Bourdieu and Education: Acts of Practical Theory

By Michael David James Grenfell | Go to book overview

Chapter 2

Theory, Practice and Pedagogic Research

Introduction

In this chapter, Bourdieu’s basic terms of analysis will be described and explained; for example, field, capital, habitus. We begin the chapter with a broader discussion of prevailing approaches to educational research, and then connect these approaches with Bourdieu’s own theory of practice in order to show up the relevance of the connecting themes. The structure of the chapter seeks to place Bourdieu’s terms of analysis within the context of British educational research and its struggles with such notions as theory and practice; objectivity and subjectivity; and the various paradigmatic approaches to these.


Theory and the Idea of Paradigms in Educational Research

As any field of social science, educational research has undergone enormous changes in the course of its post-war development. For the most part, this development can be seen as a gradual move away from semi-experimental investigations based on the statistical analysis of empirical data to more qualitative approaches aimed at naturalistic enquiries into a range of educational contexts. Throughout these changes, the role, form and status of theory and practice in educational research have been continuously debated. What is the nature of theory? How is it represented? Is it prior to or arising from analysis of the world? What methods are used to conduct this analysis? How do the outcomes of research relate to the shaping of educational policy and practice? Bourdieu’s major statement on these issues is his Outline of a Theory of Practice, which was published in 1972 in France and in English translation in 1977. It is worth spending a little time considering the title of this book, as it does give us some clue as to the intention behind it. Firstly, it is an ‘outline’; in other words, a basic structure only—there is much detail to fill in. Secondly, it is ‘a’theory—one synthetic description. An element of post-modernist contingency and doubt is therefore retained. Thirdly, theory is enjoined to practice. It is not theory for its own sake in some idealistic, platonic realm, but is intricately linked to practical activity. Before looking at the detail behind this theory of practice, it might be helpful to consider how issues of theory and practice have been represented in education in recent decades.

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