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Social Space as a Conceptual Tool in Educational Research

Konferensbidrag (offentliggjort, men ej förlagsutgivet)
Författare Aimee Haley
Johanna Mellén
Publicerad i European Conference of Educational Researchers (ECER), Budapest, Hungary, 7-11 September
Publiceringsår 2015
Publicerad vid Institutionen för pedagogik och specialpedagogik
Språk en
Ämnesord social space, education
Ämneskategorier Utbildningsvetenskap


When the concept “space” is mentioned, initial thoughts often gravitate towards physical, geographical space or even “outer space.” However, there is another kind of space - social space - the definition of which can be contested from different ideological starting points. Social space is part of a broader spatial turn in educational research, as evidenced by the programs of educational research association conferences such as the American Educational Research Association and by special issues of educational journals that have focused on critical geography in relation to education (Middleton, 2014). This paper examines “social space” in international educational research through discourse analysis. The primary questions this paper seeks to answer are as follows: How has the concept “social space” been used in educational research? What patterns and divergences can be found in the use of “social space” within different sub-fields of educational research and in different methodological approaches? How can “social space” as a conceptual tool contribute to future educational research? Social space was first introduced as a concept by Emile Durkheim in the 1890s (Buttimer, 1969). From the concept’s beginning with Durkheim it has been modified in a number of ways by different theorists. Theorists who have contributed much to the development of the concept of social space include Bourdieu, Foucault, Lefebvre, and British realists such as Andrew Sayer, each of whom have taken a different position towards social space – structuralist, genealogical, Marxist, and realist respectively (Shields, 1991). These philosophical starting points form the guiding framework for this discourse analysis. The objective of this literature review is to identify and understand how existing educational research has used the social space concept. The study is performed as a discourse analysis, where we are interested in how the authors position themselves towards the concept of “social space”. The intent is to identify the different theoretical starting points from which the social space concept has been used within the literature, by looking at the context of the concept. We also identify how these theoretical starting points correspond with different educational research fields and methodological approaches. Convergent and divergent patterns are thus identified. Finally, we aim to identify areas where use of the social space concept could contribute to advancing educational research. In order to identify relevant and current peer reviewed literature for this review, the key-word “social space” was entered into educational peer reviewed databases accessible through the University of Gothenburg. The review targets the most recent texts (from 2005 to present) and attempted to gain a spread of different types of peer-reviewed educational literature. Our database search generated articles from both compulsory and higher levels of education, including articles addressing both systemic and classroom / teaching issues. The abstracts of the resulting texts were then further reviewed for relevance to the research question and objectives. Through examining the positions educational researchers take in their use of the concept “social space” we were able to gain insight on how the concept is used in different fields of educational research and its relationship to methodological choices. We expect the use of “social space” to vary across fields of educational research since researchers are situated within diverse contexts such as the institutional, national, and ideological. We also expect a greater number of qualitative based studies to incorporate social space since the quantitative approach to space has typically referred to ideas on geometrical space where relationships and actions take place and discounting contextual factors (Hubbard, Kitchin, & Valentine, 2004). Rather than provide a comprehensive overview of educational research that applies the social space concept, this paper describes how some modern-day educational researchers have employed the concept and identifies how the concept could be further incorporated into educational research. Furthermore, this paper contributes to developing knowledge on the integration of spatial theory in educational research, which has typically been under-examined in educational studies, development, and critique (Gulson & Symes, 2007).

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