Theorising immigrant and refugee children's sense of belonging from the perspectives of Bourdieu and postcolonial theory

Year: 2005

Author: Quaicoe, Lloydetta

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The federal government of Canada is responsible for citizenship and immigration but education is under the jurisdiction of the individual provinces. In the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, it is the policy of the Department of Education that children between the ages of 5 and 21 years attend geographically-allocated schools. New immigrant and refugee children are placed in these schools soon after their arrival in the province. Some of the children may not be proficient in the language of instruction in the schools and others may have missed years of formal schooling. In addition, children from refugee situations may have suffered trauma due to war and violent conflicts. Furthermore, foreign-born residents make up 1.6 percent of the total population of the province. As a result, an immigrant or refugee child may be the only one from his or her cultural background in a predominantly Anglo-Celtic school.

In this paper, I propose that postcolonial theory and Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus, field and capital are useful theoretical and conceptual tools for understanding the schooling experiences of immigrant and refugee children in Canada. They are useful because of their relevance to issues associated with language, culture, education, knowledge, power, domination and resistance. My argument is based on the premise that public education in schools is a state-generated activity, and schooling is a social and cultural practice. It is argued that the ideologies of the dominant culture are reproduced and reinforced through the process of public education and schooling, the formal and informal corpus of official school knowledge, and pedagogic discourses which perpetuate society’s social bias and inequalities in race, ethnicity, culture, class, and gender. Consequently, schools are appropriate sites for focusing a critical discussion on immigrant and refugee children’s sense of belonging in their new cultural environment in Canada.