«LEARNING TO TEACH PHYSICAL EDUCATION IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS: THE INFLUENCE OF DISPOSITIONS AND EXTERNAL STRUCTURES ON PRACTICE by Ian Pickup, BA (QTS) A ...»
Giddens (1984) suggests that individuals possess an innate ability to act in ways that fulfil needs, to provide ontological security, arguing that individual differences can impact on practice within overriding structures. This view has been criticised for presenting a ‘flat’ view of social reality (Archer, 2000; Mouzelis, 1995), ignoring the influence of others and power relationships within social hierarchies. Whilst the notion of a mutual interdependence between structure and agency holds much appeal for this investigation, there is insufficient explanation of the rules that govern action (Thompson, 1989), specifically within primary PEITT. Giddens has also been criticised for not adequately addressing how agents and structures actually combine, when this takes place and in what particular sequences (McLennan, 1984) suggesting that different kinds of relationship between structure and agents occur in specific, in-situ contexts. The analytical value possessed by concepts of agency and structure are said to disappear through the conflation that is Giddens’ concept of duality (Archer, 1995, 2000).
Theory of practice Bourdieu (1977) conceptualised the structure-agency association differently, by affording heightened importance to concepts of power and social position to explain how the relationship comes about. Bourdieu’s social theory has been used within a growing body of PE and ITT research, particularly using specific concepts to explore structural conditions and individual ‘action strategies’ (Koca, Henderson, Hulya Asci & Bulgu, 2009). For example, Smith (2001) examined gendered practices in PEITT; Evans (2004) and Wright and Burrows (2006) explored young people’s subjectivities within the social field, whilst the construction of gender through specific sporting practice has been studied by Light and Kirk (2000), Gorley, Holroyd and Kirk (2003) and Garrett (2004). Bourdieu’s theory of practice seeks to explain phenomena through a structure-disposition-practice schema, an explanatory account describing how social structures give rise to characteristic dispositions that enable the competent performance of social practices (Nash, 2003). The structure-disposition-practice schema is a model to be used whenever appropriate to construct a full explanation of social events and processes (ibid.) As Wacquant (2006, p.6) explains, Bourdieu forged an ‘original conceptual arsenal anchored by the notions of habitus, capital, field, and doxa’ to explain the relationship between structures and agents. These terms are summarised below and provide reference points for clarification of the approaches taken in this research. In Bourdieu’s terms, practice is placed within contexts of power structures whereby agents respond in ways that match dispositions and the habitus of their particular social group. Bourdieu defines habitus as a ‘system of durable, transposable dispositions that emerges out of a relation to wider objective structures of the social world’ (1977, p, 72). Habitus is characterized as a ‘conductor-less orchestration’ that provides coherence and consistency to an individual’s practices (Bourdieu, 1990, p. 59),
said to result in the generation of:
practices, perceptions and attitudes which are regular without being consciously co-ordinated or governed by any rule (Thompson, 1991, p.12).
Habitus, like Giddens’ duality of structure, is ‘both a medium and outcome of social practice’ (Wainwright, Williams & Turner, 2006, p. 537) since it functions as a bridge between social contexts and individual experiences and actions (Bourdieu, 1984). Bourdieu suggests that while habitus is constantly reproduced at an individual level, common experience of the social world will tend to produce a collective habitus so that people sharing the same social conditions will have similar experiences, embodied dispositions, and schemes of perception.
Bourdieu’s concept of habitus implies also that systems of dispositions are malleable, as they mark into the individual the ever changing influence of the social milieu, within limits set by prior experiences (Wacquant, 2006). Therefore, while the habitus is subjectively inhabited, it
is not wholly individualised as it exists as a:
system of internalised structures, schemes of perception, conception and action common to all members of the same group or class (Bourdieu, 1977, p. 86).
Individuals have subjective habitus because of their unique biographical histories, yet they also represent the roots of a collective social class history (Wainwright et al., 2006). Habitus is a system of motivating structures, produced by the conditions of a particular social environment, in turn which are re-produced through the influence and development of habitus (Bourdieu, 1977, p. 72; 1990, p.53). In this way, therefore, the issues apparent within primary PE and ITT could be explained as being produced by social conditions which provide some scope for individuality, but which, in an overall sense, result in particular actions by the group in focus (in this instance primary school teachers). According to Throop and Murphy (2002, p.
Bourdieu concedes that it is impossible for every member of the same group or class to have had the exact same experiences in an identical ordering, he feels that the homogeneity of habitus can still be ensured since each member of the same class is more likely than any member of a different class to have been confronted with the situations that are most characteristic for members of that specific class.
Bourdieu, however, accounts for variations between individuals as being due to their membership in certain classes and to their specific position within such classes. He explains
each individual system of dispositions may be seen as a structural variant of all the other group or class habitus, expressing difference between trajectories and positions inside and outside of class (1977, p.86).
Individual differences in habitus are therefore seen as an expression of the unique position an individual occupies in a particular class-defined social trajectory (Bourdieu, 1990, p.60), influenced by capital within a particular field. Bourdieu (1986) suggested that capital is a resource in a given social arena that enables an individual to gain benefit arising out of
participation within it. Capital, he argues:
can present itself in three fundamental guises: as economic capital, which is immediately and directly convertible into money…; as cultural capital, which is convertible, on certain conditions, into economic capital…; as social capital, made up of social obligations (‘connections’), which is convertible, in certain conditions into economic capital… (1986, p. 47).
Thus, economic capital can be understood as material and financial assets, cultural capital equates to skills and titles, and social capital pertains to those resources acquired by virtue of membership within a particular group (Wacquant, 2006). Cultural and social capital are most relevant to this investigation. As Bourdieu suggests, cultural capital can exist ‘in the form of long lasting dispositions of the mind and body’ (1986, p. 47) whilst social capital relates individuals to membership of a group, providing backing through a collectively-owned capital (p. 51). The position of any individual, group, or institution, in social space may be described by the volume and composition of the capital they capture, which can also vary through time,
and in relation to the particular social space (or field) they are within. In this way:
Just as habitus informs practice from within, a field structures action and representation from without: it offers the individual a gamut of possible stances and moves that she can adopt, each with its associated profits, costs, and subsequent potentialities (ibid., p. 8).
Bourdieu (1977) deploys a further term, doxa, to denote the processes through which socially and culturally constituted ways of perceiving, evaluating and behaving become accepted as ‘unquestioned, self-evident and taken for granted’ (p. 164). Doxa is predicated on the extent of ‘fit’ between objective structures and the internalization of those structures in habitus (1977,
p.166). The term represents individual beliefs as:
a quasi-perfect correspondence between the objective order and the subjective principles of organization [with which] the natural and social world appears as self evident (1977, p. 156).
It is the successful ‘internal’ replication of structure that leads individuals to mistake objective structures as ‘natural’, as they remain ignorant of the ever-present dialectical reconstitution of internal and objective structures (Throop & Murphy, 2002, p.189). Doxa results from the relationship between habitus and the structure to which it is attuned (Bourdieu, 1990, p.68) and is only made explicit through the interrelation of divergent, novel, or competing discourses and practices.
Whilst the mutual interdependence of structure and agency suggested by Giddens and developed further through Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus, field and doxa have informed my philosophical position, and provided scope for interesting debate, the adoption of these within the investigative framework has proved problematic. As Archer (1995) argues, structural conditions and the actions allowed within the limits of these conditions are separate entities, and should be investigated as such. Like Bhaskar (1979), Archer sees the relationship between structure and agency as a central component of ontological realism, recognising ‘the temporal dimension through which structure and agency shape one another’ (Archer, 1995, p. 92).
Archer conceptualises society as:
both an ever present pre-condition and the continually reproduced, post-dated, outcome of human agency’ (Archer, 1995, p. 150).
There is a temporal emphasis in this approach whereby:
structure precedes action, which in turn leads to …structural outcome…which in turn provides the pre conditions for action and so on’ (Stones, 2005, p. 53).
For Archer, it is this temporal dimension through and in which structure and agency shape one another that is imperative. Archer (2000) also argues that social theory typically downplays how agents use their own personal powers to conceive and pursue courses of action within
social and cultural contexts. She argues that a realist approach to social theory:
begins by presenting an account of this sense of self, which is prior to, and primitive to, our sociality (Archer, 2000, p. 7).
Archer (2007, p. 3) also suggests that individuals engage in an inner conversation or ‘reflexive deliberation’, which explains why individuals act in particular ways (and not others) in certain contexts. In Archer’s terms, situations faced by individuals are shaped by cultural and structural properties, giving rise to possibilities of action or constraint; these in turn are impacted upon by individual’s own configuration of concerns, leading to courses of action which are produced through the reflexive deliberations of agents who subjectively determine their actions in relation to their objective circumstances (Archer, 2003, p. 135).
In the context of this research, such a possible progression of events is highly relevant as the trainee teachers in the study are embarking on a three year training process, itself preceded by a period of acculturation (Lawson, 1983) and influenced by the working practices of others.
The policies, curricula and frameworks of ITT exist before the trainees embark on the ITT course, but also work to govern trainee teachers’ possibilities of action during the ITT process.
The particular historical context of this research brings wider factors to bear on the process of becoming a teacher of primary PE; changes to policies, curricula and wider subject initiatives before, during and after the timeframe of the data collection may provide greater or reduced constraint on trainees’ possibilities of action compared to those who trained or will be training at different moments in time.
Application to research design The review of social theory has provided a touchstone for the development of the research framework. In designing this research, a key methodological question has been whether ‘within trainee’ factors (such as dispositions) can be separated from structural factors (for example the curriculum, schools or QTS standards) for the purposes of data collection and analysis. Whilst Giddens’ (1979) notion of duality is helpful in explaining the bridge between objectivity and subjectivity, the conflation of the two creates tensions in research design.