Theory of practice, mixed methods research and the development of social sensitivity accreditation in HE

Presentation by: Karin Doolan, of the Institute for Education Research in Zagreb.


The presentation begins by promoting a slightly extended version of Bourdieu’s theory of practice (originally consisting of capitals, habitus and field) as a holistic theoretical lens for noticing and interpreting the ways in which social inequalities are created and reinforced in higher education. It then moves on to express scepticism towards the international dominance of quantitative research in the higher education participation field, and endorses a mixed methods approach as a more refined way to meet common policy requirements of pattern identification, but also to capture the subtleties of educational experiences at the individual level (highlighted as particularly significant for under-represented groups in higher education yet often overlooked in higher education policy development). Since Bourdieu was an advocate of ‘methodological polytheism’ it is argued that such a mixed methods approach is compatible with his theoretical framework. Finally, the presentation calls for a more complex conceptualisation of the social dimension in higher education as it is spelled out in Bologna process policy documents and proposes the development of a European-wide HE accreditation process which would grant successful higher education institutions the status of a ‘Socially sensitive HE space’.

Author Biography

Karin Doolan was a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute in the spring term of 2009/2010, following receipt of her PhD in sociology of education from the University of Cambridge. Since 2004 she has worked at the Institute for Social Research in Zagreb as a researcher and consultant on projects with a prominent social justice agenda (e.g. gender equity in compulsory schooling, ethnic minorities in Croatia and their involvement in school life, socio-economic inequalities and higher education participation). She has also contributed as a policy analyst to developmental projects both in Croatia and the UK; her most recent international engagement was a project on family policy for the British Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit in London in 2008, whereas in Croatia she is currently involved in a European Commission funded project ‘ACCESS: Towards Equitable and Transparent Access to Higher Education in Croatia’. She has a particular interest in theorisations of social reproduction across different political and economic contexts (with a particular interest in Bourdieu’s conceptual tools), theorisations of social justice, as well as the ways in which educational institutions can be organised to contribute to it.


Click Here to download the presentation powerpoints (in pdf or ppt format) from the EQUNET Repostiory.