Educational Lines: Life, Knowledge and Place: An anthropological study of educational dilemmas in Greenland - PhD dissertation

    Research output: ThesisPhDResearch


    This thesis is about the line of education. Greenlandic society is striving for enhanced or full independ-ence from Denmark. Reaching this aim is a challenge in part due to the low number of formally educat-ed Greenlanders that are available to replace Danes in the Greenlandic administration. There is, there-fore, intense political focus on achievement among children in school. Educational reforms focusing on the regional and cultural-historical Inuit background of Greenlanders and Greenlandic language have so far had surprisingly advanced results for Danish speaking or double language children. Greenlandic-only speaking children, however, fall further behind. This problematic spurred the initial interest into pursuing school problems in Greenland from a cultural perspective. The challenge lay in engaging with cultural encounter without reducing cultural difference either to the socio-cultural package of the children or pedagogical methods of the teachers. After all, an approach predicated on matching these had not proved successful.

    Fieldwork in Greenlandic pre-schools, followed by further fieldwork among West Greenlandic caribou hunters, provided a comparative baseline for studying the culture of education in Euro-Western schooling as a social practice that organizes human-world relations. Fieldwork at a hunting site at the same time provided an alternative conceptualization of education relative to hunter-gatherer perceptions of a world shared among human and non-human beings. The differences between educational practices in pre-schools and among caribou hunters were conceptualized as a difference between ‘straight’ and ‘wayfaring’ lines.

    I chose ‘the line’ as my central analytical concept, and use it to mark my field of research, because ‘the line’ embodies the relational constitution of movement. An anthropology of ‘the line’ was developed by Tim Ingold in 2007, who advocates for a focus on movements, i.e., how different movements come into being and how they intersect and entwine to form yet other movements. Studying educational practices as movements means taking a performative, non-dualist approach that focuses on how the world comes into being through continuous enactment. From this perspective, lines of life are produced and reproduced by humans as well as non-humans. I have retraced the history of schooling in Greenland as part of a history of Danish colonization, and explored cultural and historical relations between everyday practices in Greenlandic pre-schools today and the work of missionaries, politicians and educational planners. I have worked with a broad notion of ‘education’ that encompasses the re-structuring of Greenlandic society as part of, first, colonization and, later, de-colonization and industrialization. These historical movements proved constitutional to the dominance of the straight line as a guiding principle in organization of society as well as organization of education as schooling. The research identified a gap between life as a citizen in Greenlandic society and life as part of a socio-cultural history as semi-nomadic hunters, along with attendant differences in the perception of life, knowledge and place, which is central to educational practices.

    Education is purported to be the objective result of standardized schooling programs during which learners acquire representative knowledge of the world. This is the Euro-Western understanding of education, which pre-supposes the world to be already there, and assumes children to be dependent on education for inclusion in this world. This produces a movement, which is actually not a movement, along a straight line of connection which knows its destination ahead of any human or non-human interaction. Contrary to this, hunters presume that the child is already in the world, as a line of life narratively related to both physical surroundings and ancestral practices. From this enmeshed point of departure, children do not need teachers or knowledge to come from the outside. If we can speak of education in this context, I suggest speaking of it as a process of wayfaring in a world in which children and the world are not connected but related. Education as wayfaring is an education of attention to the world as it is experienced.
    The analytical perspective extends the relevance of the argument beyond the local Greenlandic context. It provides a comparative view on education as a social phenomenon produced by and reproducing a particular kind of social attention, which is formative of the life world. Studying education as productive of lines, and lines as productive of education, de-centers analysis and re-invigorates old questions about the relation between education and life.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


    • general education
    • field work
    • identity-making

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