Schooling as Socialisation into a Myth-Symbol Complex

Bourdieu, in his analysis of class differences in France, views the state as the spokesperson of dominant classes and as the primary agency laying down the essential features of citizens and ‘others’.119 He argues that the process of education approximates the imposition of an arbitrary culture (the myth-symbol complex of a dominant social class, or of an ethnic group) by an arbitrary power (the state) for the purpose of perpetuating the social order and hierarchical pattern among (class or ethnic) groups. When social change occurs and hierarchical patterns among communities change, the contents and structures of schooling follow. The more dependent education systems are on the state, the slower they are in responding to social change. In this perspective, education reform is an expression of ‘conflict and competition between social class, ethnic, religious and gender groups’.120 Thus, negotiation over the contents and structures of compulsory education is an amplified debate over the fundamental identity (or identities) of a society.

Moreover, Bourdieu claims that the practices and contents of schooling reflect a ‘legitimate culture’, which is the expression of the values and interests of dominant groups. He maintains that the more arbitrary the power distribution in society, the further ‘legitimate culture’ is from the myth- symbol complex of some communities.121 Thus, rigid and illegitimate intergroup hierarchies would create and reproduce a gap between arbitrary (or state) ‘legitimate’ education and the culture of some communities.

Application of Bourdieu’s analysis to ethnic and national communities in deeply divided societies explains the continuing existence, alongside the state education system, of schools associated with specific communities. Through schools, states attempt to socialise its citizens into a dominant myth-symbol complex. Yet, community schools may emerge as instruments of collective resistance to socialisation and assimilation. As Chap. 3 shows, community schools in Lebanon, Northern Ireland and Macedonia emerged as valuable ‘means of preserving group identity through generations’.122 Indeed, recent research in Northern Ireland confirms that individual identification with communities and expression of stereotypes increase markedly in the first years of primary school.123 This suggests that compulsory education remains a tool to transmit ‘a set of predispositions towards certain cultural events and symbols and a deep sense of belonging to one community in opposition to the other’ or to the state.124

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