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Bourdieu and Education  

Michael Grenfell

The French social Pierre Bourdieu became known as a key sociologist of education in 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. His early studies dealt with Algeria, which he had experienced firsthand in the 1950s at a time of their war of independence. Issues of education and culture grew out of his field studies and formed the basis of further early work in the 1960s. Subsequently, he developed a wider research corpus, which considered the French state and society as a whole: cultural consumption, politics, religion, law, economics, literature, art, fashion, media, and philosophy. Bourdieu developed a highly original “theory of practice” and set of conceptual thinking tools: habitus, field, and 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 university students focused on 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 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.

Article

Neoliberalism and Education  

Matt Hastings

Neoliberalism is a political project carried out by the capitalist class to consolidate their ability to generate profits by exercising influence in political processes, such as elections, in order to privatize or direct state institutions and regulatory powers in ways favorable to their interests. These efforts coincide the propagation of a neoliberal common sense that is grounded in an understanding of all aspects of society in economic terms of competition in markets and return on investment. However, in practice, neoliberalism does not promote competitive markets as much as it results in the privatization of public institutions and creation of new sites for private investment through state policies. The field of education, traditionally a site of local democratic control, is increasingly subject to neoliberal governance, as elected school boards are consolidated under appointed leadership, district schools are replaced by charter schools, and school resources, such as curriculum, testing, and even the training of teachers, are provided by private companies. Neoliberalism frames the purpose of education in terms of investments made in the development of students’ human capital. What students should learn and the value of education is relative to their individual prospects for future earnings. This narrowed conception of education raises important questions about the purpose of education and the relationship between schools, democratic life, and state governance. Developing a critical relationship with neoliberal common sense is necessary in order to recognize both how actually existing neoliberal policies primarily serve the interests of capitalists and that there are other, democratic, sources of value and purpose that can ground debates and efforts in the field of education.