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.

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