ERG SES H 12, Philosophy and Education
When the concept “space” is mentioned, initial thoughts often gravitate towards physical, geographical space or even “outer space.” However, there is another kind of space - social space - the definition of which can be contested from different ideological starting points. Social space is part of a broader spatial turn in educational research, as evidenced by the programs of educational research association conferences such as the American Educational Research Association and by special issues of educational journals that have focused on critical geography in relation to education (Middleton, 2014).
This paper examines “social space” in international educational research through discourse analysis. The primary questions this paper seeks to answer are as follows: How has the concept “social space” been used in educational research? What patterns and divergences can be found in the use of “social space” within different sub-fields of educational research and in different methodological approaches? How can “social space” as a conceptual tool contribute to future educational research?
Social space was first introduced as a concept by Emile Durkheim in the 1890s (Buttimer, 1969). From the concept’s beginning with Durkheim it has been modified in a number of ways by different theorists. Theorists who have contributed much to the development of the concept of social space include Bourdieu, Foucault, Lefebvre, and British realists such as Andrew Sayer, each of whom have taken a different position towards social space – structuralist, genealogical, Marxist, and realist respectively (Shields, 1991). These philosophical starting points form the guiding framework for this discourse analysis.
The bourdieuian structuralist theory of social space is based on the ontological view that there are objective structures in the social world, independent of human will or consciousness. Research from this theoretical standpoint consider human agency in relation to structure. The social world is in Bourdieu’s terms constructed by agents’ ‘habitus’, that is their perceptions, thoughts and actions within ‘fields’ where social positions are negotiated. The construction of social spaces are guided and constrained by structures such as relations between different social classes (Bourdieu, 1984).
The genealogical perspective on social space states that the relations between space and social being must be linked to their particular history. Social space is by this perspective understood as organized by discursive practices that allow certain ways to talk and act in the world. These discursive practices are seen as relations of power and in order to understand the mechanisms of these relations the discursive traces of the past must be examined (Foucault, 2008).
The focus of the realist perspective is on spatial relations and the imaginations or perceptions of individuals (Shields, 1991). Research under the realist perspective of social space considers the perceptions of how individuals or groups experience spatial factors and objects, thus the focus is on abstract space. As Sayer (2000) notes, social theories have typically left out the consideration of space in social processes. Social science researchers have usually abstracted from the spatial forms of contexts in order to analyze context-dependence.
Marxist perspectives such as Lefebvre expand beyond this conception of social space as unobservable and consider geographical formations and boundaries as well as human interactions in reference to social space. This ideology, in relation to capitalism, refers to social space as socially produced and constructed and that social relations are always organized relative to space (Lefebvre, 1991). From these ideological starting points we base our discourse analysis of “social space” in educational research.
Bourdieu, P. (1984). Social space and symbolic power. Sociological Theory, 7(1), 14-25. Buttimer, A. (1969). Social space in interdisciplinary perspective. Geographical Review, 59(3), 417-426. Foucault, M. (2008). Diskursernas kamp. Stockholm/Stehag: Brutus Östlings Bokförlag Symposion. Gulson, K.N. & Symes, C. (March 2007). Knowing one’s place: Space, theory, education. Critical Studies in Education, 48(1), 97-110. Hubbard, P., Kitchin, R., & Valentine, G. (2004). Editor’s introduction, in: P. Hubbard, R. Kitchin, & G. Valentine (Eds.) Key thinkers on space and place. London: Sage, 1-15. Middleton, S. (2014). Henri Lefebvre and education: Space, history, theory. London: Routledge. Onwuegbuzie, A., Leech, N., Collins, K. (2012). Qualitative Analysis Techniques for the Review of the Literature. The Qualitative Report, 17 (56), 1-28. Sayer, A. (2000). Realism and social science. London: SAGE Publications Ltd. Shields, R. (1991). Places on the margin: Alternative geographies of modernity. London: Routledge.
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