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The devil is in the detail: Bourdieu and teachers’ early career learning

Jane Kirkby (Faculty of Education, Monash University, Berwick, Australia)
Julianne Moss (School of Education, Deakin University, Burwood, Australia)
Sally Godinho (Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia)

International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education

ISSN: 2046-6854

Article publication date: 6 March 2017



The purpose of this paper is to present how the social learning theory of Bourdieu (1990; Bourdieu and Passeron, 1990) can be a valuable tool to investigate mentoring relationships of beginning teachers with their more experienced colleagues. Bourdieu’s work provides a lens to magnify the social exchanges that occur during the mentoring relationship, so that what tends to be hidden in the “logic of practice” (Bourdieu, 1990) is drawn into view. The paper shows how the mentor is ascribed power that enables domination, and how this tends to result in cultural reproduction. A case study is used to identify aspects of social and cultural learning that demonstrate this process.


The paper draws on a year-long narrative inquiry of beginning secondary teachers’ mentoring experiences in the state of Victoria, Australia. The data were generated through in-depth interviews and participants’ diary entries to answer the research question “What personal, professional knowledge is developed through beginning teachers’ early experiences with induction and mentoring?”


The researcher found that attention to minutiae of mentor/mentee interactions can suggest how symbolic violence shapes personal, professional knowledge.

Research limitations/implications

This small-scale study has some limitations. However, as an illustration of organisational learning, with strong connections to Bourdieu’s theoretical work, it can provide some illuminating insights into how policy can be enacted at the micro-level. In particular, there are implications for how mentor teachers engage in their roles and understand the potential impact of their interactions with beginning teachers.


This study applies Bourdieu’s framework of cultural reproduction as an analysis tool for a qualitative study of the mentoring of beginning teachers.



Kirkby, J., Moss, J. and Godinho, S. (2017), "The devil is in the detail: Bourdieu and teachers’ early career learning", International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, Vol. 6 No. 1, pp. 19-33.



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