[image (c) Le service photo du Conseil général du Val-de-Marne] In this post, Irene talks about her use of Pierre Bourdieu’s ideas in her successfully defended PhD – for more detail see her chapter in the forthcoming book Social Theory and Education Research….

In my PhD I explored adolescent students’ perceptions of parental influence and their dispositions to study mathematically-demanding courses in Higher Education, drawing on six family case studies’ interviews. I come from a background in Primary Education and Psychology and I never thought I would use a theory of sociology for my PhD. But I found Bourdieu’s theory useful for my thesis because it is widely applied in educational research for investigating parental influence especially in primary education, although it is not so common for exploring parental influence in adolescence. Thus, I used Bourdieu’s theory slightly differently from what other people did in the past. I did use most of his theoretical concepts: capital, habitus, practice and field but I also tried to extend Bourdieu’s theory in my thesis. I used some of his theoretical concepts, which are not so widely used, to theorise the phenomenon of ‘denial’ of parental influence from adolescent students. In my PhD I argued that parental influence is ‘misrecognised’ by adolescent students and their parents, and thus it could be a form of ‘symbolic violence’.

Bourdieu wrote about symbolic violence in almost all his books: The Logic of Practice, Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture and Masculine Domination are only a few. He originally used the term to talk about symbolic violence exercised through the educational system to advantage the middle-class students and to disadvantage the working-class students: by legitimatising the dominant culture at school the working-class students are self-excluded from school (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1990).

But he also talked about symbolic violence between genders and generations. He argues that intergenerational relations are driven by the ‘logic of debt’ (Bourdieu, 1980) and those who possess more capital in a field can exercise symbolic violence ‘with the complicity of those who suffer from it’ (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992). Thus, I conceptualise a family as a field, where parents possess more capital than their children and are in the position to exercise symbolic violence on their children by making their capital available to them. I argue that the ‘denial’ of parental influence in adolescent students’ interviews regarding their educational choices for future studies in Higher Education, serves as a ‘misrecognition’ of parental influence.

And although all these might sound impressive I struggled with Bourdieu’s theory at first, and I read most of his books twice and maybe three times before I can say ‘I get it’! I was fortunate to participate in a Bourdieu reading group at the University of Manchester during my doctoral studies, which really helped me to clarify some of his terminology and the way people interpret his work. I hope this blog will be a place for interaction and will provide food for thought. I believe that only through discussing how social theory is applied in various contexts can someone be convinced of its value for educational research.

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