The aim of the paper is to explore gendered and classed constructions of ‘sucking up’ to teachers in secondary school. How are ingratiating practices negotiated among peers and could such be used to accomplish high status masculinity? While earlier studies point to a conflict between embodying the ‘ideal student’ and being ascribed high status as a boy, especially in boys’ peer-groups, the results from the study at hand are more ambivalent. The analysis draws from the Ph.D. project To be seen and to learn, without being seen to learn about young men, on ‘underachievement’ and schooling in Sweden. The approach used is in both are social identity theory and critical studies of men and masculinities. Hence, concepts such as identities, social categorizations of gender and class, and dominance-relations were analyzed from an actor-oriented perspective.
The study’s design was inspired by ethnographic methodology, combining participant observation, semi-structured individual and group interviews and a background questionnaire. The research participants were young men and women, a total of fifty-six students in the age 15-16. The fieldwork was conducted in two school classes, at, respectively, a Natural Science and a Vehicle Programme; educational settings with connotations to masculinity but significantly different in terms of class.
The ingratiating practices, as they were used and understood by the participants, seemed to have two different but equally important functions. First, these were crucial for identifying and diminishing other students as too ambitious or unsecure. As in previous research, being seen as an effortless achiever was critical to be ascribed high status and intrinsic ability among the young men. But, secondly, these practices were also cherished, for example in respect of achieving high(er) grades effortlessly. In addition, primarily among the privileged young men, ‘sucking up’ was a practice trough which one was able to accomplish the highly valued features of ‘social competence’ and ‘self-confidence’, both with connotations to (potential) success in working life. The results point to the significance of being ascribed peer-group membership, as well as differentiation between ‘sucking up’ as denoting subordination on the one hand, and resourcefulness on the other.
Presentation at the symposium ”Lad cultures in education”, vid British Educational Research Association annual conference 2013, Sept 3rd-5th 2013, University of Sussex, UK.