Gendered leadership and learning behaviour of teenage boys and girls in light of Bourdieu’s theoretical framework

Bourdieu’s conceptual framework of capital has had a sustained impact on research on educational systems. Bourdieu explained that school success and learning behaviour are related to the amount and type of cultural capital inherited from the family milieu. In this paper I discuss the different interpretations and applications of his conceptual framework by scholars in the field. Some scholars, referring to the essay “Forms of Cultural Capital“ (his most sustained elucidation of the meaning of “cultural capital“), have argued that the premises of dominant interpretations have been too narrow. They recommend operating with a wider perspective, keeping in mind that the specific indicators of cultural capital in one context may not be relevant in another context. Both the dominant and the wider interpretation are reflected in data from a qualitative study in which I focused on gender power relations and leadership in the Icelandic teenage classroom setting. The results indicated that friendship between students was gendered and the groups/cliques excluded individuals or other groups by referring to their educational behaviour and cultural distinctions. There was one dominant group for each gender. My analysis focuses on the group leaders’ learning behaviour and attitudes towards the dominant school values and on how educational success and credentials such as grades are relevant to their social status in the classroom. The importance of studying the learning behaviour of such leaders is undeniable because a leader’s learning behaviour and interaction tells a great deal about her/his group’s educational and cultural values. Because of increasing emphasis on accountability and school assessment by authorities who evaluate the educational success of students, it is important to try to understand students’ values and how they are aligned with various interpretations of cultural capital.

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