Whom to group with?: A Bourdieusian narrative analysis of international students in an Australian university

Year: 2012

Author: Lin, Isadora Jung-Hsiu

Type of paper: Refereed paper


Introduction to the topic or context and/or mapping of the literature
Increasing degree-seeking, self-funded, international students from affluent Asian countries, who use English as an additional language (EAL), have contributed to cultural and linguistic diversities in Australian universities. Such diversities further posed challenges in pedagogy and assessment. In particular, these students' English proficiency and cultural attributes were highlighted as factors in productive group discussions, and equitable group assessment. The focus in the research literature thus far is on how EAL international students can better English proficiency and adaptability to group participation. However, little is known from sociological perspectives about the power relations involved in EAL students' choice of group members in group discussions.

Aims of the project or research questions and/or focus of enquiry
This paper is drawn from a larger interview study, exploring what resources helped first year EAL international students come to belong in an Australian university. The study inquired into how the students resolved disrupted life and study routines and acquired preferred field positions. This paper addresses questions arising from challenges in group discussions. These questions are important as they fill the gap of the research literature on first year experience, international students, and EAL migrant students.

Research methods and/or analytical and/or theoretical frame
This paper reports on data generated from 17 first year EAL international students from 9 countries, interviewed at three points in their first year. The study is double-framed by Bourdieu's concepts of field, habitus, capital and legitimation and Critical Realist's (CR) ontology. The deployment of a Bourdieusian framework is to provide understandings of what underlies the generative mechanisms producing what actors (not) experience, as well as are (not) observed, in their experiential world. The data were coded and explained through narrative structures for insights.

Research findings and/or contribution to the field
In this paper I argue that EAL international students' group formation is contingent on power relations among group members. I then argue that whether to group with compatriot students or local counterparts is a shared dilemma for EAL international students and that seeking a sense of belonging with other group members can affect opportunity to access valued resources for their study. These findings have empirical implications for students and their teaching staff in higher education sector.