Using Bourdieu to Understand the Pathways to Belonging That Are Forged by Young Students of Refugee Experience in an Australian Mainstream School

Part of the Studies in Childhood and Youth book series (SCY)


This chapter operationalises a Bourdieusian approach to social theory to understand the lived experiences of young refugee students in Australia negotiating their ways through, and re-making their identities within, mainstream schooling. The chapter draws on a recent ethnographic study conducted by the lead author which examined the lives of five young people forging pathways to belonging in an Australian primary school. Following Bourdieu, the chapter unpacks the idea of ‘the school’ as a ‘field of activity’ governed by certain ‘rules of the game’ and theorises belonging as a dynamic process shaped by cultural and structural factors of schooling. The pathways to belonging negotiated by the students of refugee experience are shown to be struggles within and across fields of activity over the acquisition of cultural capital and habitus. We show how Bourdieusian theory opens possibilities for nuanced appreciation of the structural and structured complexities conditioning youth identity formation. Furthermore, the chapter considers recent critiques of Bourdieusian social theory—most notably that of British sociologist Margaret Archer—and how these might be applied to further advance the understanding of the relationship between youth, place and belonging. We argue that where Bourdieu focuses on structural conditioning (via ‘habitus’) Archer emphasises the importance of reflexive deliberation. We suggest that these two approaches are not incompatible, but can be synthesised in a way that illuminates a robust account of agency.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Flinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia

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