Learner agency in urban schools? A pragmatic transactional approach

Carlo Raffo, Wolff-Michael Roth

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Enhancing learner agency in urban schools is seen as increasingly important in educational policy for narrowing existing attainment gaps. However, notions of learner agency are contested and require conceptual clarity. To help generate such clarity a conceptual synthesis of the field was undertaken that resulted in a mapping framework around three distinct and yet interrelated perspectives: (a) micro-individualistic self-authoring, (b) macro- and meso-level structural and cultural determination, and (c) macro-meso and micro level conflation and interconnection. Based on conceptual shortcomings in the field, we develop our own fourth approach that focuses on a relational, pragmatic transactional perspective. This suggests the young person as a separated learning agent is an incorrect unit of analysis to explain intent behind action. Instead we are argue for the holistic and integrated (Deweyan) notion of transaction that focuses on young people being subject and subjected to conditions as much as being subjects of their conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)447-461
Number of pages15
JournalBritish Journal of Sociology of Education
Issue number4
Early online date15 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2020


  • Structure
  • Pragmatism
  • transaction
  • urban schools
  • agency
  • pragmatism


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