Pedagogic activity: Situating teachers’ social justice dispositions in context

Year: 2019

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

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper draws on data from a research project examining the social justice dispositions (SJDs) of 16 teachers, bringing together Bourdieu’s concept of dispositions (constitutive of the habitus, which can be ‘read off’ from action), with Vygotskian cultural historical activity theory (to conceive of action systematically). Our data focus on the pedagogic actions of teachers over a series of sequential lessons, as practiced in differently dis/advantaged schools (Gale, Cross, & Mills DP130101297).

The first phase of analysis involved constructing the activity systems (Engestrom, 1987) within which each participant took up their ‘subject position’ as ‘teacher’. This enabled an understanding of how each teacher’s instantiation of practice made sense against the sociocultural and material conditions within which those actions unfolded. To then ‘name’ the social justice disposition evident within each case, we drew on Bourdieu’s notions of ‘distinction’ and ‘taste’ to distill the features that best ‘characterise’ each teacher’s approach in how they engaged in their activity (e.g., meritocratic, diplomatic, humanitarian, etc.).

This paper focuses on the second phase of analysis, which considers the interplay of context, action, and SJD by plotting these characterisations on an axis to interrogate their relationship against different contextual dimensions; in this case, how teachers’ SJDs are positioned relative to the status of their school in terms of dis/advantage. This is not to suggest socioeconomic status is the only dimension against which the data can be understood - indeed, the broader project also considers other framings including ethos of the school site (e.g., faith-based or secular), teachers’ experience (early career or senior career), and where each teacher saw the ‘need’ for social justice ‘work’ (either internal or external to the school).

The paper concludes by considering the importance of context in shaping the kinds of social justice dispositions evident within teachers’ pedagogic work, including how teachers understand students’ needs.