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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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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 109 Number 7, 2007, p. 1682-1704
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 13818, Date Accessed: 4/22/2021 7:06:37 AM

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About the Author
  • Portia Sabin
    University of Washington
    E-mail Author
    PORTIA SABIN received her doctorate from Columbia University in 2004. She taught anthropology for two years before going to the University of Washington as a research associate in 2005 on a National Science Foundation-funded study of engineering students. Her continuing interests include ethnomethodology, American culture, and social interaction.
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