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Michael Grenfell

The French social Pierre Bourdieu became known as a key sociologist of education from the 1970s, contributing seminal books and articles to the “new” sociology of education, which focuses on knowledge formation in the classroom and institutional relations. His own social background was modest, but he rose through the elite French schools to become a leading intellectual in the second half of the 20th century. Much of his early work dealt with education, but this only formed part of a wider research corpus, which considered the French state and society as a whole: culture, politics, religion, law, economics, media, philosophy. Bourdieu developed a highly original “theory of practice” and set of conceptual thinking tools: habitus, field, cultural capital. His approach sought to rise above conventional oppositions between subjectivism and objectivism. Structure as both structured and structuring was a central principle to this epistemology. Early studies of students focused the role that education played in social class reproduction and the place of language in academic discourse. For him, pedagogy was a form of “symbolic violence,” played out in the differential holdings of “cultural capital” that the students held with respect to each other and the dominant ethos of schooling. He undertook further extensive studies of French higher education and the elite training schools. He was involved in various education review committees and put forward a number of principles for change in curricula, all while accepting that genuine reform was extremely challenging. He catalogued some of the tensions and conflicts of contemporary education policy. Both his discoveries and conceptual terms still offer researchers powerful tools for analyzing and understanding all national education systems and the particular individual practical contexts within them.


Margaret Kettle and Susy Macqueen

Language is fundamental to teaching and learning, yet is prone to invisibility in education systems. Drawing on work from applied linguistics that foregrounds language use in education, a “power” heuristic can be used to highlight linguistic privilege and its implications for students and their individual language repertoires. Language can be understood as a tool for performing particular interpersonal and ideational functions; its structure and uses are determined by context. For most students, experiences of language that is education-related reside in three core domains: the home and community, the school, and the nation state. Language expectations in these domains vary and position the linguistic repertoires of students differently. A key consideration is the student’s first language and its relationship to the expectations and privileged varieties of different institutions, for example, the local school and the national education department. By foregrounding linguistic privilege in education, the alignment, or misalignment, between students’ language resources and the prevailing language norms of educational institutions is made visible and open to change. Inherent in the level of alignment are issues of educational inclusion, access to powerful language forms and genres, and academic achievement. The concept of power affordances can be used to refer to the enabling potential of the relationship between language status, language affiliation and a student’s linguistic repertoire. Power affordances can operate as three broad potentials, capabilities or statuses: socioeconomic power, which resides in the language of global and state institutions ranging from government to schools and manifests in instruments such as national standardized tests; sociocognitive power, which enables the capacity to learn and recognizes the language intensity of knowledge; and identity power, which references social belonging and is strongly indexed to language. Conceptualizing language and its power affordances in education provides a useful framework for understanding the relationship between students’ language resources and the often implicit linguistic demands and practices of education systems. It also highlights the rich potential of applied linguistics in understanding education.