What can Bourdieu offer the ethnographer in neoliberal times: reflecting on methodological possibilities

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This article demonstrates how Bourdieu’s field theory can be used to systematise ethnographic insights, establishing and validating connections between the micro-level of participants’ experiences and macro-level contexts, whilst complementing and facilitating the reflexivity that has long been part of ethnographic traditions. Combining an ethnographic methodological design with a Bourdieusian conceptual framework provides opportunities for powerful critical analysis and contextualised socio-political commentary, particularly in the context of the neoliberalisation of education at all levels. To illustrate, this article presents examples from a study that examines the dilemmas that English primary school teachers experience as they try to enact creative pedagogies, which emphasise innovation, flexibility and autonomy, whilst adhering to neoliberal policy directives that demand conformity and standardisation. Bourdieu offers a language to acknowledge and explain such tensions as well as exposing ‘common sense’ neoliberal narratives and the mechanisms which embed relationships of domination into educational institutions and other social structures.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEthnography and Education
Publication statusPublished - 20 Apr 2022


  • ethnography
  • Bourdieu
  • creativity
  • neoliberalism
  • cross-field effects
  • dispositions

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