An exploration of the nature and meaning of transitions in the context of dual sector fe/he institutions in England

Construction and reproduction in and through higher education

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Construction and reproduction in and through higher education

The use of ‘habitus’ as a way of conceptualising institutional cultures builds on the work of Bourdieu. Bourdieu studied the field of higher education in the context of the French education system of the 1960s (Bourdieu, 1990, 1996; Bourdieu and Passeron, 1990). As the title of his book Reproduction, written with Passeron (1990, first published in 1970) indicates, a central argument which the two authors put forward is that the higher education system contributes to reproducing and legitimating the social structure. Higher education is conceptualised by Bourdieu and Passeron as a sorting machine which selects students according to an implicit social classification and reproduces them according to an explicit academic classification, which in reality is very similar to the implicit social classification. It is higher education as a system rather than individual institutions that contribute to this process. In putting forward this argument, therefore, they emphasise the need for a relational understanding of the field of higher education, that is, an understanding of the networks within which particular forms of higher education are placed, and the relationships between them, which creates hierarchies of more and less valued/valuable HE. At the same time, we would argue that HE institutions are not just placed within the field of HE, but that in the 21st century they have to work increasingly hard at constructing a place for themselves within the field, which more and more resembles a higher education market. As Duke (2005b: 3) has observed, differentiation is getting ‘sharper’, and in the context of our study, vocational higher education such as Foundation Degree provision is ‘plagued by problems of identity, credibility and support.’

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