Thick Description of the Teacher-student Relationship in the Educational Context of School: Results of an Ethnographic Field Study

Diana Raufelder, William M. Bukowski, Sonja Mohr


Complexities of essential aspects of the teacher-student relationship were identified in a group of German adolescents and their teachers through participant observation. It is already known that the determinants of the teacher-student relationship cannot be simply categorized and analyzed as univariate features. Using Clifford Geertz’s concept of “thick description,” empirical data were collected during a six-month field study at a secondary school in the south of Germany. Thematic analyses of the extant empirical database identified six sociological principles that constitute fundamental components of the teacher-student relationship: power, dualism, solidarity, productivity, sympathy, and identity. Analyses showed that meaningful ritualized structures limit teachers and students to institutional roles that are incongruent with the general aim of having productive interactions in educational settings. The complexity of educational settings can only be grasped if the teacher-student relationship is understood as an interpersonal process. When reduced to their institutional roles, both teachers and students experienced their relationship and educational settings as unsatisfactory.

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Journal of Education and Training Studies  ISSN 2324-805X (Print)   ISSN 2324-8068 (Online)

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