Activist dispositions towards social justice in advantaged and disadvantaged contexts of schooling

Year: 2016

Author: Gale, Trevor, Cross, Russell, Mills, Carmen, Smith, Catherine

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper extends on the findings of previous research (Mills et al., in press) by exploring activist dispositions towards social justice in teachers in advantaged and disadvantaged contexts of schooling. To do this, the paper characterises activist social justice dispositions, exploring their enactment in a range of school contexts including (i) a disadvantaged Government school with a high proportion of refugee students and students from low socio-economic backgrounds; (ii) an advantaged Independent Catholic school for girls; and (iii) a disadvantaged Systemic Catholic school. In the observation of moments of subversion in the practices of teachers in these contexts, we examine the activist disposition as a disposition to struggle against the social order or doxa (Bourdieu, 1977). Bourdieu (1977, p. 169) argues that ‘radical critique’ of doxa and doxic beliefs emerges in times of crisis. In such situations, the habitus may be ‘superseded’ which ‘adjust(s) the immediate adjustment of the habitus to the field – by other principles, such as rational and conscious computation’ (Bourdieu, 1990, p. 108; cf Crossley, 2003, p. 48). We see this explanation of radical activism as problematic and argue that the activist disposition theorised here offers a different way of conceptualising subtle forms of radical critique which are not born out of crisis, but instead can also be understood as a part of the practice, and indeed the pedagogic work of some teachers. We conclude that the social, cultural and material conditions of the schools in which teachers work, as well as the specific type of school ethos, appears to be linked to the ways that these activist dispositions towards social justice are enacted by teachers, and may indeed provide pedagogic authority to develop the activist disposition further.