Academic journal article International Journal of Whole Schooling

When Belonging Becomes Belonging: A Bourdieuian Theorisation

Academic journal article International Journal of Whole Schooling

When Belonging Becomes Belonging: A Bourdieuian Theorisation

Article excerpt


Working across practice boundaries on inclusive education is now commonplace in theory and practice. However one analytic challenge for achieving the goals of Whole Schooling is to understand and practice 'quality belonging' outside the familiar conceptualisations of belonging applied in everyday discourse. I draw on Pierre Bourdieu's critical sociological concepts of capital, field and habitus to offer insights into the notion of quality belonging. This view invites us to engage critically with how the Whole Schooling approach to education strives to disrupt social and structural arrangements to rethink educational practices that encourage quality belonging.

A concern for educators and researchers is how human relations across boundaries of practice can be renegotiated so that what matters for inclusive practice becomes a continuous adjustment in human habitus. Belonging is a term commonly used in everyday life by academics, teachers, politicians, and so on because it is integral to human existence. First, this article offers an ontological theorization of belonging. Second, it interrogates the quality of belonging from a Bourdieuian perspective by critiquing exclusion generated from psychological or biological discourses to question the way that 'belonging' is applied in a technical or an emotional sense within the field of inclusive education. Finally, the article works towards offering a new theorization that does not treat the meaning of belonging as deterministic.

Ontological Understanding of Belonging

To understand the ontology of 'belonging', it is important to examine the notion of the object and of objectivity. This is necessary as what belongs and what does not belong take their root from these concepts. We often think of objects as true representations of reality, because we can feel them with our senses. For example, we can touch them. The term objectivity is constructed as an important normative term to mean that the truth has already been found and is therefore closed (Guen, 1989). In this perspective alternative positions are considered as deviations from the truth and must therefore be refuted. According to Guen (1989), to say something is objective:

   ... signifies that our judgments, evaluations, statements, claims,
   and so on, are fair to that which we are judging, and appropriate
   to the situation; the validity of my judgments rests on the hope
   that they are not merely statements about what I wish were the
   case, or what is the case in my unique experience, or what I think
   someone wants to hear (p. 589).

Psychological assessments or measurements serve as forms of judgements that practitioners use to validate some students as 'disabled', and as such may indicate that they do not qualify to belong to a particular place of schooling. In fact, the outcomes psychologists produce through such judgements often remain unquestioned truth with those defined by them. Veresov (2014) argues that measuring psychological attributes such as intellectual abilities or personal traits without ever interrogating our scientific methodologies about whether these traits are quantitative in the first place, is a matter of critical concern. Toomela (2007) observes,

   We still find objective scores without knowing how many
   different psychological mechanisms may underlie the same score.
   We do not know how psychological aspect of experimental
   conditions may have contributed to study results. Study of
   fragments gives very little to understanding of a human person as
   a whole ... Statistical probabilistic prediction has become an end
   goal of studies even though most of the thinking and insight
   should begin where the science of mainstream psychology seems
   to end now (p. 18).

The quote above demonstrates that objective judgments based on psychological methods that embrace the positivist orientation of the natural sciences can define students in narrow terms if the assessor fails to account for other psychological and socio-cultural factors that cannot be quantified (Anderson, 1998; Dawson, et al. …

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