Thursday, 20 February 2014

Learning through writing 2: Fitting in?

Following my last blog on Bourdieu, this posting focuses on another article that has Bourdieu at the heart of it (still waiting for Distinction to arrive......).  This one was recommended to me by my colleague who knows Reay's work well, and I plan to provide a simple overview of the key points (as part of the learning process!).

Reference for the article:
Reay, D., Crozier, G. and Clayton, J. (2009). 'Fitting in' or 'standing out': working-class students in higher education. British Educational Research Journal, iFirst Article, 1-18.

  • Students who enter higher education (HE) come from a range of socio-economic groups. 'Widening participation' has been on the government's agenda for some time now.
  • Retention and success of students is important for a number of reasons (social, economic, cultural, personal, etc), and with widening participation has come an increase in attrition rates.
  • There are differences between universities in their ability to attract students from working-class and minority ethnic backgrounds. Prior attainment is not the only reason for lower numbers accessing HE from these backgrounds in certain universities (Russell Group). Still, even the post-1992 universities are not as successful overall as they might like to be in recruiting the numbers of students from these backgrounds.
  • Race, social class and gender impact on the way in which students access and experience HE. This article focuses on class whilst acknowledging that race and gender are important mediating factors. The research uses the concept of 'institutional habitus' to explore these experiences.
  • Habitus:
    • dynamic concept
    • 'a rich interlacing of past and present, individual and collective'
    • adaptation to external influences leading sometimes to change
    • social context key to behaviours and characteristics
    • institutional habitus reflects these points but are less likely to change than individuals due to the size of the organisation
  • 'Expressive order' of the HE is important to the case studies under investigation in this research and this relates to expectations, conduct, character and manners - 'embodied cultural capital' (we can see it in the way that students dress, how they behave, how they view their learning and their level of confidence in the world of HE).
  • The research: undergraduate students, aged 18 or over, working class backgrounds (defined through the ONSSEC); mixed methods; 4 different kinds of HEIs; different degrees; questionnaire, interviews; habitus and field were used as sensitising concepts in the data analysis phase.
  • Findings:
    • institutional habitus impacts on the ways in which class has an effect on student experiences including how the students see themselves within the different kinds of HEIs.
    • Staying close to home geographically and academically had its benefits (safety, reassurance) but means that the process of transformation through the educational experience is not as stark as in those students who went further afield for their education (both in geographical and academic terms). 
    • When students attended HEIs within their 'comfort zones', they may have felt accepted, but may have taken a more instrumental approach to their education.
    • Living in halls (rather than at home) appears to impact on the ability of students to integrate into the social and academic aspects of university life that are on offer - relating to the institutional habituses.
    • Those in paid work and with family commitments were less likely to take on the strong learner identify that others who could commit more time to the whole student experience. These factors impacted on the students' identities as academic learners.
    • The students who managed to 'fit in' socially whilst also 'standing out' as different were the ones who, unsurprisingly, were most successful.
    • Working class students who enter into elite HEIs may face both academic challenge (like their counterparts) as well as 'identity work' - where their habitus comes into contact with a very different field to the one(s) they had been used to.
  • The most important message is that inequalities persist, with working class students being less likely to make it into elite institutions.
An interesting article - an area where there is still much to be done. As before, the work of Reay et al resonates with the findings from my PhD (although I didn't investigate social class as such but knew from my data that the overwhelming majority of the students were first generation university goers). Further thoughts on Bourdieu will follow once my book arrives.

To carry on my theme of including a photo - this is another taken in France and I imagine this (somewhat tentatively) as a hard slog to get the top - reflecting what it may feel like for some working class students who enter into HE. 

Monday, 17 February 2014

Learning through writing 1: Easing into Bourdieu

Here goes. In my last blog I promised myself that I would write about areas of theory (or practice) that I feel that I need to know more about (that will be everything then!), and through that process both learn and engage with others who hopefully will help me think about the things that I write about. I also plan to consider the relevance of my reading to nursing education.

I am starting with Bourdieu. The reason for this is that I 'used' some of his theory in my PhD - I used it quite well but as I have read more, I realise that I didn't get to the depth of his work. I have ordered Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste today but am easing into my reading with a critique of this work (possibly the wrong way round to do this). The article's reference is:
Murdock, G. (2010). Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste. International Journal of Cultural Policy, 16:1, 63-65.

What does the article tell us?

  • Bourdieu was born in 1930 in rural south-west France.
  • He was the son of a postmaster.
  • He was successful in gaining a place in an elite higher education institution in Paris.
  • Coming from provincial France, he was thrust into this cosmopolitan lifestyle in an era of importance for Paris - as the cultural and intellectual centre of the west at the time.
  • These differences - between what he had grown up with and what he was coming to know in his academic city life - led to his lifelong fascination with culture, class and power.
  • He approached this fascination through a body of empirical work that investigated cultural practices and institutions.
  • His military service was in Algeria after which he stayed on to train as an anthropologist - he investigated the Berber culture (apologies for the wikipedia link); the ways in which the organising principles of their culture were perpetuated through the rituals in their lives. He recognised that the 'modernisation' that was taking place was impacting negatively on the cultural lives of the Berbers.
  • As the Director of Sociological Studies in a university in Paris, he went on to focus his research on continuity and change in modern France. His time here coincided with the shift from industrial production as the valuable asset, to education and intellectualism as assets.
  • What he recognised was that education favoured those from the middle and upper classes, rather than those from working classes (social privilege).
  • He then went on to identify that those from the working classes did not feel 'comfortable' in environments such as museums
  • In 1979, Distinction was published and confirmed him as the leading social analyst of his time.
    • Cultural preferences are derived from the experiences and input one has in families, education and other social situations.
    • These are habituses and are not fixed (as we can gain capital in different ways as we progress through life) but impact on how we behave and feel in different circumstances.
    • "Class positions are defined by holdings of social and cultural capital as well as economic assets." These relate to the distribution of power, and generate views of what constitutes 'low' and 'high' culture - resulting in inequalities in what are perceived as personal qualities, and is an act of symbolic violence.
    • There are inherent barriers to cultural participation arising from these class positions and the 'amount' and 'types' of capital - thus excluding (often self-exclusion) people from particular situations.
So, how is this information relevant to nursing education? My own PhD seemed to indicate that there were problems with the way that some student nurses were able to engage with university education because of the differences in cultural preferences - many of the students in my study were first generation university goers and were therefore coming into a situation about which they may have had little or no experience or preparation. The power in the relationship described here is likely to have sat with the academics and others in the university rather than with the student - in these particular circumstances. I will leave it here as I want to explore the concepts further before I go on to consider the implications in more depth.

A bit of a tentative connection - but here is a picture of a beautiful village in France which I visited with my family a couple of years ago.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Learning through writing

I haven't written on my blog for quite some time. I haven't been able to find a focus that I could consistently follow through. This weekend I had a conversation with my husband who happens to be a sociologist. I was telling him about a conversation that I had had with a colleague who knows that I write about social capital and who then asked me from what perspective I write. I was able to answer him (Putnam's Bowling Alone). But I also refer to Bourdieu's habitus (a non-academic link provided here). It made me think about how we refer to and use the work of others. In hindsight I am not sure that I know enough about Bourdieu to be talking in-depth about his work. And my hermeneutic phenomenology in my PhD (based on Heidegger's and Gadamer's work) is based on a detailed and committed approach to understanding, but does not scale the heights of true understanding of their philosophical perspectives.

I am therefore going to use this blog as a learning tool for myself. I plan to read and engage with the thinking so that I can make more sense of the difficult concepts - ones that I sometimes avoid on the basis that they are so challenging (not a great thing to admit as an academic!). I really hope that anyone who is still linked into this blog will help me in this learning journey. I am sure that by engaging in discussion, as an active learner I will benefit. If you wish to participate in anyway - by commenting or by writing a guest blog on an area of mutual interest - I would be delighted!!

I choose also to share some pictures that encapsulate some of the important messages in the learning. For me, this picture of my daughters and two of their cousins illustrates the importance of the connections we create in our lives (and I simply love the picture as it makes me smile).