Aspirations and the Histories of Elite State Schools in London: Field Theory, Circuits of Education and the Embodiment of Symbolic Capital

Sol Gamsu

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Abstract

Aspirations are frequently framed in Bourdieusian sociology with reference to contemporary dynamics of gender, class and race. Rather than focus simply on these identity markers to understand students’ aspirations, I instead use Bourdieu’s approach to history to explore how students’ aspirations are shaped by schools’ past struggles to gain dominance within the field of education. I draw on three approaches to history within Bourdieu’s work: the coming together of institution and individual, the structural history which shapes the rules of the field, and the processes associated with the accumulation of symbolic capital. I conceptualize students’ aspirations as formed by the coming together of institutional and personal history, exploring how this occurs in two elite state schools in London. These schools used students’ aspirations to accrue prestige and re-position themselves as dominant institutions within the field. To extend Bourdieu, I also draw on what Ball et al. (1995) call ‘circuits of education’, to theorize how institutional positions in the field are shaped by the movement of students toward elite universities through space and over time.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational perspectives on theorizing aspirations: Applying Bourdieu's Tools
EditorsGarth Stahl, Derron Wallace, Ciaran Burke, Steven Threadgold
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherBloomsbury Publishing
Chapter7
Pages115-129
Number of pages15
ISBN (Print)978-1-350-04033-5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2018

Publication series

NameSocial Theory and Methodology in Education Research
PublisherBloomsbury Press

Keywords

  • elite education
  • aspiration
  • institutional habitus
  • elite schools
  • grammar schools
  • higher education choice
  • Bourdieu

Cite this

Gamsu, S. (2018). Aspirations and the Histories of Elite State Schools in London: Field Theory, Circuits of Education and the Embodiment of Symbolic Capital. In G. Stahl, D. Wallace, C. Burke, & S. Threadgold (Eds.), International perspectives on theorizing aspirations: Applying Bourdieu's Tools (pp. 115-129). (Social Theory and Methodology in Education Research). Bloomsbury Publishing.