"You're not the boss of me!": high school student behaviour and identity as symbolic self-interpretation

Ciawy Tay

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

590 Downloads (Pure)


This person-centred ethnographic study examines the link between students' individual interpretations of selves and their social interactions. It is based on yearlong participant observation, supplemented by interviews, at Pine View High, a public school in Perth, Western Australia. Its key questions focus on adolescents' perceptions of themselves, of others at school (teachers and peers), and on how these perceptions affect their behavioural interactions. Various accounts have been given for student behaviour. This study’s analysis concentrates on students' individual interpretations of identities as playing a key role in shaping their social interactions. Identity and behaviour are conceptualised as being symbolic, their meanings formed through interpretation. It is the symbolic significance of behaviour in students' social relationships that is seen as being relevant to their interpretation of self-identities. This study's theoretical framework primarily uses a symbolic interactionist analytical lens, which is supplemented by connectionist schema theory as a means to examine the cognitive aspect of lived experiences. This study explores how the meanings students give to their actions contribute to, and are influenced by, their perceptions of themselves and their social relationships. Relationships with others are depicted as providing the deciding context for how they understand their identities and actions. The thesis examines how the adolescents' responses towards adults were informed by their interpretation of the latter's identities and interpersonal relevance to their own lives. It also discusses how students' self-perceptions influence their friendship choices, which also forms a part of how they define their identities. This study contributes not only to our understanding of the lived experiences of adolescents but also to our consideration of teaching practices. It helps us comprehend the symbolic motivations for students' actions, particularly the nature of the role their self-interpretation has as a significant motivator. It also helps teachers to understand that the socially contextual nature of how actions can be interpreted means that what they might perceive as antisocial behaviour might be perceived differently as social behaviour by the students themselves and their peers. These insights can assist policy-makers and educators in the field in adopting teaching practices by encouraging understanding beyond what is immediately observable of students’ behaviour and address its underlying causes imbedded in their individual experience.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2012


Dive into the research topics of '"You're not the boss of me!": high school student behaviour and identity as symbolic self-interpretation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this