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Institute of Advanced Study

IAS Staff

Publication details for Dr Sam Hillyard

Hillyard, S. (2010). Ethnography's capacity to contribute to the cumulation of theory: a case study of differentiation-polarisation theory. Oxford Review of Education 36(6): 767-784.

Author(s) from Durham


The paper sets out to examine the role that ethnographic work can and should play in the development of sociological theory, focusing on the case study of differentiation–polarisation theory. It provides a detailed discussion of the work of Hargreaves (196736. Hargreaves , D. 1967 . Social relations in a secondary school , London : Routledge .


View all references), Lacey (197040. Lacey , C. 1970 . Hightown Grammar: the school as a social system , Manchester : Manchester University Press .

View all references) and Ball (198113. Ball , S. 1981 . Beachside Comprehensive. a case‐study of secondary schooling , Cambridge : Cambridge University Press .

View all references) and assesses the degree to which their work was ethnographic in contemporary terms. It argues that the model of theory development they offer does not need to be understood in the manner adopted by Hammersley in his account of their work as a model for theory development and testing in the sociology of education. Rather it requires the ethnographer to be more attuned towards setting and maintaining a theoretical agenda, by (a) being more preoccupied with refining existing or established theoretical ideas and concepts and (b) retaining the capacity for the fieldwork setting to inform and direct the study.