• Elizabeth Mason-Hale

Student thesis: Phd


Poverty and associated adversity are considered barriers to young peoples learning resulting in poor aggregate educational and life outcomes. Those who then do well despite such challenges are often seen as resilient - a resilience attributed to young people's agency and/or the supportive interventions they receive. Policymakers and practitioners, both in the UK and internationally, focus on developing 'evidence-based' approaches to address various adversities, build resilience, and ensure 'poor' young people 'do well'. Problematically, much of this 'evidence-based' policy and practice begins from a dualistic perspective that suggests that humans and their minds (as subjects), and their bodies and environments (as objects), are separate. Young people are then seen as cognitively and materially impacted by external and separate structural/cultural factors in their environments constraining their engagement with, and success in, education. Where educationally 'disadvantaged' young people do buck the trend, this is often seen as the result of individualised forms of reflexivity and agency that are mediated by impacting interventions. This research problematises such static linear and separated cause (object) and effect (subject) thinking by privileging a fully interconnected and integrated, temporally dynamic transactional (co-impacting/co-constituting) person:environment unit of analysis. Drawing on a Deweyan/Pragmatist philosophy and utilising conversation, reflection, writing, and autobiography as methodological tools, the living of three young people who experience poverty and various adversities and yet 'do well' educationally, are explored. This takes a deeply relational/transactional approach to living, with each unique narrative demonstrating that; (i) young people live and learn in complex ways, which requires a focus on integrated person:environment transactional activities whereby both young people and environments reciprocally impact one another, (ii) young people are not separate from social/cultural 'structures' (e.g. poverty/race/class) rather, these are deeply relational habits (activities), co-constituted by their correspondence with dynamic environments and, (iii) young people continually adapt through their life course interweaving with environments/other humans which are continuously evolving as they are, each simultaneously co-impacting such that neither young people nor their environments are ever static. By focusing on a transactional person:environment unit of analysis, it can be seen that 'adverse' problems in young people's lives need not deterministically result in poor outcomes. Instead, it appreciates the transactional novelty and dynamic interconnectedness of holistic experiencing, highlighting how such activity can be disruptive to the functional co-ordination and associated habits of young people. This provides an impetus for change and new opportunities for learning and development. Taking such an approach recognises how specific school-based educational needs must be seen as one part of the broader social/cultural/other fields that co-constitute a young person's experiencing. This research does not suggest that patterns of activities are non-existent. Rather, it seeks to disrupt linear cause-effect thinking, which suggests a one-dimensional direct impact between 'adverse' experiences and poor outcomes. Without thinking of poor young people's experiencing in full transactional ways, there is every possibility that engagement with young people through schools or more indirectly via policy might be inappropriately 'theorised', particularly by suggesting narrow/singular notions of learning/intervention/impact/cause of specified practice.
Date of Award1 Aug 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorCarlo Raffo (Supervisor) & Laura Black (Supervisor)


  • Learning
  • Young people
  • Dewey
  • Inquiry
  • Education
  • Poverty
  • Transaction

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