IMER Bergen
PhD Defense

PhD Candidate Kari Hagatun to defend her Thesis on 28 May

PhD Candidate Kari Hagatun, the former co-coordinator of IMER Junior Scholar Network, will be defending her thesis on Friday, 28 May.

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On 28 May 2021, PhD candidate Kari Hagatun will defend her thesis at the University of Bergen. Her thesis is called "The Educational Situation for Roma Pupils in Norway: Silenced Narratives on Schooling and Future".

The trial lecture on the 27th will be streamed online on Zoom, while the defence on the 28th will be entirely held in person with no possibility for streaming.   

The Educational Situation for Roma Pupils in Norway: Silenced Narratives on Schooling and Future is an article-based thesis exploring how Roma pupils experience their lives in school and the opportunities and challenges that pupils, their parents, and their teachers describe regarding formal education. Foregrounding the voices of parents and children and aiming to bring about knowledge that challenges structural inequality within the educational system, the thesis is firmly situated within the critical research paradigm.

During several periods of fieldwork conducted in Oslo from 2015 to 2019, three groups of participants contributed to the study; (1) Roma pupils in primary and lower secondary school, (2) Roma parents, and (3) teachers, teacher mediators, and school assistant mediators working with Roma pupils. A total of 37 participants were interviewed, while observant participation was conducted in homes and various other settings in the Roma community, as well as in six primary and lower secondary schools. A school assistant mediator contributed to parts of the fieldwork as a research assistant.

The thesis consists of three articles and an extended abstract discussing contextual, methodological, and theoretical issues important for the research presented in the articles. The three articles focus on (a) what we know – and do not know – about the educational situation for Roma in Norway, (b) how Roma mothers actively negotiate how to prioritize formal education and the core values and practices they experience as vital to “being Roma”, and (c) how Roma girls negotiate and are negotiated by colonial knowledge discourses and gendered and racialized practices in schools. While the first article both critically reviews existing knowledge in the field and presents empirical findings, the second and third are empirical.

In reviewing the existing literature on the educational situation for Roma in Norway, the first article – a country study – concludes that existing knowledge is scarce and that there is a pressing need for new empirical data to counter stereotyped public meta-narratives that assume “the Roma way of life” is the main reason for the persistence of the poor educational situation for Roma pupils. Not least, there is a need to explore Roma children’s own experiences and perspectives on schooling and the future. Furthermore, the article concludes that current educational policy does not appear to align with international commitments towards Roma as a national minority. The empirical contribution of the article addresses how the educational system tends to place Roma mediator assistants, who have been found to possess vital competences for Roma children’s schooling, into powerless positions.

The second article focuses on a group of Roma mothers who were found to actively prioritize formal education while still upholding the core values and practices they experience as vital to “being Roma”. The analysis identified three main negotiating strategies maintained by the mothers: (1) to inform and challenge schools, (2) to implement “foreign” routines to meet the expectations of the school system (called “doing school”), and (3) to negotiate with children in order to limit the risk of breaking the rules of purity within the community and to promote motivation for formal education. The findings challenge the powerful meta-narrative in Norwegian public debate in which Roma parents are portrayed as unwilling and unable to ensure formal education for their children.

The third article, which presents portraits of three young Roma girls in transition from primary to lower secondary school, demonstrates how pupils’ ethnicity is negotiated by schools in problematic ways, where ethnicity tends to be emphasized when it should not be or is not when it should be or is but not in the way it should be. Even good intentions lead to exoticizing and/or marginalizing Roma pupils. Hence, the findings illustrate the complexities in how racializing and gendering processes intersect in schools and how they are produced by – and reproduce – colonial structures in the educational system.

Overall, the thesis shows how Roma agency produces counter-narratives challenging racialized, gendered, and stereotyped metanarratives claiming that “Roma culture” is the main explanation for why Roma pupils struggle in school. Moreover, the thesis illustrates how Roma’s historical collective agency of resistance challenges the image of an inclusive and equal educational system in Norway. Turning the focus towards the explanatory power of the system and pointing towards some decolonial options, the thesis argues that Roma should be viewed as a resource for rather than a barrier to a better education – for all.

About the Candidate

Kari Hagatun is an associate professor at the Department of Education, Faculty of Psychology, UiB. She was a former co-coordinator of IMER Junior Scholar Network

The zoom link to her trial lecture may be found here and information about the defense here