Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cultural Foundations of Education


Sari Knopp-Biklen


Alternative High School, At-Risk Dropout, Diverse, Environmental Conservation Education, Foucault, Girls

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This dissertation is a qualitative investigation of 12 female high school graduates who had previously dropped out or were pushed out of public high school and who attended and graduated from "Conservation High School" (CHS), located in the Pacific Northwest. CHS is an alternative high school organized around an environmental conservation theme. In this study, participants describe how their relationships with peers and teachers in each school affected their commitment to finish school. I analyze participants' awareness of how power dynamics were communicated to students through social organization, school practices, meaning making systems, constructions of identity, and others' behavior. The youth interacted with peers and teachers based on their perceptions of their place in the social order of the school, reinforced by hearing such terms as "at-risk," "dropouts," "behaviorally-disordered," and "special education." I used Foucault's concept of the self as a product of the disciplinary power of discourse to frame the study of these youth's experience of being socially and therefore relationally positioned, a phenomenon I named "relational regulation."

In Chapter 4 participants describe how institutionalized practices, such as the management of school space, time, and organization, and informal regulations, such as emotional expression and bodily representations, were managed in their relationships in school. Participants describe the relational possibilities they experienced at CHS in comparison to their public school experiences. Themes were developed from their narratives, including "getting to know you," "being at each other's throats," and "schooling effects." In Chapter 5, I consider how participants use the discourses of "being fake" and "being real" to inform themselves about the relational terrain. "Being fake" is their term for a deceptive representation of self, while "being real" is their term for an honest one. I show how they use these discourses to resist and also reproduce some of the exclusionary politics they rejected in their public school that were central to their leaving school. In Chapter 6, I look at how the students negotiated the dominant discourse of "hygienic" femininity, while doing conservation work in the muddy outdoors. Last, I address why relational regulation matters and discuss implications for future research.


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