On Sentimental Education among American College Students
by Portia Culver Sabin - 2007
Background/Context: This study attempts to join the debate around the definition of “education” by looking at it as an ongoing, everyday social practice. It follows decades of work done on “love” in America and opens an inquiry into “friendship” as a product of situated practical action. It also challenges social science to shift its focus from the shaped individual to the social processes of shaping and transforming.
Purpose: To study the development and maintenance of relationships between college students in America.
Setting: A freshman-only college dormitory in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.
Population: Twenty-four18- and 19-year-old first- and second-year college students.
Research Design: This is an ethnographic study of students. The author lived in a college dormitory and conducted participant observation and informal interviews with the students.
Conclusions/Recommendations: “Education” may be understood as an ongoing social practice. Social interaction cannot be approached from the standpoint that behavior is based on previously accumulated knowledge. Rather, interaction must be understood as the complex locus of people doing things together: being held accountable, coercing, and resisting each other. As meaning is made through social interaction, the process of social interaction might be termed an ongoing, deliberate, critical process of finding out what is going on. And people find out by instructing and being instructed by those around them. It is for this reason that we suggest that the focus of our research needs to be shifted from the shaped or transformed individual to the social processes of shaping and transforming.
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