Institute of Education

Research & Expertise to Make a Difference in Education & Beyond

On Cultural Sociology in Educational Research at Annual Yale Conference

The annual Spring Conference organized by the Sociology Department and the Center for Cultural Sociology at Yale University took place in late April. One of its sections was devoted to a new sub-discipline, cultural sociology of education, emerging with a valuable contribution of the Centre for Cultural Sociology and Anthropology of Education at the HSE Institute of Education.

Cultural sociology of education focuses on defining such explanations of phenomena and processes in the field of education, where the meanings of actions and cultural categories play not a "decorative", but a key and decisive part. It challenges current dominance of economically oriented explanatory models in the educational research. Besides, it seeks to take out from the shadows sophisticated systems of meanings and cultural patterns, whose role in modern people's educational and career choices, their shaping of life trajectories becomes ever more increasing.

The paper by Director of the Centre for Cultural Sociology and Anthropology of Education Dmitry Kurakin was dedicated to the promising research strategies of the development of the cultural sociology of education and case studies illusrating those strategies. The concepts of "culture" and "education" are related, both etymologically and substantively. In fact, those words had nearly the same meaning for a long period of time. During the period of its formation, sociology regarded culture and education as crucial and intimately related issues. However, the subsequent history of sociology dissociated these concepts, as well as the relevant research fields.

Culture studies saw the high noon in the second half of the XX century, first of all, its theoretics. Within sociology of education, the amount of empirical studies increased significantly in the last decades of the XX century, the methodological framework was also enhanced, but in terms of sociological theory this field of ​​knowledge remains relatively bare. The obvious strategy for building a culture-oriented program under these conditions turns to be the re-integration of resources of cultural theory into the field of educational research. The case studies illustrating the suggested strategy presented in the paper focused on the fundamental, though frequently neglected role of rituals and collective tools of socialization in high school, as well as examination of non-utilitarian grounds of the affinity of universities in the contemporary world.

An empirical study, co-authored by Dmitry Kurakin, was presented by Timothy Malacarne, Mt. Holyoke College. It was dedicated to the analysis of meaning- and decision-making in the sphere of career choice. The study was carried out based on the data of a longitudinal panel survey «Trajectories in Education and Career», pursued in the Institute of Education since year 2009. Using network analytic methods, the authors revealed that the sets of meaning that students and applicants rely upon while choosing their career are not focused merely on their well-being, as it is suggested by most of the existing models of educational and life course decision-making. Moreover, the pragmatic-oriented sets of meaning are not one and only, nor are they most coherent, consistent and determined. In particular, ethically-oriented semantic clusters, typical for those who choose such professions as physician or military officer, exhibit greater stability in the links between its elements. Pragmatically-oriented clusters, scrutinezed more closely, split into alternative strategies, such as high-risk and conservative ones.

It is characteristic that students at academic secondary schools have a much more elaborated and revised set of meanings than students at vocational secondary schools. It means that the students who are initially focused on getting higher education, define their priorities in a significantly clearer way and have a much more circumspected picture of a desirable future than their peers at training schools and colleges. The authors are currently finishing the article based on the study, and the corresponding report has been accepted for the American Sociological Association Congress, which will take place this August in Seattle, USA.

What’s more, the section of the Congress made it possible to introduce the progressing project of cultural sociology of education to the community of renowned cultural sociologists, representing not only Yale University, but also a number of other major world research centers. Dmitry Kurakin got a call to become an editor of the special issue of the American Journal of Cultural Sociology, dedicated to cultural sociology of education, by its editorial board. That special issue could become an important step in the development and positioning of cultural sociology of education within global sociology. Besides, the staff at the Centre for Cultural Sociology and Anthropology of Education is currently organizing an international conference on cultural sociology of education, which will be held at the Institute of Education in Moscow this December.