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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Pitfalls of Democracy and Debate: Authority and Inequality in Classrooms in Southeast Spain


This article focuses on the role of teachers in shaping spoken interactions in civics education classrooms in southeast Spain. The main mode of instruction in such classes is what I call dialogic debate, a genre requiring agentive exchange among classroom participants and predicated upon the notion that competitive stancetaking yields salutary orientations toward contemporary life. Class discussions were to move youth toward critically reflexive and broadly humanist stances, but the oppositional exchanges that actually took place were at odds with the peaceful dispositions that the lessons were meant to inspire. I introduce the notion of ontological status attribution—a variant of stancetaking resources well documented in the linguistic anthropological literature—to show that, in their quest to socialize youth to civic ideals, teachers fomented face-threatening classroom atmospheres in which developmental and cultural differences constituted key indexes of students’ perceived democratic fitness.


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