22 SES 12 D, Inclusion and Diversity in Higher Education Settings
Parallel Paper Session
In this paper, I connect the work of Pierre Bourdieu and his sociological understanding of student experience in higher education – in particular his notions of habitus, disposition and capital - with what we term a more psychosocial understanding of the importance of recognition in human interaction. I draw, especially, on the ideas of the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott and the critical theorist Axel Honneth. In Bourdieu’s terms, if we think of students as either ‘fish in or out of water’, I want to understand more of how subjective experiences of objective phenomena may develop; and argue that this requires more of a holistic interpretation of intersubjective processes. The main research question was what enabled particular students to keep on keeping on and how this might be understood. Bourdieu’s ideas of habitus are related to Winnicott’s notion of transitional space and Honneth’s concept of recognition in human interaction. The research, on which the paper draws, sought to chronicle and theorise, dynamically, the lived, embodied, affective as well as cognitive experiences of students.
Chapman Hoult (2012) has observed that Bourdieu fails sufficiently to engage with how some students, with apparently limited educational and social capital, nonetheless survive and prosper. They become fish in water, in effect, even in what can appear to be the culturally exclusive habitus of elite institutions. Of course Bourdieu was aware of this phenomenon and argued, structurally, that such learners serve to mask systemic inequalities yet he failed to engage, in these terms, with ‘the subjective experience of objective possibilities’. Donald Winnicott (1971) provides one approach to considering some of the processes involved. He suggested the concept of transitional space, when thinking, for instance, about developmental processes in adulthood. We can think of university, as a space where the self is in negotiation, and where a process of, or struggle around, separation and individuation - letting go of past ideas and relationships – may take place. A renegotiation of self may be more or less legitimised in the eyes and responses of significant others; and via recognition within a particular sub-culture or habitus. Axel Honneth argued that such recognition is a simultaneously individual and social need. It requires love in the family or interpersonal sphere in order for the child to develop self-confidence. Recognition of the autonomous person, bearing rights in law, is the basis for self-respect. And the formation of a co-operative member of society whose efforts are socially valued leads to self-esteem (Honneth, 2007). Honneth himself, it should be noted, was influenced, among others, by the object relations theories of Winnicott.
Chapman Hoult, L (2012) Resilient Learners. London: Macmillan Fleming T (2011) Recognition in the work of Axel Honneth: Implications for Transformative Learning Theory. Transformative Learning Conference, Athens, April. Honneth, A. (2007). Disrespect: The Normative Foundations of Critical Theory. Cambridge: Polity Press. Winnicott D (1971) Playing and Reality. London: Routledge
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