University of Sussex
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Faith, identity, status and schooling: an ethnography of educational decision-making in northern Senegal

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posted on 2023-06-09, 01:01 authored by Anneke Newman
This thesis investigates how families in northern Senegal negotiate between state and Islamic schools. Studies of education strategies within anthropology of education predominantly employ Bourdieu’s concept of capital. These studies are useful for illuminating the role of education within people’s strategies of social mobility, but tend to render invisible preferences based on non-material considerations like spiritual benefits. To overcome this challenge, this thesis uses economic theory which acknowledges both intrinsic and material factors informing school choice. It draws on fifteen months’ ethnographic fieldwork comprising life histories, informal interviews and participant observation. The thesis contributes to several debates in anthropology of development and education. Findings reveal the importance of a caste-like social hierarchy in shaping education strategies, and challenge simplistic predictions common in development discourse about how gender or being Muslim influence educational trajectories. Results also show how education preferences reflect context-specific routes to social mobility. In northern Senegal, lack of formal sector employment makes the secular state school’s promises of economic advancement largely inaccessible. Qur’anic schools present a more certain investment for men of privileged social groups who monopolise access to this education, for the prestige of Islamic knowledge and insertion into trade and migration networks. Intrinsic benefits of Qur’anic schooling, like blessing and moral education, also inform school preference. These factors are neglected in development discourse and state education provision - including recent reforms to engage Islamic knowledge to meet Education For All and the Millennium Development Goal – due to secularist and rationalist biases. This undermines families’ access to affordable schooling that combines the intrinsic and material benefits which they prioritise, and privileges those who can afford private alternatives. Inspired by applied anthropology committed to social justice, this thesis draws on people’s strategies to overcome these challenges to recommend non-formal alternatives to enable education provision compatible with popular worldviews.


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University of Sussex

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