Using Bourdieu's concept of habitus to identify and analyse international students' diverse practices of belonging

Year: 2017

Author: Hoan, Trang, Mahoney, Caroline, Blackmore, Jill

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper explores the diverse ways international students find a sense of belonging in a secondary school in Melbourne. Research on international students attending university has drawn attention to their difficulties forming connections with domestic peers (Schartner 2015; Pham and Tran, 2015). Many of these studies have applied Bourdieu's thinking tools of field, capital, and habitus to highlight the importance of English language proficiency for forming relationships with local students (Blackmore, Gribble and Rahimi, 2015). Little research has been done on the notion of belonging in Australian schools where there are increasing numbers of international students. The paper reports on findings of a pilot study conducted as part of an ARC-funded project studying the transnational connectedness of international students in government, independent and Catholic secondary schools in Victoria and Queensland. Pilot study data were collected at a Melbourne private secondary school through focus group discussions and individual semi-structured interviews with both international and domestic students in Year 10.

In an effort to avoid constructing international students using deficit models, we argue there is value in identifying and analysing international students' diverse practices and narrative accounts by utilising Bourdieu's concept of habitus as a compilation of individual trajectories (Reay, 2004). Habitus recognises both cultural background, experience and also different forms of capital that students bring with them, often not recognised in their host school. We find that young international students' individual habitus mediates their practices, particularly with regard to affect and extracurricular activities, in successfully forming connections in varying contexts such as classrooms, homestays and online communities. Analysis of the interview data highlights the diverse intercultural, social and interpersonal connections that contribute to international students' sense of belonging in educational and social settings. Besides contributing new insights for the field of international student mobility, currently dominated by higher education focus, we anticipate the findings will assist schools and administrators at both secondary and tertiary level to understand and address the lived experience of international students as well as their diverse practices of belonging.