The Parent–Teacher Encounter : A (mis)match between habitus and doxa

Abstract: The aim of the thesis is to study how parents and teachers experience their encounter and how they negotiate their positions in the field of schooling with respect to legitimate knowledge claims about the child and the ideal form of home–school collaboration. The aim is operationalised through the following research questions: 1) How do parents and teachers utilise their social and cultural resources in their encounters? 2) How can certain resources function as forms of capital in relation to different practices in the field? 3) What practices do teachers and parents employ to preserve and/or subvert their relative positions in their encounters?  The theoretical framework is grounded in Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of practice and the main conceptual tools are habitus, capital and doxa. Specifically, the thesis explores how parents and teachers rely on their dispositions to understand their encounter, how parents’ social and cultural resources evolve into forms of capital, and the different practices that parents and teachers employ to negotiate shared beliefs in the field of schooling. The parent–teacher encounter is viewed as a social practice that emerges in the interplay between subjectivity and objectivity. The study employs a qualitative design to examine teachers and parents of children in Swedish compulsory schools in the Stockholm urban area (grades one to nine). The data consists of individual interviews with seven teachers and eleven parents as well as observations in four development conferences. The empirical results show that the teachers talk about parents as a collective and have unified opinions about home–school collaboration. Although their practices mainly stem from a collective habitus, they also employ different collaboration strategies in encounters with parents. The findings on the parents point to differing positions in the social space due to their varying backgrounds in terms of culture, educational level, family structure and the like. Some parents use their social and cultural capital to negotiate with the teachers and claim accommodations whilst others struggle to express themselves in front of the teachers and to understand the dynamics of the Swedish school. The prerequisites for a successful collaboration that parents and teachers negotiate revolve around transparency, trust, mutual respect and engagement in the student.Furthermore, the thesis develops the notion of parental school capital, which is informed by the intersection of four components: educational capital, sociocultural context of upbringing, family dynamics and student’s schooling situation. Based on the analysis, the most powerful combination is high educational capital, upbringing in Sweden, shared responsibilities between parents, and a stable student performance. This combination often leads to the acquisition of certain advantages in the schooling field. The analysis further shows that the school doxa works unproblematically as long as there is a match between parents’ and teachers’ habitus. However, there are instances of mismatch when parents and teachers address problematic situations in an attempt to negotiate their positions and subsequently challenge the doxa.