Welcome to school—The empire-building business—an affirmation of Bourdieu’s concept of field

Lars Bang


Globalisation has transformed and changed people’s lives around the world, with education’s role having undergone a similar metamorphosis. In many countries, educational institutions have transmuted into new types of institutions, with schooling emerging as a competitive product of this globalised economy. The result: a higher education arms race pitting country against country, school against school, and pupil against pupil. The rationale: the nation with the best schooling producing the most successful pupils has the highest chance of securing future growth and progress for its respective society. In order to gauge and compare schools, we now are equipped with globalised measuring tools that calculate school quality within each nation-state. How is the process manifested within schools, and how do we trace the practices, rationalities and other entanglements from separate interests/fields in contemporary schooling? This article offers an expanded notion of Bourdieu’s concept of field that can assist educational researchers in focusing on a particular educational field using a conceptual tool to trace such practices, rationalities, and entanglements across different fields. Bourdieu’s ideas are interwoven with Foucault’s and his historical gaze, through Foucault’s methodology of archaeology. When examining an institution, practice or any other phenomenon in the educational field, we must ask, “Which will wills it?” and which historical conditions allow a particular phenomenon to exhibit contemporary manifestations. This article proposes a framework using the image of quasi-self-similar fractals to highlight entanglements between multiple semi-autonomous fields. This image of thought is constructed to capture the specific role the economic field plays in relation to all other fields and to consider how every field is thus a power field. To exemplify this argument, empirical data from a Danish regional project will be used to show how the above-mentioned methodological encounter between Bourdieu and Foucault and the concept of field can be applied. Equipped with this framework, the example explores and illuminates 1) a specific scientific habitus fostered within the educational field Homo empiricus; 2) the rationality or discursive formation supporting ‘the Man of Science’; and 3) how the two are related to the ‘empire-building business’ or, in other words, how to market and sell certain aspects of schooling.

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DOI: 10.15663/wje.v19i1.63


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© Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research, Te Kura Toi Tangata Faculty of Education, 2015