Educational leadership: a nirvana or a battlefield? A glance into the UK Higher Education using Bourdieu

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Despite an overwhelming abundance of literature on broader leadership issues, very little work in educational leadership seem to have engaged in a theoretical discussion about what constitutes leadership practice in higher education. In a previous special issue in this journal, edited by Lingard and Christie (2003), authors were surprised that Bourdieu’s ideas had not found wider application in the field of educational leadership, as much of the research in this area is mainly concerned, just like in Bourdieu’s work, with the relationship between individual agency and structural determinism. Theoretically informed by the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and in response to Lingard and Christie, this paper contributes to the long established critical tradition in the educational leadership literature, to advocate that Bourdieusian theory helps to illuminate the multidimensional nature of power and leadership within a higher education environment. The author suggests that interpretation of educational leadership through the prism of Bourdieu’s ‘thinking tools’ provides another opportunity to consider and analyse simultaneously the invariant properties of the educational field and the situated particularities of leadership work. My curiosity drove me to use Bourdieu’s ideas to unpack any parallels between current power relations within the field of higher education in the UK and my past experiences of Soviet totalitarianism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
JournalInternational Journal of Leadership in Education
Early online date29 May 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 May 2017


  • leadership
  • higher education
  • power
  • Bourdieu
  • social field
  • capital
  • doxa
  • habitus
  • Soviet.

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