Controversies in Heterogeneous Classrooms, Adolescents’ Experiences of Social Cohesion in Brussels and Its Schools

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As globalisation changes the sociocultural architecture of urban areas, adolescents increas- ingly interact with different sets of values and worldviews, which can be a potential cause of conflict and anxiety. To date, there is little empirical research on how adolescents perceive and experience social cohesion in a superdiverse metropolitan context such as the Brussels Capital Region. In this study, we elaborate on the relationship between social cohesion and ethnic diversity, using contro- versial topics as instruments to examine the erosion of social cohesion. To expose these processes, 34 in-depth interviews were conducted with pupils from Dutch-speaking secondary schools in Brussels. Through thematic analysis, the data revealed four overarching themes of controversies: Brussels, religion/philosophy, ethnicity/national belonging and political horizon, epitomising a paradox of conflict and consensus. Notably, during the interviews, the adolescents reported a climate shaped by actions of ‘silencing’, ‘avoiding’ and ‘voicing’ when discussing controversies in a heteroge- neous classroom context. This analysis of adolescents’ perceptions of social cohesion hence corrob- orates the premise that conflict is not the opposite of cohesiveness, but rather an integral part of a pluralistic society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)640-653
Number of pages14
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Controversies
  • Adolescents
  • Brussels
  • qualitative analysis
  • thematic analysis
  • social cohesion


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