Mediation at School

Pointing out, along with others, that the School is today faced with the ‘major challenge of normative pluralism,’ which breaks with the school institution of old based on the authority of the Schoolmaster and the vertical transmission of knowledge, O. Kuty, F. Schoenaers, Ch. Dubois et B. Dethier take a look, in a first exploratory study(1), at a new type of actor in the school environment: the ‘mediator.’ Professionals who, according to the researchers, are symbolic of a ‘new cultural attitude,’ that of mediation as a ‘new mode of regulating social links’ and the cement of ‘living together.’

COVER-Mediation-scolaireThe major appeal of the present work, which its authors see above all as a ‘preliminary report’ on the current state of mediation in the school, lies above all in the impressive corpus of testimonies gathered by Baptiste Dethier, a FNRS doctoral student at the University of Liège’s Centre for Sociological Research and Intervention (CRIS). These interviews, quoted at length, give the floor to these new actors in order to better foreground their own perceptions of the profession. A profession which, still in the process of being institutionalised, seems at the present time to be characterised by a puncturing of meanings, forms and origins.

School mediation, a recent concept

To speak of the emergence, in Belgium, of the notion of school mediation, without tying it explicitly to ‘the weakening of the ‘transcendent’ reference points transmitted by tradition,’ would make little sense. What does that mean, in effect? For the sociologist Olgierd Kuty, a Professor Emeritus at the ULg, the school institution, as was society as a whole up until the turn of the 1980s, was the site of a relative consensus around ‘macro-values’ which were non-negotiable and in a way delivered to citizens in a single block.

‘Amongst these values was to be found the idea that not only was our society marching towards Progress, but that it was led by the major Professions (the priests, the lawyers, the doctors, the scientists) whose superior status stemmed from what they expressed of transcendent values, such as Reason or Revelation, and thus gave meaning to society.’ The members of society thus served, concludes Professor Kuty, ‘as the underlings of values, individuals at the service of values’. In the school context, it was the figure of the Schoolmaster who for a long time embodied these values, values which remained untouched by the actions of human beings. Both in vertically imposing Knowledge and in applying Sanction, without either ever being up for discussion. Heterogeneous individuals who did not fit in with this conception are redirected to the job market.

But from the 1980s onwards our societies entered an epoch marked by the advent of a ‘negotiationary regulation.’ It was the era of the negotiation of values and, even more specifically, micro-values (2). ‘Our era introduced a distinction between, on the one hand, the major values of society […] and on the other the new local micro-values, defined by the ordinary actors and no longer just by professionals. They are negotiated on a local level, in a more horizontal relationship, and are ‘operational’ values, micro-values produced by practice,’ writes Olgierd Kuty. ‘They are defined in the process of debate, in the confrontation of principles. The accent has shifted to the rules of debating.’

(1) KUTY O., SCHOENAERS F., DUBOIS Ch., DETHIER B., La médiation scolaire. Un regard des acteurs sur leurs pratiques, Liège, Presses Universitaires de Liège, coll. Essai, 2012.
(2) KUTY Olgierd, La négociation des valeurs. Introduction à la sociologie, Bruxelles, Ed. De Boeck, coll. Ouvertures sociologiques, 2007 (1998).

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