Comfort zone . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .me!

flickr photo by Renaud Camus shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

One name which has been cropping up in the literature for a while now is Bourdieu. I don’t recall seeing his name as regularly when I did my first Masters, but more recently it’s tough to get away from. Wondering why he’s become so fashionable recently, when the Sheffield Institute of Education posted details of a seminar discussing research which used Bourdieu is used as the theoretical framework, I thought it might be a chance to find out ‘what all the fuss is about.’ Err ……. no!

My knowledge is distinctly limited, being aware only of the concept of habitus (but not knowing much more than it can be considered as one’s dispositions … rightly or wrongly) and that capital (cultural, economic etc) plays a part in the theorisation. I was clearly bringing a rubber knife to a gunfight.

In his talk “There’s no such thing as Bourdieu Lite,” Professor David James discussed the concept of ‘misrecognition’ that Bourdieu advanced. In the abstract I was struggling, but then he suggested a concrete example in the form of the store loyalty card, it began to make more sense. Although this is ostensibly about providing discounts for regular, loyal shoppers, in reality it’s to provide the store with masses of data on customer shopping habits – misrecognition. (Or is it misrepresentation?) He went on to explore how this concept could be used as a perspective with which to view different aspects of educational provision.

Andrew Morrison then summarised research he’d undertaken to explore undergraduates perceptions of barriers to employment in primary teaching in the UK. His theoretical framework of choice used habitus, capital and fields from Bourdieu, but also Sayer’s lay normativity and Fraser’s social injustice. As someone with no desire to hide his Yorkshire accent, I found the notion of linguistic capital and the perceived impact that a regional accent can have on one’s employability quite interesting.

What I took away from the sessions though was David’s exhortation to avoid a shallow, surface attempt when applying Bourdieu (or any theoretical framework) to one’s research. If I choose to go with actor-network theory (another fashionable framework?), then I need to become intimate with it. From Andrew’s talk I noted the judicious application of different theoretical frameworks to shed light on different aspects of his study; Bourdieu fails to address justice adequately, which is why Fraser was needed. Since I’m also considering whether different theoretical frameworks can be applied in order to illuminate different aspects of my study, it was somewhat reassuring to see a more experienced researcher doing just that. I wondered though whether these two messages conflicted somewhat? If you’re applying multiple theoretical frameworks, is it possible one might only be adopting a surface approach? i.e. precisely what the first talk cautioned against.

I’m left wondering though whether I was right to jump in at the deep end like I did here. I’m not a great deal further forward in my understanding of Bourdieu. Perhaps I should have prepared in some way; there are plenty of YouTube videos on Bourdieu. The opportunity to attend was there; I took it. When they come my way, I’m going to continue to snap them up, accepting the fact that occasionally I might get burned.


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