The Paradoxes of Socio-Emotional Programmes in School : Young people’s perspectives and public health discourses

Abstract: Over the past decades socio-emotional programmes have been implemented in schools worldwide. Depression in Swedish Adolescents (DISA) and Social and Emotional Training (SET) are two socio-emotional programmes being practised in Swedish schools. The aim of the present dissertation is to explore students’ perspectives on DISA and SET, as well as the programmes’ intentions and strategies. The empirical material consists of interviews with students taking part in DISA and SET, participant observations conducted in an elementary school practising SET, participant observations of DISA and SET instructor courses, and a broad range of textual material concerning the programmes. Article I reports on an inherent contradiction in DISA, where techniques designed as treatment are practised as universal prevention for girls as a group. The girls’ accounts of DISA demonstrate why this contradiction is problematic – it was not up to the girls as course participants to define what problems they were having, but the problems were instead defined for them by the course. Taking part in DISA and SET involves exercises in which the students are expected to selfdisclose in front of their classmates. Article II reports on how this task of self-disclosure had a potential for strengthening students’ peer relations, while it at the same time entailed a risk of triggering already on-going destructive interactions, such as bullying and harassment. Article III demonstrates that the potential of self-disclosure is not equally distributed across the students, but depends on their social status within their peer group. Article III also shows that the norm conveyed by the SET programme – that showing anger is an inappropriate behaviour –functioned locally as a way to justify exclusion and negative positioning of peers who showed anger in response to ill treatment. Article IV provides an in-depth analysis of exchanges in a SET lesson concerning how students should deal with exposure to the negative actions of peers. It demonstrates how the types of questions a teacher is instructed to pose to maintain a neutral attitude in practice involve using more implicit forms of authority to construct ideals concerning desirable behaviours. These ideals were formed by discussing fictive examples, which meant stripping students’ actions of meaning and detaching them from the social and cultural context to which they belong. The present dissertation concludes by giving recommendations for policy practice.

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