Dissertation Abstracts

We Don't Need No Education! A Multilevel Inquiry into the Compositional and Cultural School Determinants of School Misconduct

Author: Demanet, Jannick , jannick.demanet@ugent.be
Department: Department of Sociology
University: Ghent University, Belgium
Supervisor: Prof. dr. Mieke Van Houtte
Year of completion: 2013
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Sociology of Deviance , Sociology of Education , School effects research , Ethnic relationships
Areas of Research: Deviance and Social Control , Education , Racism, Nationalism and Ethnic Relations


Deviance at school is especially looked upon as an individual problem. However, the prevalence of behavioral problems does not only differ between students within schools, but also between schools. As such, there may be institutional influences emanating from schools that drive students into rule-breaking as well. The main aim of this dissertation is to investigate the impact of structural school features – most notably, school composition features – on school misconduct. Moreover, this investigation aims to develop our understanding of the specific underlying processes by which structural school characteristics may cause school misconduct among students. We contend that the theories in the sociology of deviance may be integrated in school effects research to gain better insight into the way that school determinants may lead to student deviance. More specifically, we utilize anomy/strain theories (Agnew 1992; Merton 1968; Cohen 1955), social control theory (Hirschi 1969), and differential association theory (Sutherland & Cressey 1960) to hypothesize effects of the social composition of the student body at school and the quality of interpersonal relationships at school on school misconduct.
The main findings of this dissertation provide insight into how the three dominant theoretical approaches within the sociology of deviance may be reconciled. From anomy/theories, we embrace the notion that a feeling of disadvantage, relative to others, may result in frustration and deviance. We developed this part of the theory by pointing to the processes of comparative reference group taking, and showed that contextual configurations at school – most particularly, arising from the student composition – may impact the outcome of comparative reference group taking. From social control theory, we adopt the tenet that cohesive relationships to significant others may prevent the acting out of such deviant inclinations – even if they arise out of relative deprivation. However, it is important to account for the convictions of the actors bonded with – an element which stems from differential association theory - as strong bonds to deviants may lead to the adoption of deviance itself.
Three points are particularly relevant for practice. First, grade retention should be abolished. Most notably in adolescence, retainees might experience stigmatization and relative deprivation, especially in schools where they ‘stand out’. As such, we urge teachers and school administrators to drop this strategy and turn to other ones to dispel academic arrears. Second, teachers should be aware of the stereotypes they have of their students and the messages they – mostly unwittingly – convey to their students through their behavior in the classroom. An important role may be attributed to teacher education programs, as they have the tools to create awareness in future teachers about the stereotypes they have. Third, teachers should be aware of the important function of the support they give to their students. Whatever the structural conditions of a school environment may be, and whatever influences these may exert on students, it is clear that teachers hold the key in tackling school deviant behavior.