Transforming understandings of the relationship between social class and schooling

Year: 2016

Author: Windle, Joel, Rowe, Emma, Kenway, Jane, Jamal Al-Deen, Taghreed, Perry, Laura

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper identifies the complex emotional dimensions of migrant mothers’ involvement in their children’s education, building on feminist scholarship which affirms the importance of their emotional labour. We present findings from a study of Muslim Iraqi mothers with school-aged children in Australia, based on 47 interviews with 25 immigrant mothers. Drawing on a Bourdieusian conceptual framework, we argue that the reserves of cultural and emotional capital required for effective participation in children’s education can be both consolidated and diminished through the process of migration. Perceived ineffective involvement comes at heavy emotional price, threatening some women’s perceptions of themselves as ‘good mothers’. The concept of emotional capital implies that some forms of emotional labour also constitute and reproduce privilege in relation to the field of education, while other forms find limited purchase or may contribute to a sense of inadequacy and inferiority (Reay, 2004). The Bourdieusian framework is useful here for identifying how emotional labour is situated differently in relation to cultural, institutional and market hierarchies for a particular group of mothers who have moved between social fields through the process of migration.The findings also show how the processes of neoliberalism that raise the stakes of schooling, and polarise access to different educational sites, worked to increase anxieties and confirm emotional and domestic labour as a moral responsibility assigned to women. A concept of motherhood framed in religious terms finds itself strengthened and reinterpreted through the processes of migration and neoliberalism that focus women’s efforts in the domestic sphere. We argue that in order for migrant mothers’ educational work to be valued and respected, it is necessary to challenge the discursive and economic structures that maintain a narrow motherhood ideology, and open up space for a pluralist and creative vision of motherhood, which may not even involve that term. Further, it is necessary for the kinds of knowledge and practices that are valued and recognized within schools to be broadened and made more reflective of culturally diverse and working-class populations.Reay, D. (2004). Gendering Bourdieu's concepts of capitals: Emotional capital, women and social class. The Sociological Review, 52(2), 57-74.