in which the First World War and subsequent conflicts are remembered, presented and discussed through school commemoration events. We conclude that such events mirror the ‘social technologies’ of public remembrance rituals. However, behind almost ubiquitous practices (the two-minute silence) and symbols (the poppy), these accounts reveal nuanced variations in teachers’ views of the knowledge and values children gain from armistice commemoration in schools. These variations are inflected by individual schools’ histories, community contexts, and pupil demographics, as well as teachers’ own histories, values and ideals.
This article presents ethnographic research on the aspirations of graduates from a private university in New York City, some of whom move to Los Angeles. Findings depict financial and family pressures exerting a governing force upon the graduates’ futures, often beyond their control. Focusing on the narratives of four individuals, we introduce the language of fate as a means of conceptualising the potential repercussions of aspiration and Higher Education. The premise of both is an increased determinacy over one’s future, yet in the high-stakes U.S. context here examined, this financial investment and articulation of family hope may generate fated (seemingly inescapable) and/or fateful (ominous) outcomes. The dynamic of ‘cruel optimism’ (Berlant, 2011) illustrates some of the paradoxical consequences of Higher Education, whereby people may be punished by their aspirations. We discuss what factors affect differing outlooks on the future and imply alternative dimensions to adversity beyond the remit of ‘inequality’.
This article explores class, capital, and aspiration to social mobility in an ethnographic study of an English secondary school. In particular, the article considers the school’s musical instrument programme as a site for inculcating forms of capital, under the auspices of developing skills for upward social mobility. Bringing together Bourdieu’s conceptions of schooling with theories of materiality and situated learning, we contend that this school succeeds in cultivating new forms of embodied capital among students through the development of communities of musical practice. However, a tension remains between emancipatory aims of the programme and the sanctioning and championing of certain forms of dominant cultural practice. The learning environment of the instrument programme highlights the complex and conflicted impact that schooling can have on the development of cultural capital and on reproducing disadvantage and difference.
In this paper, we explore the usefulness of three different approaches to facilitating reflexivity and a critical awareness of emerging academic identities for doctoral students. This paper stems from a longitudinal research project entitled The Next Generation of Social Scientists, which was conducted across three research-intensive British universities and based at the University of Oxford. The research examined how doctoral students in a range of social science disciplines develop (or do not develop) notions of ‘academic’ identity as they move along the doctoral trajectory and into academic positions. In what follows we describe how three different data collection tools – weekly logs, interviews and a card-sorting activity – were used to encourage doctoral students to consider the process of constructing academic identities more actively and self-reflectively. We then consider how the use of these tools at two workshops further revealed how they can be utilised by academic developers to explore the needs of doctoral students and improve the support in place for this student group.
This special edition of Teaching Anthropology explores the common ground between pedagogy and the practice of anthropology. In particular we focus on the process of learning in order to think critically about unlearning that parallel process of loss, of reshaping, of uncertainty, of shedding intellectual skins, that makes up part of how we gain new knowledge and new forms of academic, institutional or disciplinary identity. To this end, learning unlearning is an exploration of the revelatory paradoxes that lie at the heart of pedagogy and anthropological inquiry.
Patrick Alexander argues that the current debate over the "toxicity" of childhood in contemporary Britain needs to be recontextualised if it is to provide helpful, positive discussion about the nature of childhood and education in the twenty-first century. He believes that "toxicity" suggests that we are dealing with a disease that needs to be cured: apparently, children are being poisoned by globalisation, new technology, and standardised testing, and we must seek the remedies to these ills. He argues that the framework of "toxicity" fails to appreciate the complexity of "childhood"; and also reinforces an image of the relationship between adults and children - or teachers and students - that is asymmetrical and alienating to the young people it presumes to help
This chapter explores neoliberal discourses of the self as they emerge in the transition from youth into early adulthood. My aim here is to explore the spatial and temporal parameters of neoliberal subjectivities as they are constructed at the end of secondary schooling. Specifically, I draw on ethnographic research in order to consider how seniors at a large public high school in The Bronx, New York City, negotiate ideas about aspiration in relation to constructions of masculinity and imaginings of the future. In rendering visions of their lives after school, students imagine themselves in multiple future times and spaces, often through narratives of partial or total escape from their community in The Bronx and towards visions of ‘the City’. In this case, ‘the City’ is occasionally the literal space of Manhattan, and sometimes a more abstract metropolitan destination representative of future success in keeping with an ideal neoliberal reckoning of the self. These removes correlate with imaginings of future masculinity as boys from the Bronx imagine themselves as men ‘from Manhattan’. However, the partial and multiple narratives of future selves that young men recount also reveal enduring tensions that at times challenge the notion of a singular, hegemonic, neoliberal logic of self. I make sense of the resulting tensions, contestations and multiple imaginings of the future through the novel conceptual frame of quantum personhood (Alexander, Masculinity and Aspiration: International Perspectives in the Era of Neoliberal Education. New York, Routledge, 2017). This concept draws on metaphors derived from quantum physics as a way to capture the concurrent, entangled future persons that are imagined as young people flit, electron-like—some self-assured, some uncertain, many a mix of both—towards the event horizon of early adulthood.
- Alexander, P. (forthcoming, 2018) Schooling and Social Identity: Learning to Act Your Age in Contemporary Britain. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Alexander P (2018) ‘Boys from the Bronx, Men from Manhattan’, in M. Paule & B. Clack (eds) Success in the Neoliberal Lifecycle: Alternative Perspectives on a Dominant Paradigm. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Alexander, P (2017) ‘Coming of Age Through The Recession: High School Imaginings of Post-Recession Futures in London and New York City’, in J. Nelson and G. Stahl (eds.), Masculinity and Aspiration: International Perspectives in the Era of Neoliberal Education. New York: Routledge.
- Alexander, P. (2014) ‘Learning to Act Your Age: ‘age imaginaries’ and media consumption in an English secondary school’ in D. Buckingham, M.J. Kehily & S. Bragg (eds.), Youth Cultures in the Age of Global Media. London: Palgrave MacMillan.
- Hopwood, N., Alexander, P., Harris-Huemmert, S., McAlpine, L. & Wagstaff, S. (2012) ‘The hidden realities of life as a doctoral student’, V. Mallan & A. Lee (eds.) International Perspectives on Doctoral Education: A Resource for Supervisors and Students. Serang, Malaysia: Universiti Putra Malaysia Press.
- Alexander, P. (forthcoming) ‘Anthropology of Education’, in Oxford Bibliographies in Anthropology, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Alexander, P. (2013) ‘Durkheim’, in J. Ainsworth & G. Geoffrey (eds.), Sociology of Education: An A-to-Z Guide. London: Sage.
Peer-reviewed articles& journal contributions
- Alexander, P. and Pollard, D. (forthcoming 2019) “An Attempt to Tip the Scales”: Music and Embodied Capital in an English Secondary School, British Journal of the Sociology of Education
- Alexander, P., Harris-Huemmert, S. & McAlpine, L. (2013) ‘Tools for Reflection on the Identity of Early Career Academics’, International Journal of Academic Development. DOI: 10.1080/1360144X.2013.817333
- Alexander, P. (2012) ‘Introduction’, Teaching Anthropology: A Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (Learning Unlearning Special Edition), Vol. 1, Issue 3, pp.1-5.
- Alexander, P. (2007) ‘Rethinking the Toxicity Debate: the vitality of contemporary childhood’, in Education Review, Vol. 20, No.1, pp.57-64.
n addition to academic research, Patrick has more than a decade of experience as a social research consultant. Patrick has worked with a range of stakeholders including the DfE, The British Council, The Higher Education Academy, the BBC Trust, the Co-Op, and many more.
Selected commissioned research:
- Kantar Public (special academic advisor) (2018) Learners and Apprentice Survey. Department for Education.
- Alexander, P, Aldridge, D, Deane, M. (2017) Skills for Researcher Development. Mexico DF: British Council Mexico.
- Alexander, P., Edwards, A., Menter, I., Fancourt, N. (2014) Raising Aspiration in Oxford City Schools. Oxford: Citi Foundation.
- Alexander, P. (2013) International Further Education Markets: An Analysis. Hong Kong: British Council.
- Mills, D. & Alexander, P. (2012) Small Group Teaching: A Toolkit for Learning. York: Higher Education
- Alexander, P., Marsh, P., Bradley, S. (2008) ‘Annex G: Children and Family Life: Socio-Demographic Changes’, in The Impact of the Commercial World on Children’s Wellbeing: Report of an Independent Assessment. London: Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF).
- Marsh, P., Alexander, P., Bradley, S (2008) Life in the UK Today: The role and citizen impact of Public Service Broadcasting. BBC Trust/SIRC.
- Marsh, P., Alexander, P. Bradley, S. (2008) Football Passions. Cannon/SIRC
Recent conference papers:
- 'Working and Reworking the Future: Narratives of Work at the End of Schooling in London and New York City', talk by invitation at Brunel University, 11/2018
- Panel co-organiser, ‘Temporalities of work, money, and fantasy’, Association of Social Anthropologists Annual Conference, Oxford 9/2018
- 'Rituals of Remembrance', BERA Annual Conference, 09/2018
- Organiser, Teaching Through Ethnography: Process, Product, Practice. Royal Anthropological Institute/Oxford Brookes University, 12/2017
- ‘Imagining a Future After High School: Young People Navigating Uncertain Citizenship in Contemporary Britain’, American Anthropological Association Annual Conference, Washington DC, 11/2017
- ‘Imagining the Future: An Art-Research Installation’, Oxford University Carnival of Curiosities (Ashmolean Museum), 09/2017
- ‘Narratives of Partial Resistance to the Neoliberal Colonisation of the Future’, Keynote at Educated People and Disciplined Bodies: Self-Governance(s) and Local Re-appropriations of Schooling. University of St. Andrews, 9/2017
- ‘Anthropology in Schools: Teaching About Culture and Difference in Uncertain Times’, World Humanities Conference (UNESCO), Liege, Belgium, 08/2017
- Co-organiser, Care, Commitment and the Life Course, AAGE Biennial Conference (American Anthropological Association), Oxford Brookes University, 06/2017
- ‘Imagining a Future After Schooling: Young People Navigating Uncertainty in Contemporary Britain’, by invitation at Oxford University Department of Education Public Seminar Series, 01/2017 (with Prof. Graham Butt)
- ‘Imagining a Future After Schooling: Anthropology and Public Engagement’, by invitation at University of East London, 01/2017-
- ‘Knowledge, Learning, and Schooling in Amazonia’, invited keynote to inaugurate EdD programme, Oxford Brookes University, 9/2016
- ‘Imagining A Future After Schooling: Quantum Personhood in the Lives of Young People in London and New York City’: ASA Annual Conference, Durham University, 07/2016
- ‘Figuring Quantum Personhood: Imagined Futures in London and New York City’, CAE New Scholar Panel, Familiar Strange: AAA 116th annual conference, Denver, CO, 11/2015
- ‘Imagining a Future After High School: An Ethnographic Account of Schooling in London and New York City’, presented by invitation at John Jay College, City University of New York, 4/2015
- ‘Coming of Age in High School: Imagined Futures, Quantum Personhood and Age Imaginaries’, presented by Invitation at New York University, 3/2015
- ‘Imagining the Future in London and New York City: preliminary findings’, presented by invitation at Teachers College, Columbia University, 2/2015
- ‘Imagining the Future: Aspiration, Inequality and Age Imaginaries in a Comparative Ethnography of Schooling in the US & UK’, Producing Anthropology: AAA 115th annual conference, Washington DC, 12/2014
- ‘Everyday Age Imaginaries’, Researching Children’s Everyday Lives: socio-cultural contexts, University of Sheffield, 06/2014