A Symbolic Forum for Discussion

15th August 2010

As part of my research for my chapter “What is Culture and Ethos in Schools?” for the upcoming Policy First Publication, I just came across an excellent piece by Brian Lambkin.

He presents a brilliant analysis of how tangible, objective symbols (such as a school badge) perform a useful function in facilitating discussion of intangible concepts like Culture and Ethos by making something “elusive and abstract” into something “concrete rather than abstract.”

One of the points I want to make in the chapter is that there is often a simplistic equation of ‘smart school uniform = good behaviour’ which treats symbols (like school badges and uniforms) as determining school culture. Lambkin’s argument backs up my view that whilst symbols are indeed part of culture, this is because they pick out elements of common experience and shared values and beliefs. Their role should therefore be seen as constructing, representing and communicating culture and ethos rather than as a stand-alone cause.

Lambkin, B., 2000. Migration, Leadership and the School Badge: Talking about ‘ethos’ with Parents, Pupils and Teacher, in Furlong, C. & Monahan, L. eds., 2000. School Culture and Ethos, Cracking the Code. Dublin: Marino Institute of Education)