Exploring the educational engagement practices of disadvantaged students at a South African university
CITATION: Norodien-Fataar, N. & Daniels, D. 2016. Exploring the educational engagement practices of disadvantaged students at a South African university. Alternation, 23(1):90-112.
The original publication is available at http://alternation.ukzn.ac.za/Homepage.aspx
This article discusses the educational engagement practices of disadvantaged first-generation students at a South African university. Based on qualitative research conducted in the interpretive tradition and using interviews and focus groups with selected students, this article explores how disadvantaged students engage with the education and support structures at the university. Drawing on Bourdieu’s (1990; 2000) analytical tools of field, capital and habitus, it explores how students are able to produce practices and dispositions to develop their educational engagement within the university. The article highlights the varied and uneven field conditions of the university in terms of which the students had to navigate their university studies. Their responses to these conditions were strategically directed towards narrowly focusing on, and maximizing, their academic commitments to their studies. This resulted in minimal and halting engagement with the university’s social support services. The article demonstrates the significance of the students’ complex engagements with their lecturers, active and productive interaction with their student peers and the academic support offered by the university’s Teaching and Learning unit. These were central to their engagement practices at the university. The article illustrates the students’ acquisition of strategic emergent academic dispositions in an uneven university field. These dispositions, we argue, are crucial to them establishing productive educational paths at the university.