The Varied Conceptualisations of Subjectivity, Agency and Social Structure in Current Sociological Research on Educational Strategies – Implications for Our Understandings

Monday, 16 July 2018: 16:30
Oral Presentation
Claire MAXWELL, University College London, United Kingdom
Mikael PALME, Uppsala University, Sweden
This paper examines how sociological research on family educational strategies in specific contexts handles one of the classic oppositions found within the social sciences – that between a focus on subjectivity and agency, on the one hand, and social structure, on the other. While research addressing subjectivity and agency tends to be ethnographic in approach, focussing on practices, cultural discourses and socialisation processes in particular settings, studies concerned with social structure often draw on quantitative data. In both cases, however, subjectivity, agency as well as social structure are sometimes explicitly and at other times implicitly addressed through the research design, the empirical data referred to and, not least of all, the theoretical lenses guiding the analysis. In more quantitatively-focused work, conceptualisations of subjectivity and agency are sometimes absent, though they tacitly assume there are actors behind observed patterns. Other times, research in the field may draw on Durkheimean-styled collective representations of group practices, more psychology-oriented notions of behaviour, or a variety of constructivist conceptions of agency. As for social structure, scholars variously engage with Weber-inspired stratification theory, space or field-oriented concepts (introduced by Bourdieusian scholars), less clearly defined systems of social organisation inspired by the cultural turn in social class analysis, and, more recently, often employ the less theorized notion of ‘the market’. In this paper we review a group of studies representative of the different approaches taken within research on family educational strategies, highlighting the variety of concepts and research designs employed and the rationales for this. We specifically focus on the assumptions made in the studies’ interrogations of family educational strategies, and consider how the theoretical and empirical approach taken shape, and support, what is claimed about the observed relations between education, social groups, and individual practices.