We Are All Equal

Student Culture and Identity at a Mexican Secondary School, 1988–1998

We Are All Equal

Book Pages: 456 Illustrations: 15 b&w photographs, 6 tables, 3 figures Published: July 2001

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies > Mexico, Pedagogy and Higher Education

We Are All Equal is the first full-length ethnography of a Mexican secondary school available in English. Bradley A. U. Levinson observes student life at a provincial Mexican junior high, often drawing on poignant and illuminating interviews, to study how the the school’s powerful emphasis on equality, solidarity, and group unity dissuades the formation of polarized peer groups and affects students’ eventual life trajectories.
Exploring how students develop a cultural “game of equality” that enables them to identify—across typical class and social boundaries—with their peers, the school, and the nation, Levinson considers such issues as the organizational and discursive resources that students draw on to maintain this culture. He also engages cultural studies, media studies, and globalization theory to examine the impact of television, music, and homelife on the students and thereby better comprehend—and problematize—the educational project of the state. Finding that an ethic of solidarity is sometimes used to condemn students defined as different or uncooperative and that little attention is paid to accommodating the varied backgrounds of the students—including their connection to indigenous, peasant, or working class identities—Levinson reveals that their “schooled identity” often collapses in the context of migration to the United States or economic crisis in Mexico. Finally, he extends his study to trace whether the cultural game is reinforced or eroded after graduation as well as its influence relative to the forces of family, traditional gender roles, church, and global youth culture.
We Are All Equal will be of particular interest to educators, sociologists, Latin Americanists, and anthropologists.


“A multi-layered case study. . . . This book is for those who want to critically understand Mexican student culture, and who want to develop conceptualization and theory building in relation to cultural production and critical ethnography. Levinson’s understanding from an ethnic perspective, as one who identifies closely with the ethnic perspectives of students, aptly fits Paul Willis’s definition of ethnography.” — Martha Montero-Sieburth , Anthropology & Education Quarterly

“In this, the first full-length ethnography of a Mexican secondary school available in English, Bradley Levinson observes student life at a provincial Mexican junior high school. The book draws on poignant and illuminating interviews.” — , Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

“Levinson’s work is valuable for its careful methodology, its illuminating study of Mexican education and adolescent culture, and its contribution to discussions of reproduction theory and resistance theory. We Are All Equal is well suited for graduate and undergraduate upper-level courses in educational institutions, social and cricital theory, Latin American studies, Mexican studies, qualitative methods, and race and ethnic relations.” — Catherine Fobes , American Journal of Sociology

"[A] powerful critical ethnography of Mexican student culture and identity formation." — Octavio Augusto Pescador , Comparative Education Review

"Because Levinson has such an encyclopedic lexicon and broad understanding, readers from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds will appreciate the transparency of language and argument in this important book." — David Post and Kimberly Rogers, American Journal of Education

"Levinson offers his scholarly study in literary language; in fact, I read the book easily as a collection of short stories. Although the research was done in one school, its findings may be valid for thousands of schools in hundreds of cities." — Carlos Ornelas , Latin American Research Review

"Levinson’s book has much promise, and prospective readers will be happy to know that the author delivers. With 433 pages of detailed and critical insight . . . its scope is wide enough to interest a variety of readers beyond those interested specifically in Mexican education. . . . [I]nformative and captivating . . . . [A] wonderful resource . . . . [P]rovides keen insight into the embeddedness of students’ lives in larger social structures and processes. . . . [T]he book provides a must read for students of cultural production. Levinson has written a book that is a wonderful asset for any course that examines questions of class, gender, ethnicity, and social inequality . . . ." — Lionel Cantú , Contemporary Sociology

"One of the strongest aspects of this work is its theoretical sophistication. Levinson is very well read and his list of references is impressive. . . . The rich data alone make this book worth reading and owning. . . . Levinson's text is a hopeful and compelling account of the worlds inhabited by Mexican secundaria students. It should prove useful to scholars both in the US and Mexico, and I look forward to reading the ways that educators here in the US make use of this work." — Robert T. Jiménez , Journal of Curriculum Studies

"The value of this book lies in its rich ethnographic description, its longitudinal research, and its contribution to the still small body of literature on schools in Latin America."

— Karen Stocker , Journal of Anthropological Research

"This book should be of value to educators interested in dynamic interpretations of Mexican culture in a school setting, as well as to researchers who wish to explore issues of subjectivity in working with culturally different populations." — Heriberto Godina, American Ethnologist

“Levinson shows us how to think in a different way about studying youth and identity construction in a particular sociohistorical context. This first-rate and innovative ethnography will establish him as one of the best newcomers on the scene.” — Douglas Foley, author of The Heartland Chronicles

“Combining the best features of critical and interpretive ethnography, Levinson shows the forces of history and economy that bear on students and their families while providing rich descriptive detail that is sensitive to nuances of meaning in local social action. Thus the students are portrayed as knowledgeable agents who take action and make sense within a universe of social gravity. The Mexican case contrasts with Euro-American critical studies of schooling that tend toward cynicism and over-determinism. Useful appendices on research methods and social theory conclude the work.” — Frederick Erickson, University of California, Los Angeles


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Bradley A. U. Levinson is Assistant Professor of Education and Adjunct Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations


Introduction: Questions and Methods for a Study of Student Culture

1. Historical Contexts: The Adolescent, The Nation, and the Secundaria, 1923-1993

2. Ethnographic Beginnings: A City, A School, an Anthropologist

3. Institutional Contexts: The School Students Encountered

4. Somos Muy Unidos: The Production of Student Culture in the Grupo Escolar

5. Sites of Social Difference and the Production of Schooled Identity

6. Friendship Groups, Youth Culture, and the Limits of Solidarity

7. Political Economic Change, Life Trajectories, and Identity Formation: 1988-1998

8. Games are Serious: Final Reflections on Mexican Secondary Student Culture

Appendix A: Structure, Culture, and Subjectivity: The Elements of Practice

Appendix B: Focal Student Profiles


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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2699-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2700-4
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