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School of Education
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
+44 (0)1865 488466
Patrick is Reader in Education and 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 professional learning activity.
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. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in doctoral study.
Patrick Alexander is a social anthropologist specialising in education, childhood and youth. Patrick's research and teaching interests include the sociology of schooling, youth transitions and youth subcultures, gender, ethnography, and social theory. Patrick also researches knowledge production and professional learning in schools.
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 a board member of the Oxford Brookes Children and Young People Research Network
Patrick is also a member of the Space and Temporalities (S&T) Research Cluster within the School of Social Sciences' new Centre for Environment and Society (CES).
Patrick is an active member of the Humanistic Perspectives Research Group in the School of Education.
ESRC Impact Accelerator Award (with Oxford University) (2017)
Daiwa Foundation Award (2015)
Fulbright-Peabody Scholarship (2014)
A-Levels and Identity: Patrick is currently working with Dr. Carol Brown and Simon Bradley (SIRC) on a project exploring student perceptions of A-Levels during the pandemic, and how the changing experience of A-Levels shapes how young people are imagining the post-pandemic future. Please clicke here for the project page.
FutureYou2020: from 2017-2020 Patrick developed the art-research installation FutureYou2020, which was showcased at the Bodleian Library, Ashmolean Museum, Pegasus Theatre, and other spaces. The intention of the installation was to engage diverse publics, but especially young people, in a dialogue about how they envisage the future in a world of increasing uncertainty. One of the outcomes of this public engagement activity was the short ethnographic film, which can be viewed here.
Youth Transitions: In 2016-2017 Patrick carried out a Brookes-funded research project with Professor Graham Butt and Dr. John Loewenthal exploring aspiration and imagined futures in rural and urban contexts in the UK. Find out more here. Please see below for publications emerging from this research.
Imagining the Future: 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.
Remembrance in Schools: Patrick is a member of the Remembrance in Schools project, which since 2013 has explored how schools mark Armistace Day and frame the practice of remembrance. Please click here for more information.
Youth Transitions: Please see above or click here for more information about the FutureYou2020 Project.
Teaching about Culture and Difference in Schools: Patrick lead this ESRC Impact Accelleration Award-funded project (2016-2018) exploring how teachers can engage with anthropological questions about culture and difference in schools. The teaching toolkit developed from the project led to further close working with the Interational Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) and colleagues teaching in IB Schools to develop this impact activity further, in collaboration with the Royal Anthropological Institute.
School Engagement: Patrick delivers regular talks and workshops to schools both in the UK and internationally, with a focus on aspiration, imagined futures, and transitions to life after school. If you would like Patrick to speak at your school or organisation, please email email@example.com
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.
By analysing an academic exhibition on the Amazon region made by Year 5 children from an Oxford-based primary school, this qualitative study explores the ways that children perceive a representation of a natural environment geographically distant from their home context. The phenomenographic analysis of written and visual documentary sources focuses on incorporated biophysical and socio-cultural elements. Three hierarchically inclusive ways of perceiving the Amazon were identified: (1) Nature as species of wild fauna and their habitat; (2) Nature as political economy; and (3) Nature as an imaginative world. Correspondingly, findings highlighted: (1) children’s affiliation to other living organisms; (2) children’s stereotypical constructs in relation to developing countries; and (3) nature as a concept that is actively constructed by children, including the conjuring of imagined ‘natural’ worlds. The findings have implications for interdisciplinary approaches to Environmental Education in primary contexts.
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
In this chapter we apply the concept of practical theorising to the context of primary teacher education, focusing specifically on the ways that teachers develop subject knowledge alongside critical engagement with creative approaches to pedagogy. We begin by framing critically the concept of practical theorising in the context of primary teacher education. Then we move on to explore a successful example of practical theorising through the Thinking, Doing Talking Science (TDTS) project. TDTS draws on research that identifies key features of a creative pedagogy that supports cognitive development in science (McGregor 2007; McGregor and Gunter 2006; Davies and McGregor 2017) and focuses on teachers applying theoretical propositions related to a constructivist approach to learning science in a practical and inclusive way. A key component of the programme is the nurturing of ‘adaptive expertise’ (Berliner 2001) or the capacity to adopt a flexible, research-informed approach to the teaching of Primary Science. Through participation in the programme, teachers are encouraged to develop creative and challenging science lessons that encourage pupils to develop higher order thinking skills. Teachers enable their pupils to think and talk about scientific concepts through open discussion and through creative investigation and problem solving. In so doing, teachers model practical theorising as well as organising teaching and learning in a way that is underpinned by this concept. Results from the Education Endowment Foundation’s (EEF) funded efficacy trial (Hanley et al 2016) indicated that school pupils (aged 9-10) using the approach made approximately three additional months’ progress in science. The EEF research also presented evidence that there was a positive effect on girls and those pupils with lower prior attainment. There were also indications that the approach had most impact on pupils eligible for free school meals. With this in mind, we argue that the ‘practical theorising’ approach adopted by teachers engaged with the TDTS pedagogy provides more equitable opportunities for all pupils and has clear benefits for them, both in terms of learning outcomes and positive attitudes towards science. In terms of professional learning for teachers, TDTS provides clear guidance for them to practically theorise ways of affecting change in pupils’ learning in their science classes.
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. (2020) 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.
Peer-reviewed journal articles & journal contributions
Rey-Goyeneche, J. & Alexander, P. (2020) Wolves in the Amazon? Child perceptions of a distant natural environment in an English primary school, International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education,DOI:10.1080/10382046.2020.1797099
Annie Haight, A, Wright, S, Aldridge, D & Alexander, P. (2020) Remembrance Day practices in schools: meaning-making in social memory during the First World War centenary, Journal of Beliefs & Values, 42:1, 33-48, DOI: 10.1080/13617672.2019.1692556
Alexander, P., Loewenthal, J., Butt, G. (2019) ‘Fuck It, Shit Happens (FISH)’: a social generations approach to understanding young people’s imaginings of life after school in 2016–2017, Journal of Youth Studies, DOI: 10.1080/13676261.2019.1704406
Loewenthal, J., Alexander, P., Butt, G. (2019) ‘Fateful Aspects of Aspiration among Graduates in New York and Los Angeles’, International Studies in Sociology of Education, 28 (03-04), 345-361. DOI:10.1080/09620214.2019.1627898
Alexander, P. and Pollard, D. (2019) “An Attempt to Tip the Scales”: Music and Embodied Capital in an English Secondary School, British Journal of Sociology of Education DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01425692.2018.1540293.
Alexander, P. (2019) ‘The Wedding Present—‘Dare’. Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society, 43(2), 96-99. https://doi.org/10.30676/jfas.v43i2.77711
Alexander, P (2017) ‘Introduction: Teaching Anthropology in Uncertain Times’, Teaching Anthropology, Vol. 7, Issue 1, pp-1-5.
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.
Alexander, P. (2013) ‘Durkheim’, in J. Ainsworth & G. Geoffrey (eds.), Sociology of Education: An A-to-Z Guide. London: Sage.
schooling; social identity; age; youth transitions; aspirations; time and the future; gender; social theory; ethnography
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 was previously Research Fellow at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford and a visiting Scholar at New York University and the Autonamous University of Barcelona.
Patrick is on the Editorial Board of the Oxford Review of Education and was Editor of the journal Teaching Anthropology (2016-2020).
In 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:
- Social Issues Research Centre (academic advisor): 'A Word in Your Beer: Men, Masculinity, Mental Health, and Contemporary Beer Drinking Habits in the United Kingdom'. British Beer and Pub Association.
- 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:
- ‘FutureYou2020: (Ethnographic Film)’, International Society for Ethnology and Folklore Annual Conference, online June 2021
- ‘Teaching about Culture and Difference and Schools’, Royal Anthropological Institute Annual Conference, online 9/2020
- '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
Patrick joined Oxford Brookes as an Early Career Research Fellow in 2013. Prior to joining Oxford Brookes Patrick was College Lecturer in Social Anthropology at St. Hugh's College, Oxford, and a researcher in the Oxford University Department of Education working on a range of projects related to aspiration and social identity. He was also coordinator for qualitative research methods training for the Social Sciences Division at Oxford University. Patrick studied United States and Latin American Studies at King's College, London as an undergraduate before migrating to Oxford for postgraduate study (MSc Social Anthropology, 2005; PGCE English, 2006; DPhil Education, 2011; PCTHE 2017).
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