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Contextual academic development through Bourdieusian practice theory

Thursday 4 July: Conference day two, 2:15pm – 3:45pm parallel mini-workshop



Room 9 – 3030-G23 MLT1



Mohammad Taqi Amini
University of Auckland, New Zealand

Dr Sean Sturm
University of Auckland, New Zealand



Higher Education is facing new challenges, including, but not limited to, a student body that is heterogeneous intellectually, geographically and culturally; internationalization, which brings in a broader range of students and academics; an emphasis in teaching on new learning technologies, employability and lifelong learning; and massification, privatization and a decline in public funding.

Academic development must reckon with these challenges in higher education and academic work to enable the new or next generation of academics to best manage the resulting changes. Yet it lacks a theory of how change happens in academic practice and how academic development can foster it, and, in particular, the role of context in that process. Practice theory can answer to that lack because it understands practices as uniquely shaped by their context—and contexts, and therefore practices, as offering opportunities for change.

Accordingly, we draw on Bourdieu’s concepts of field and habitus to understand academic development as a practice that is contextual, that is, alert to its individual, disciplinary, institutional and cultural context. Habitus—including academic habitus—consists of durable but mutable dispositions that are the product of the individual and collective practices that operate in a particular context, or field. Academic habitus is shaped by change in the academic field; the role of academic development is to nurture the opportunities that this change offers for academic practice in a number of ways: through reshaping the academic field; modelling academic practice that responds actively to change; and enabling academics to understand their academic habitus, and how it changes and can be changed.

Our research draws on case studies explored through narrative interviews with academics undertaking postgraduate study in academic practice in a comprehensive research university in New Zealand. The workshop will present a framework of how and why the academic habitus of the participants changed as a result of their interaction with an academic development programme, and what academic developers can learn from this process.

Target audience:

The target audiences for this workshop are academic developers and, more broadly, people who are interested in how their academic practice changes and can be developed.

Intended outcomes for participants:

In addition to learning about the use of Bourdieusian practice theory in understanding academic practice and development, participants will be enabled to understand their own and their colleagues’ academic practice and development in these terms. This will provide them with a vocabulary and a method to apply Bourdieusian practice theory to academic practice and development for themselves in their own context.

Outline of activities:

  • Presentation
  • Q and A
  • Group discussion of three cases and sharing of results
  • Conclusion

We will begin with a 10 minute presentation introducing the topic, followed by 5-10 minutes for questions and clarifications. Then, we will distribute three cases from the research to shape the discussion that will follow, one for each of three groups. Each case describes the challenges that academics have faced in their teaching and research. Firstly, each group will be asked to suggest ways in which the challenges could be tackled, based not only on the habitus concept but also on their own experiences. Secondly, the groups will be provided with the “real” solution of each case to consider how the academic could have been supported differently in their development based on the concept of habitus.


Presentation topic

Mini-workshop 13

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