23 SES 14 B, Methodological Issues in the Analysis of Education Policy
Class inequality in education is a topic that has been much addressed and discussed in education studies and also in public debate, yet it remains a topic that allows new perspectives capable of generating innovative initiatives for policies. Habitus, capital and field theorised by Bourdieu (1990) are the most often used analytical tools in studies related to education inequalities. In his studies of French society Bourdieu (1996) demonstrated the role of education and especially that of elite education in maintaining and reproducing class inequalities. The dual education system that divide students from different classes into different types of schools- division of preparatory classes for Grandes Écoles in France and division of private schools and state schools in UK, is highlighted by Bourdieu in reproducing inequalities. Bourdieusian analytical tools are used in many other national contexts and his findings on social reproduction mechanisms have also been confirmed in countries such as the USA and UK. Bourdieusian tools are very useful to demonstrate symbolic domination and to problematize what has been taken for granted in daily life (Reay, 2004). This is a main reason why I draw on Bourdieusian tools to examine symbolic domination in a new context namely that divisions in education are not based on class but on exam performance and meritocracy. I want to use Bourdieusian theoretical tools to reveal and to discuss symbolic domination in the context of China.
Bourdieusian tools are widely used but this does not mean they have no flaws. Many criticisms point to his tendency towards determinism and his over-emphasis on unconsciousness. Without due consideration of reflexivity and resistance, the use of Bourdieusian tools could easily fall into Orwellian pessimism. Many authors have worked to develop Bourdieusian tools by introducing agency and reflexivity. For example Reay (2004, 2009) used Bourdieusian accounts of habitus dislocation to explain reflexivity and Sayer (2005) drew on moral philosophy to argue for the inclusion of reflexivity into the theoretical development of habitus. I agree with Giroux’s (1983) criticism that the biggest problem in Bourdieusian theory is that domination is seen as a perfect pattern. Referring to the Frankfurt School, Giroux (1983) argues that moments of mutation, cracks and discontinuities should be considered alongside discussion of domination. Inspired by Giroux argument (1983), I want to focus on “exceptions” namely working-class students who have achieved academic success and who have reached to elite universities in China. By focusing on this small group of students, I want to know why and how they have become exceptions. Further, I want to find and to think of the mechanisms that can constitute moments of mutation over class domination.
Bourdieu, P. (1990). The Logic of Practice. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Bourdieu, P. (1996). The State Nobility: Elite Schools in the Field of Power. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press. Giroux. H. (1983). Theory and Resistance in Education: A Pedagogy for the Opposition. London: Heinemann Educational. Reay, D. (2004). It’s all becoming a habitus: beyond the habitual use of habitus in educational research. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 25(4): 431-444. Reay, D., Crozier, G., & Clayton, J. (2009). “Strangers in Paradise”? Working-class students in elite universities. Sociology, 43(6), 1103–1121. Sayer, A. (2005). The Moral Significance of Class. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Thornberg, R. (2012). Informed grounded theory. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 56(3): 243-259.
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