Critical socio-spatial theory

In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in spatial relations in critical education research (Ferrarc & Apple, 2010; Gulson & Symes, 2007; Robertson, 2010). Drawing from Lefebvre (1991), Massey (1994, 2005), Soja (1996), Smith (1992),

Brenner (2003), as well as Jessop, Brenner, and Jones (2008), Robertson (2010) has summarized the key assumptions of critical socio-spatial theory: space is socially produced; spaces are social relations stretched out; and space constitutes and is constituted through power relations in social transactions (pp. 15-18). She maintains that education space should be viewed as “a crucial site, object, instrument and outcome” constituting the complex processes of power, production, and social relations (p. 15). Ferrare and Apple (2010) further offer insights into the ways of doing critical spatial analysis of educational issues—“spatializing macro-level education policy;” “spatializing micro-level educational practices;” and using spatial tools such as social network analysis to examine spatial processes in education. These ideas influence my research project in three ways: First, they inform my thinking about the newly established IHSCPs in China as an emergent education space. Second, they lead me to integrate Bourdieu’s notions of capital with critical curriculum studies from Bernstein and Apple in order to spatialize both macro-level education policy and micro-level educational practices. Third, they guide me to employ social network analysis to trace out the ways in which this education space was produced.

Bourdieu’s concepts of field, capital, and habitus

Field, capital, and habitus are the central concepts of Bourdieu’s theory of social practices. These notions are widely used to analyze how advantage is (reproduced through education. Bourdieu conceptualizes resources as capital when they become objects of struggle as valued resources for individuals, families, groups, or organizations to maintain and enhance their positions in the social order (Swartz, 1997, pp. 73-74). Bourdieu (1986) extends Marxism’s idea of capital to include various kinds of capital: material (economic), cultural, social, and symbolic. His notion of economic capital is similar to capital in Marx’s sense of the word, including money and property. Cultural capital exists in three forms, including the objectified state, the embodied state, and the institutionalized state. The first one refers to material objects possessed by people or organizations like books and works of art. The second one includes dispositions, habits, and taste for “high art.” The third one is expressed in terms of educational credentials, qualifications, or certificates. He emphasizes two characteristics in his concept of social capital: a resource is connected with group membership and social networks; social capital is based on mutual recognition (pp. 248-249). Bourdieu (1986, 1990) points out capital conversions where different forms of capital can be converted from one type to another.

Bourdieu’s concept of habitus represents “an attempt to transcend dualisms of agency-structure, objective-subjective and the micro-macro” (Reay, 2004, p. 432). There are primary habitus and secondary habitus. The former refers to the set of dispositions acquired through early class-specific socialization experiences within families. The latter one is grafted with the primary habitus and subsequently produced through education and both implicit and explicit pedagogies. Habitus is acquired over time and across different spaces. Bourdieu’s notion of field is a duality, which is composed of two inseparable constituents—the space of positions and the space of position-takings (Ferrare & Apple, 2015). Further, Bourdieu and Wacquant (1992) note that “[i]n analytic terms, a field may be defined as a network, or a configuration, of objective relations between positions” (p. 97). This point resonates with what they argue—“to think in terms of field is to think relationally” (p. 96, emphasis in original).

Bourdieu’s concepts of field, capital, and habitus are theoretically and methodologically important. They offer avenues for understanding the way that the international/transnational spaces of education, where IHSCPs are situated in, constitute a new field of power relations, and also a field of struggles. These notions enable me to examine the ways in which the new Chinese elites have control over or access to valued educational resources. Bourdieu’s field analytical perspective leads me to emphasize how class, habitus, and trajectory shape the entry of agents into the field. His field analysis also directs my attention to the interconnection between micro-educational processes of the family and schooling, meso-institutional transformations, and macro-social change and power relations.

Critical curriculum studies

It is not my purpose to review the long tradition of critical curriculum studies; rather, I focus on discussing Bernstein’s education code theory and Michael Apple’s perspective on a critical approach to curriculum studies.21 Their work guides me to examine how curriculum and pedagogy actually prepare privileged students for study abroad, how advantage is constructed inside the school, and how students’ subjectivities are constituted and shaped by their schooling experiences.

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