Front Cover

Successful Failure


Hervé Varenne and Ray McDermott

with the collaboration of
Shelley Goldman, Merry Naddeo, and Rosemarie Rizzo-Tolk


[full text]


The Makings of Some Educational Facts

Introduction 1
Schooling and cultural fact [excerpt]
Culture in question
Culture and context [excerpt]
Adam, Sheila, Joe, and others at cultural work
Education in America
Chapter 1

Adam, Adam, Adam, and Adam
(McDermott and Varenne)

  Three accounts of the house Adam inhabits  
  Making banana bread and other troubles  
  Making IQs in public  
  The cultural construction of learning disabilities  
Chapter 2

The house of Farrell, and the House of Kinney Literacies at home
(Varenne and McDermott)

  Sheila and Joe  
  Familial literacy  
  The eye ointment scene  
  Special literacy  
  Homework and school literacy  
  Variations in the doing of school at home  
  Culture: A first approximation  
Chapter 3

The voice of the choir, the voices in the choir
(Varenne and Naddeo)

  Religion, therapy, a Lutheran Italian choir director, and some
street kids
  Coming together  
  The rehearsal  
  And then, something happened...  
  Pulling apart  
  The performance of talent  
Chapter 4

Joint action on the wild side of Manhattan
(Varenne and Rizzo-Tolk)

  West Side High School: Center and periphery  
  The Study: One moment in American time  
  Classroom construction -- A teacher's task  
  Classroom (de-)construction -- A student's task  
  A teacher's task for her students  
  The voice of the group: laughter, resistance and reconstruction  
  The voice of the center  
Chapter 5

Racing in place
(Varenne, Goldman and McDermott)

  The performance of success in everyday life
The competitions of everyday life in Allwin Junior High
The ritual organization of sorting: standardized times
The social organization of sorting: meetings in uncertainty
The people of Hamden Heights and their activity
Mutualities in success and failure
Work and resistance in culture

Education and the Making of Cultural Facts

Chapter 6

Education in culture
(Varenne and McDermott)

  Defining difficulties as disabilities: sightedness
The fabrication of a cultural disability: deafness
Three ways to write about difficulties in school
Cultural explanations of poverty and other disabilities
Education and Difference
Patterns of Southern Cultures
Adaptive withdrawal
American education as a culture
Chapter 7

Ways with Theoretical Words
(Varenne and McDermott)

  The intuition of culture
Intuitions denied
Current common senses of culture
Cultural psychologies of intentionality
A sociology of educational practices and habits
Deconstructive agency in cultural conditions: problems and
Constructing walls and other boundaries
Chapter 8

Local construction and educational facts

  Emergence and accountability in real time
A particular instance
Constructing labels
Social constructions and cultural reality
Deconstruction and local faction
The "I" in the cultural machine

Beyond explaining why
(Varenne & McDermott) [excerpt]

Appendix A 219
Appendix B 221
Appendix C 235
Bibliography 243


0.1 The twisted rope illusion 24
Chapter 1
1.1 A continuum of settings and three ways of thinking about them 54
Chapter 2
2.1 Structural replication of task-performance
evaluation sequences at school and at home
Chapter 3
3.1 Major positionings 131
3.2 First half of group rehearsal 132
3.3 Detail of singing segment #3 137
3.4 Asking for information (first occurence) 138
3.5 Asking for information (second occurence) 139
3.6 Giving information (first occurence) 139
3.7 Giving information (second occurence) 139
Chapter 4
4.1 Major segments during first 20 minutes 167
4.2 Sequencing of the positionings during student discussion 169
4.3 Start of ranking sequence 171
4.4 End of ranking sequence 174
Chapter 8
8.1 "I could ready it" -- Transcript 188
8.2 Main positionings 190
8.3 Sequencing of positionings 196
8.4 Instances of the main positionings 197
8.5 Major subsequences 198
8.6 Jimmy and Rosa protest -- Transcript 199
8.7 Jimmy and Rosa protest -- Frames from video 200
Appendix B
B.1 Transcript of main sequence 221
Appendix C
C.1 Transcript 237