Monday, 9 May 2016

Bathmaker: Thinking with Bourdieu: Thinking after Bourdieu

I started this paper several times and have made slow progress through it for many and varied reasons, none to do with the actual paper. This has, however, made it a bit of a long-haul effort to read. Ann-Marie Bathmaker has done quite a bit of research relating to my areas of interest, so I will have to explore her publications in more detail.

Bathmaker, A-M. (2015). Thinking with Bourdieu: thinking after Bourdieu. Using 'field' to consider in/equalities in the changing field of English higher education. Cambridge Journal of Education, 45(1), 61-80.

This paper explores the position of FE colleges in the HE 'field'. There are a wide range of student 'types' entering HE, with concomitant diversity of HE provision. Bathmaker uses Bourdieu's concept of 'field' to explore HE provision. Data from the study were collected in late 2000s, during a time of global expansion of HE, including the New Labour policy of 50% participation in HE. However, since the 2008 global economic crisis there has been a dichotomy in HE access between those who are considered 'gifted' and who are guided towards prestigious HEIs and others guided towards less prestigious HEIs.
Investigations into social mobility by an APPG found that 'university' is the key to future opportunities. However, the APPG suggests that rather than ensuring universal HE provision, those potentially outstanding students are provided with the opportunity to 'shine'. For others, 'worthwhile qualifications' are suggested, suggestive of the grammar vs secondary modern split post WW2. This can potentially lead to 'tracking' of students.
Whilst New Labour expanded access to HE using a range of routes, the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition has concentrated more on HE within the universities, differentiating between this and HE within FE. Confusion amongst HE in FE students and potential students reigns.

The value of theory in considering why this matters
There is the hegemonic view that there should be delineation between the outstanding and the rest; this is supported by industry. Bourdieu's work on reproduction of inequality through education has been developed by subsequent researchers and theorists. His conceptual tool of habitus has been widely used to discuss social reproduction, though some have argued that this tool is too deterministic. The author seeks to use the concept of 'field' to explore HE, acknowledging that others have developed Bourdieu's original work.

Using Bourdieu's concept of field to analyse HE practices
Bourdieu's work on fields evolved over time to take into account heteronomy of fields. The concept of filed was developed in the physical sciences. Bourdieu's definition of field is that of a social space identified by the network of relations between positions. Variations in positions in fields are due to differences in power and capital. Position in relation to other fields is important.
Bourdieu sees autonomy as a key property of a field - how the field has evolved to be able to withstand external influences. Recently, the degree of autonomy in the HE field has decreased. Field denotes struggle, which is both marketised and gamified. Agents have differing purchasing powers (capital). The field is a game, governed by both official and unofficial rules. Fields evolve over time and the rules that define that field also change.

Working with and beyond Bourdieu's concept of field
There are questions over the relationships between different fields and movement between them. Whilst Bourdieu developed the concept of field in HE at a time of autonomy, recent changes have   led to increased heteronomy. Heteronomy is closely related to expansion and diversification of HE. This may be beneficial for new, WP students. Because of this increase in heteronomy, there may be more permeable borders between fields, which some authors say contrasts with Bourdieu's view of fields requiring 'boundedness'. Appadurai (1996) suggests the use of 'scapes'.
Marginson (2008) suggests that boundaries between academic fields will become 'flaky' and may merge into a field of 'lifelong learning'. This, however, is unlikely to affect power relations in the field(s).

Movement between fields
Bourdieu and others have considered the movement of agents between fields and how this can affect the agent's behaviour.
Feminisht academics such as Allard (2005) have used Bourdieu's concept of field to analyse women's use of capital, and the relative value of different forms of capital.
The author suggests that others believe that Bourdieu's definition of field is unclear.
The author considers where HE in FE sits with regard to fields, and the effect of how the field is positioned may have on agents' behaviour.

Negotiating the admissions process in a changing field of HE
The author gives an overview of the UCAS system, describing it as a "sorting mechanism", allowing 'stars to shine'. She describes the UCAS application as a check on academic capital of potential students. Capital though teacher training and use of private companies when there is competition for places. Changes in the 2000s due to New Labour's WP policies led to HE in FE becoming part of the UCAS application process, therefore becoming part of the HE field. The author carried out research into how these new practices affected the field.
Progression from NVQ to HE is part of the acceptable behaviour in one college - it is normalised. Tutors bypassed the UCAS system as NVQ students delayed decision-making on HE. Confusion over progression from FE to Bachelor's due to differences in behaviour (what is "taken for granted") and the expectations of the field. To be positioned in the permeable border between fields can lead to confusion - this may affect potential students.
Using the UCAS application system places HE in FE more clearly in the HE field but makes it less flexible, which can negatively impact on applicants from a WP viewpoint.

Using 'field' to consider in/equalities in the changing field of English higher education
Differences between fields (in this case HE and FE) can limit access to these fields. Alternative practices can be accommodated, but usually only be heteronomous organisations, which have lower status. Higher status organisations, higher in the hierarchy, do not need to make these accommodations. The author suggests that HE in FE is a subfield of HE, permitted by permeability of boundaries between fields, which is not discussed by Bourdieu. This does not mean that power relations have changed.
Moving between fields can demonstrate a mismatch between the expectations of those different fields leading to reduced power for those agents.
Bourdieu's conceptual tool of field "focuses on practices that are strategic and competitive" (p. 73) and this aligns with the policy of allowing stars to shine. The concept of field, with its suggestions of competition, is less useful when competition is not a factor. Because of this, the author suggests looking beyond Bourdieu. She suggests that Bourdieu's work concentrates on reproduction rather than transformation.
Other authors have suggested that hybrid organisations can become more than a mix of HE and VET but rather a distinct form of organisation within a specialist niche. Kaiserfeld (2013) states that change comes through new hybrid organisations, and from that, higher status. This links to Bourdieu's concept of fields. Field can be used to identify where policy suggests transformation but in reality value within other fields is limited. Current policies to select out the best and limit others to VET maintains educational inequalities and the use of Bourdieu's concept of field is relevant and appropriate, Bathmaker states.

What this means to me:
The key point I think is of use in assignment 2 is to explore the APPG information and the idea of 'stars to shine'. This could link to tracking, and also some of the thoughts I've been having around assignment 2.

Bathmaker's views of the HE in FE field ring true to me - it is something to consider further and useful to see theory applied and then extended by others.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Kleanthous, I. (2013). Bourdieu applied: Exploring perceived parental influence on adolescent students’ educational choices for studies in higher education.

This final chapter on Bourdieu in Murphy’s book on social theory and education research

Kleanthous, I. (2013). Bourdieu applied: Exploring perceived parental influence on adolescent students’ educational choices for studies in higher education. In M. Murphy (Ed.), Social theory and education research: Understanding Foucault, Habermas, Bourdieu and Derrida. (pp. 153-168). Abingdon, United Kingdom: Routledge.

This chapter is based on family case studies in Cyprus – an exploration of familial capital and how it affects parental influence on students moving to HE. Different forms of parental capital are displayed – economic (buying private tutoring), social (visiting parental workplaces) and cultural (through increased educational knowledge). The adolescents deny parental influence, instead stating that their decisions are arrived at autonomously.

A range of studies have explored the use of familial capital in influencing children’s educational choices. However, the author suggests that there is evidence of symbolic violence – this is “misrecognised” by parents and adolescents due to the unconscious nature of parental influence.


Habitus and cultural capital have been widely used to explore the involvement of parents in their child’s education. Reay et al. (2011) looked at class inequalities in decision making with regard to HE – they found that working class families had less knowledge about post-compulsory education, with working class students entering different universities to their middle class counterparts (p. 858). This may be due to the “informational capital” held by middle class parents. The informational capital aids the student in traversing admissions processes, etc. and involves parental interaction with the educational system at an early stage.

The author used Bourdieu’s conceptual tools of habitus and capital to explore the extent of parental influence on choice of HEI. She used the concept of symbolic violence, with children misrecognising the violence exercised upon them with their own complicity – the adolescents deny being influenced by their parents.

An overview of Bourdieu’s theoretical framework

Bourdieu and Wacquant (1992) define class habitus as “the structural affinity of habituses belonging to the same class, capable of generating practices that are convergent and objectively orchestrated outside of any collective ‘intention’ or consciousness” (p. 125). Bourdieu and Passeron (1990): the middle class students’ habitus is absorbed from familial actions and from parental social class, and the way this aligns with the educational system.

The author discusses Bourdieu’s conceptual tool of habitus: “those resources whose distributions define the social structure and whose deployment figures centrally in the reproduction of that structure” (p. 156). As well as economic capital, there is social capital, with the capital based on connections within and between social groups, and also cultural capital consisting of cultural knowledge and a set of credentials based on education and knowledge. The author quotes Bourdieu’s definition of informational capital, one part of cultural capital. The intra- and intergenerational basis of informational capital leads to investment in education.

Bourdieu’s theory of social reproduction suggests that it is the intergenerational passing on of cultural capital that influences the level of cultural capital gained and success experienced in education. Ultimately, this is influenced by social class.

It is Bourdieu and Passeron’s view that middle class students have a habitus closely aligned with the requirements of the education system; these students can blend with the linguistic and cultural requirements of the dominant culture.

Bourdieu on family and symbolic violence

Being part of what Bourdieu calls a ‘normal’ family is a privilege which aids in “the accumulation and transmission of economic and cultural capital”. The family maintains social structure and transmits capital intergenerationally.

Middle class parents use their capital to enhance their children’s educational opportunities. However, the author seeks to understand whether capital is sufficient a tool to theorise the role of parental influence. She suggests that the influence of parents can be considered as a form of symbolic violence. Bourdieu sees symbolic violence as being the key to social relations, present in a gift exchange society.

Bourdieu defines these gifts as “moral obligations and emotional attachments created and maintained by the generous gift” – symbolic violence. The author suggests that parental influence is symbolic violence; the denial of this influence is ‘misrecognition’. The investment by parents of time and money in their child’s education creates a ‘debt’. Parents have more power in the family field, due to the higher amount of capital they have. This leads to an imbalance in power relations between parent and child, enabling symbolic violence to affect their child.

Methodology for the study was in depth interviews with parents and children from secondary schools in Cyprus.

Findings – familial capital

Students misrecognise parental influence, denying parental influence. Students claim to draw on parental capital, e.g. economic capital (private tutorials) and social capital (workplace information). Cultural capital predisposed the students towards study at HE.

Denial of parental influence

Bourdieu’s concept of symbolic violence was used to discuss the misrecognition of parental influence. The author suggests that parental influence is a form of symbolic violence, with financial support making a moral obligation to continue in education. The differential in cultural capital between parents and children allows parents to exert symbolic violence on the children.

Misrecognition of parental influence from parents

Parents are more aware of their use of their cultural, economic and social capital in enhancing the education of their children. Parents also misrecognised their influence on their children, believing that their children’s choice was autonomous.

Discussion of findings on parental influence

Parental influence is subtle and often denied by both parents and students, but students acknowledge that they use their parents’ capital. Denial of parental influence and the unconscious effects on students’ habitus led the author to view parental influence as symbolic violence, which is misrecognised.

Bourdieu suggests that “symbolic violence is at the heart of every social relationship” – “the dominated collaborate in their own exploitation through affectation or admiration” (p. 111).

The author feels that there is misrecognition of parental influence with adolescents denying being influenced. However the idea of aiming for HE is a response to the habitus of the family – it is what a middle class family does.

The author discussed the ideas as to whether shared familial beliefs is ‘familial habitus’ (Reay, 2010) or familial doxa (Atkinson, 2011). She suggests that, for Reay, habitus is viewed by Bourdieu as “a product of early childhood experience” (p. 164) and that this is closely affected by parental educational achievement. Atkinson (2011) suggests that Reay’s idea of ‘familial habitus’ is incorrect and instead these shared familial beliefs are familial doxa. What is possible is shaped by the family, based on its capital and how the generations develop, based on a joint family history.

The author considers that her work uses the family as a field that “inculcates students’ habitus” (p. 165). Because there is a differential in the power held between parents and children, the parents can exert symbolic violence on the children.

Reflection on the use of Bourdieu’s theory in educational research

The author suggests that her research shows that middle class families enhance the choices of their children with regard to HE through different forms of capital. She is concerned that the use of capital is just a descriptive tool rather than an in depth analysis with regard to educational research.

She suggests that symbolic violence can be used to explore power relations in the family field and that this concept can be used in conjunction with familial capital to understand parental influence.

Theorists after Bourdieu developed the concepts of familial habitus and familial doxa – Bourdieu viewed family as a “field which inculcates habitus as part of the pedagogic work of the family (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1990). Whilst Bourdieu’s theories can be further developed, it is important to maintain their consistency.


In Bourdieu’s ‘Distinction’ (1984) he provides a formula for his theoretical framework:

            (Habitus x Capital) + Field = Practice

This demonstrates his concern in highlighting the interaction between theoretical concepts. Habitus is constructed by engagement in practice with the field but it also thereby structures the field. The equation is key in reminding us that there are vital interrelations between Bourdieu’s concepts and tools.