The current paper illustrates and theorises change in two Australian teachers’ dispositions towards social justice over time from a Bourdieuian perspective.
The data is drawn from the first two years of a longitudinal study that explores changes in teachers’ dispositions towards social justice over time; and the factors that appear to be critical in the development of socially just dispositions.
The research involved semi-structured interviews with 24 teachers drawn from two secondary education programs within an Australian metropolitan university.
Of the 24 teachers who participated in the research, two have been selected as the focus of this article.
The interviews with the two participants over a two-year period provide evidence of change in their dispositions towards social justice.
As pre-service teachers, they appeared to be tied to either liberal democratic models of redistributive justice (premised on simple equality) or retributive justice (premised on individual students as deserving and/or being entitled to (or punished with) different opportunities in accordance with their talents).
By the end of their first year of teaching, there is evidence that both experienced change in their dispositions towards social justice.
There is clear movement towards social democratic or difference models of redistributive justice (premised on complex equality).
Within this movement is a growing recognition of the appropriateness of the )re)distribution of different social goods for different people (equity) rather than a quest for sameness (equality). This dispositional change took place at the same time as the two participants were developing competence as beginning teachers.
Drawing on the theoretical tools of Bourdieu, this change has been theorised as being closely related to an initial incongruence or dissonance between habitus and field and )unconscious) efforts by the two participants to acquire the relevant capital to develop a habitus that resembles the values that their schools legitimate.
As they develop a feel for the game as teachers and their habitus and field become more compatible, their dispositions – which inform their unthinking-ness in action in catering for diversity – more closely resemble perspectives tied to social democratic versions of redistributive justice.
As full-time teachers, the two participants made sense of the commonly accepted practices in their field in a way that they could not during their (limited and limiting) practicum placements. With discordances evident between their habitus and field, and lacking the necessary capital to play the game to their advantage, they worked (albeit unconsciously) at acquiring the relevant capital to develop a disposition or habitus that resembles the values that their schools legitimate.
As they develop a feel for the game, their dispositions – which inform their unthinking-ness in action in catering for diversity – more closely resemble perspectives tied to social democratic versions of redistributive justice.
As they become disposed to do certain things in certain circumstances, catering for the diverse needs of students in the classroom becomes far more natural and automatic.
Implicit in this theorisation is the suggestion that pre-service teachers may experience considerable difficulty making sense of commonly accepted practices in the field during practicum placements that are limited and limiting in nature.
Indeed, dispositions – including dispositions towards social justice – that constitute one’s habitus are acquired through a gradual process of inculcation.
If we consider Bourdieu’s observation that the acquisition of cultural capital involves, amongst other things, extended periods of time with those who are themselves endowed with ‘strong’ cultural capital, moving beyond the superficial treatment of social justice and diversity takes on a new significance.
There are, of course, many factors in the lives of these participants that could potentially have shaped their dispositions towards social justice.
This article does suggest that pre-service teacher education can do more in supporting educators to move towards recognitive views of social justice.