In search of Peace: Ethnography of an elite school in India

Ashmeet Kaur’s doctoral research titled ‘In search of peace: Ethnography of an elite school in India’ (2021) explores the institutionalization of peace education in a formal school.

CITATION: Kaur, A. (2021) In search of peace: Ethnography of an elite school in India. [Doctoral thesis, TERI School of Advanced Studies, New Delhi, India]


The struggle for humanization has long been a civilizational concern. But today; it has become epistemologically exigent, giving voice to contemporary discourse of restructuring education for humane agency. Education for Peace not only intends to build competencies, values, behaviour and skills to confront violence but becomes a practice where the purpose, i.e. why to teach, the content, i.e. what to teach and the pedagogy, i.e. how to teach, become conducive to nurturing values of peace. (Kester, 2010:59). It puts forth the argument that before education can used to contribute for peace, its own humanistic potential has to be rescued (Kumar, 2018).

However, EfP‘s aim to build peace through education is challenged by its incompatibility with its most formalized manifestation as traditional schooling. Hence, this research is premised on a concern whether mainstreaming of EfP is possible within the structures and processes of formal schooling as it exists today. It is towards this end the research explores institutionalization of EfP i.e. to understand how it is realized in practice in a formal school.

This institutional ethnography unpacks the discursive dynamics of elite international residential school in India pseudonymously named Rolland School to answer the assumption that is it possible to educate for peace or for promotion of peace. (Kumar, 2018, Gur-Ze’ev, 2001). The principle objective of the study was to analyze the interplay between the institutional praxis of the school and the ideals of EfP. It explores the diverse voices embedded in the intersection of the theories of peace and Rolland‘s educational practices.

Hence, the central aspiration was to examine the complexities of institutional practices in deconstructing how models of EfP gets constructed, imparted, and also subverted in its everyday lives. Towards this end, this research explores 1) How does Rolland conceptualises EfP 2) How does it enables/facilitates EfP practices 3) What systemic and structural influences constrain EfP practices in the school.

The impetus for this research was rooted in the lived experiences and pedagogical observations of the everyday life at Rolland. It relies on the observational research developed out of the sustained fieldworks. This also included shadowing, classroom observations, structured, semi-structured interviews, reflective notes and curating activities to elicit data. It studied the diversities of institutional interactions and social processes to understand systemic symbols and meanings. The thick descriptions of how actors construct their social realities were understood by being in prolonged proximity of everyday life of the participants and by immersion in actualities of the life at the school.

Following an ethnographic approach, prominent themes emerging from the field guided the analysis. The research builds around institutional implications of schooling while it takes refuge in peace theory. Dominant narratives in educational discourse have looked at the bottom of the hierarchy understanding the world of the marginalized. The study by sampling the elites‘ provide for alternative to the mainstream rhetoric. It provides for 1) theoretical reflections by offering new conceptual approaches for EfP. It brings social perspectives, offering epistemological addition to EfP theory 2) empirical contributions by offering how a school institutionally enacts EfP 3) and a localized and situated definition of peace and violence relevant to the ecology of the school.

[Key words: Structural violence, School Convivencia, SDG 4.7, Education for Peace, Peace education, Gandhi, Holistic education, Social distance, Peace, Violence, Capital reproduction, Elite school, Schooling, Gatekeeping, Institutional ethnography]

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