Categorization in the classroom: a comparison of teachers' and students' use of ethnic categories

Pomme van de Weerd*

*Corresponding author for this work

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This paper builds on an analysis of ethnographic fieldwork data and classroom interaction to examine the use and interpretation of ethnic categories among teachers and students of a secondary school class in the city of Venlo, the Netherlands. Students with a migration background, who were born in the Netherlands, often labeled themselves Turk (Turk'), Marokkaan ('Moroccan'), and buitenlander ('foreigner'), and referred to others as Nederlander ('Dutch'). Students used these categories in locally specific ways, for example, to engage in the management of everyday social relations and to construct social hierarchies. Teachers, none of whom had a migration background, appeared to interpret students' labeling practices as related to issues with integration and belonging. They problematized and sometimes rejected students' categorization, while at the same time, they also displayed orientation to a categorization system that differentiated between students with and without a migration background. Using tools from membership categorization analysis, the paper examines how these divergent category interpretations surfaced and evokes the effects this may have on students and their relationships with teachers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)354-369
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Multicultural Discourses
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Classroom ethnography
  • categorization
  • ethnicity
  • membership categorization analysis

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