9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN10 Sociology of Education

2009-09-05 09:00:00 2009-09-05 10:30:00 Saturday, 5 September 09:00 - 10:30 Social Inequalities III Building I, 2E6

A Sociological Inquiry of Wants in Educational Choices

From an emancipatory point of view it is essential to know more about how human wants are related to educational choices and the motivational factors that enable social action. The purpose of this paper is to develop an explanatory sociological approach of wants. We do this in relation to the concept of preferences of rational choice theory. By using one of the favourite cases of this theory, namely preferences prevailing choices and investment in human capital, we manage to show that the assumption of stable preferences is unrealistic. We will illustrate the impossibility to separate wants from material and symbolic support of the social order (relative scarcity). The want-lists of different student´s (n=27) demonstrate this. In this context, a want-list of an individual is defined as a social and cultural manifestation, and an outcome of agents´ reinterpretations and negotiations within a social order. Our findings illustrate that these want-lists contain high levels of inconsistency from the perspective of rational choice: meaning that they violate the principle of transitivity (viz. irrationality) and manifest an indifference which is derived from the principle of completeness (viz. indeterminacy). We argue that this inconsistency arises because of radical uncertainty, denominated as epistemological opaqueness. From this we propose an alternative approach to want formation anchored in the concept of the habitus (Pierre Bourdieu) and reflexivity (Margaret Archer). The habitus concept establishes the set of wants (merely the bundle of wants), whereas reflexivity conditions the want-list (the interconnectedness of wants). This approach both eases the problem of epistemic opaqueness and maintains that wants should be seen to form an organic totality. An organic incorporation of wants will, we argue, help us to understand how habitus hinges agent´s reflexive possibilities of making educational choices. Consequently, if we view wants as being denominated to socio-cultural manifestations, we may better understand the intermediating domains of micro-political affairs that both constitute the prevailing order of things, and poses individual possibilities of questioning and transforming that order. Our results pose a challenge to assumptions centred in the recognition that educational choices first and foremost are expressions of individual interest and cognitive skills.