Notes on: Horvat, E. (2003) The interactive effects of race and class in educational research: theoretical insights from the work of Pierre Bourdieu. Penn GSE Perspectives on Urban Education 2(1).

Dave Harris

[V useful summary of Bourdieu. Not that insightful when applied to the case study though]

Race and class affect the life chances of young people as we know: high school experiences, access and transition to postsecondary education and this has remain relatively unchanged from the mid-1970s. Gender also affects the rates at which people go to college. Access to HE for Blacks and Latinos relative to Whites has declined as has access for those from different income groups.

The issue is how student background variables interact with one another especially race and class. Most US research up until 1996 was based on national longitudinal datasets on those going directly to college and high school, usually men. It excluded non-traditional students and thus possibly underestimated the importance of race. Usually race and class were seen as independent of one another, while Collins argued that for African-American women, identity was a '"both/and" construct' (1), something layered and overlapping, something interacting shaping lived experience. This is especially so in diverse urban settings where there is a higher percentage of minority groups, often from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Bourdieu has become increasingly popular especially the concept of habitus, 'a system of lasting transposable dispositions rooted in early familial socialisation' [citimg Swartz]. It requires a greater attention to 'the context or field of interaction, in which educational opportunitie is shaped' and this helps see how race and class function and influence student lives in a more integrated fashion. However there are problems especially if we do not place the terms in an overall theoretical framework, which can be difficult to decipher. Bourdieu's prose does not help, nor does the usual focus on cultural capital and social capital.

The original work does not mention race although others have attempted to grasp race. The issue is to apply theory based primarily on class. This does not conceive class as a matter of the relation to the means of production nor is it a matter of just using occupation. Instead it is a construct 'that encompasses individuals who share homogeneous conditions of existence, sets of dispositions and preferences, and are capable of generating similar practices in social settings' (2). In this sense every aspect of a social condition, including race and ethnicity contributes to class membership and the development of an habitus, part of the objective conditions of existence. These include geographical location as well as the social factors.

Looking for class differences provides useful but incomplete answers. For example Lareau has shown how middle-class children have particular experiences in their education, patterns of inclusion and exclusion, based on class, but she did not explicitly explore the effects of race. In current work, she is, and she is showing that class is still the dominant force but it is mediated by race [the work is Lareau and Horvat 1999]. There is a 'layered effect' of race and class.

Much of the work applying Bourdieu has used only one of the four central theoretical constructs '(habitus, capital, field or practice)', sometimes as a stand-alone concept, especially with cultural capital, yet this has meaning only in a specific field. The focus of this paper is on habitus but it's necessary to see how all the key concepts fit into the theoretical model. Empirical examples are drawn from a qualitative longitudinal study in an urban setting based on 14 Black women from three different high schools and how they interpret educational opportunity as they apply to HE and later as they prepare to graduate. The result is to show 'complicated ways in which race and class, embodied in habitus, combined to shape experiences and opportunity'.

[Biographical staff on Bourdieu ensues… Provincial outsider, intellectual and gender to resolve structure agency dichotomy, advance reflexive social science, link theory and empirical data in a vision of social interaction 'or  what Bourdieu calls "practice"' (3).]

So '"structural properties are always embedded in everyday events"' and actions structures structure and vice versa in a dialectical relationship. In this case the structural context and forces in educational settings such as tracking policies or admissions policies are influenced by the individual's actions which are themselves rooted in personal history including race and class influences, and those are in turn shaped by structural events and practices. Here, habitus also moves beyond subjectivism and objectivism, containing elements of personal history and structures

The subject/object dichotomy in positivism is to be transcended, but objectivity is not unattainable and we must question the social world to achieve a degree of it. His own epistemological stance calls for 'an integration of theory formulation, data collection and measurement' while recognising that sociologists' practice is affected by values, attitudes and their representations that are often quite different from formal standards of verification. The key is a reflexive stance where researchers are contextually situated and examine their own practice to move towards informed objectivity. [Does that include examining their own habitus?].Reflexive sociology involves connecting theory and empirical work, as a form of interpenetration, hypothesis forming about the observations are designed to capture.

 Structural influences obviously include 'the sources of power in these interactions which perpetuate systems of domination and subordination'. There is a central interest on symbolic power 'the power to legitimated authority and order in the social world'. There is a need to unmask misrecognitions of this power, to make visible unrecognised mechanisms and cultural norms that maintain hierarchies and to see how individuals navigate the system, to expose 'important hidden and intrinsic rules' (4).

This explains the interest on 'generating distinction', including distinguishing oneself as a member of a particular class, which contributes to the legitimation of the established order and establishes hierarchies through cultural differences and status distinctions, forcing other cultures to define themselves by their distances from the dominant order. This domination is 'unconsciously and uncritically accepted'. The distinctions are actually arbitrary and only defined by the relation between those who exercise power and those who submit to it. Maintaining these distinctions constitute 'symbolic violence' and again this operates beneath consciousness and will, as 'habituated notions… the modalities are practices, the ways of looking, sitting, standing, keeping silent or even of speaking"'. The dominated do not recognise the domination but 'practice habituated actions that perpetuate it'.

The habitus is '"a system of lasting, transposable dispositions which… functions at every moment as a matrix of perceptions, appreciations, and actions" (Bourdieu 1977 -- Outline 82-3)'. It lies in the predominantly unconscious internalisation especially during early childhood of '"objective chances that are common to members of a social class or social group"' [citing Swartz], internalised societal rules, games with stakes and imminent laws all at a subconscious level. At the same time 'individuals are strategic improvisers' who take action 'based on the segmented dispositions and preferences rooted in the habitus', so strategy is not entirely rational 'but rather an unconscious enactment of the individual dispositions'. The rules of the game in a specific field have been individually internalised. The interaction of the individual habitus with the surrounding field creates meaning and also bestows power it provides '"common sense"' ways of operating, and 'internalised, second nature sense of the operation of place, position, and relation in our social world', just like being [in the zone] in a game. It shows how structure and individual activity are related and how structural elements are embodied in the individual [but also how individuals structure structures — not at all well explained so far — secondary socialisation? There's a hint of it in a discussion of successful or acceptable action just below. There is also the generative parts where new situations are encountered.] It is a useful way to investigate race and class influences because they can act simultaneously to construct the habitus.

Capital is a more familiar concept especially in several forms which are convertible. It should be understood as a form of power, and includes the familiar economic capital. There is also social capital 'the set of valuable connections or networks' which provides members with collectively owned capital, including a credential in the literal sense which entitles them to credit. Cultural capital such as high status cultural knowledge also includes 'mannerisms and practices that have high status value as well as educational credentials' (5). Each of these can have three states 'embodied, objectified and institutionalised' — '"long lasting dispositions of the mind and body"', '"cultural gates" such as books instruments and machines"; open 'academic qualifications and credentials [this apparently appears in the forms of capital in Richardson (Ed Handbook of theory and research of the sociology of education 1987].

Field has become more important as central to how capital works as a power resource. [Developed in Bourdieu and Wacquant apparently] It refers to the rules of the game, a field of interaction, fields are forces at play, '"structured spaces of positions (or posts) whose properties depend on their position within the spaces in which can be analysed independently of the characteristics of their occupants"'. There are general laws of fields, stakes of the game, but each field has its own system 'evaluation and practice, which gives different forms of capital different values. Capital only has value in a specific field, although money has value across a number of fields. Capital is spent or converted according to an individual's habitus and strategy. There is a struggle to attain the legitimacy to name and construct the rules, to establish monopoly over rules and the type of most effective capital, and this often underlies struggles over distinction and symbolic violence. This notion is often overlooked however. Lareau and Horvat has highlighted some of the problems [it just seems redundant to me].

Overall, habitus and capital capital interact within a field to produce practice. Individuals maximise their potential in a field given their habitus and capital in the form of 'everyday sense making' (6). This is shaped by multiple forces interacting including the rules governing the field and the relative positions of the players. Practice is constituted by actions yet is also the product of habitus and capital and constrained by the field. We can use the notion of habitus especially to consider the 'interactive and compounded effects of race and class in social settings'. Let's think about different colour lenses or transparencies — if we place red and blue lenses on top of one another we see purple whereas if we use a red or blue lens on their own we miss this complex colour [so this really is an additive notion of intersection]. Independent effects have been well documented but combined effects less well explored. Bourdieu is a highly flexible model [sledgehammer to crack a nut] to get beyond the structure/agency dichotomy and to examine the effects of the field or context. It is particularly important to watch for change across fields.

So they drew empirical examples from a longitudinal study over four years and identified patterns found in the dataset together with lengthy interviews with 14 Black girls one parent and each girls best friend; they also interviewed educators. The theoretical framework was based on Bourdieu especially habitus. The point was to ask how the educational system limited or granted access to post secondary education opportunity and how race and class influence school experiences in college choice processes. They try to understand the context of the high school and the family and peers via the notion of habitus as a construct from class and race. They tried to learn about background preferences and dispositions — the 'taken for granted assumptions'  (7) that guided their behaviour [some clever questioning required here! -- it flopped]. They also wanted 'an in-depth understanding' of the functioning of the high schools so they visited them quite a lot doing observations to understand the 'specific field of interaction and generate highly contextualised accounts'. They also understood the highly complex urban landscape of the particular schools and noticed complexity and unusual diversity and contrast.

They pay particular attention to the field of interaction within which habitus works and this field shifted as students left high school and went through college — so did the importance and meaning of class and race. This is especially so for those who attended a predominantly White all girl elite college preparatory school [description of  which follows — it does seem pretty elite and wealthy with lots of '"narcissistic entitlement"' among the upper-middle-class kids].

None of the Black kids felt entirely comfortable at school. Discomfort centred on feeling inferior on class terms as well as race. Racism included being asked to serve as the voice for Black people and having to explain where she came from or how Black people might respond to a text, a dissonance 'between her habitus and the culture of the school'(9), not fitting in, although race also helped her get involved by joining various African-American groups when she finally got to university. The field of interaction is different there so 'her race became a source of pride and belonging' (10).

Most of the conversations they had with students and counsellors 'co-mingled race and class explanations' both at the low socio-economic status school with a predominantly Black student population and at the high status one. The low status one, had two magnet programs drawing more academically oriented students in and as a result, it became a college preparatory school with high expectations. Located in predominantly working-class area. During the data collection two students and one former student was shot to death in gang-related incidents. One student was well aware of the advantages that come with Whiteness and yet she mixed in stories of class circumstances including possessions of resources like computers and elements of the wealth of the school. They talked of double disadvantage by attending predominantly Black and poor schools. The researchers take this to be 'race and class markers of their habitus'(11) and note that many students just accepted these inequalities as the natural order. One counsellor asked one of the kids to write an essay that mentioned all the classic LA South  Central factors, single parents, drug transactions, drive-by shootings, and said that despite all that he had managed to succeed.

The students had had their lives 'structured by their internalisation of the structure of the world around them. They have an internalised sense of the possibilities for their lives', and mostly they see themselves attending two-year colleges and historically Black colleges rather than elite or selective schools. [Pretty normal stuff on the regulation of ambitions really]

So race and class influence education opportunity and 'social scientists have explored these effects for many years' although race and class effects have often been examined separately. Bourdieu allows us to more critically and accurately explore the interactions [just by adding them]. They claim this is 'a more well integrated portrait' (12. They claim they have uncovered the 'subconscious, internalised sense of accessibility to educational opportunities' by using the concept of habitus and this is better for urban landscapes where you will find 'distinctly different habituses'.

Overall, we can use Bourdieu as a heuristic device, and orienting device, using the fundamental principles, 'to uncover the rules and power dynamics which govern social interaction' and grasp 'the importance of context' by stressing the importance of field. More specifically we can use Bourdieu as a set of conceptual tools although it's difficult to accurately and adequately capture the constructs for example identify the elements that make up the habitus and develop 'conceptually grounded quantitative proxies'. We need both large-scale quantitative and qualitative research.

 Lareau, A. & Horvat, E.M. (1998). Moments of social inclusion and exclusion: Race, class and cultural capital in family school relationships. Sociology of Education 72(1), 37-53.