Cultural Studies of Science Education

, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 699–728 | Cite as

Different habitus: different strategies in teaching physics? Relationships between teachers’ social, economic and cultural capital and strategies in teaching physics in upper secondary school

  • Susanne EngströmEmail author
  • Carina Carlhed


With environmental awareness in the societies of today, political steering documents emphasize that all education should include sustainable development. But it seems to be others competing ideals for teaching physics, or why do the physics teachers teach as they do? Physics teachers in secondary school in Sweden have generally, been focused on facts and a strong link with scientific theories and concepts. In general, the curriculum sway the teaching, a standard text book in physics is used, the teaching is organized according to the book and the teacher deals with and demonstrates typical tasks on the whiteboard and group work is common for special issues related to tasks from the textbook or elaborating. The aim with this study is to analyze why physics teachers in upper secondary school choose to teach energy as they do. Data emerging from a questionnaire focused on indicators of the teachers’ cultural and economic assets, or capital, according to the work of Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology. Especially his concept on life styles and habitus provide a tool for analysis. We focus on physics teachers’ positions in the social space, dispositions and standpoints towards the ideal way to teach physics in upper secondary school (n = 268). Our response rate is 29 % and due to the low response rate a non response bias analysis was made. In our analysis we primarily sought for groups, with a cluster analysis based on the teaching practice, revealed common features for both what and how they teach and three different teaching types emerged. Then we reconstructed the group habitus of the teachers by analyzing dispositions and standpoints and related those to the specific polarization of sacred values, that is struggles about the natural order (doxa) in the social space of science education, which is a part of and has boundaries to dominating fields like the natural sciences and the political fields (curriculum etc.). Three teacher-groups’ habituses are described and analyzed; (1) The Manager of the Traditional, (2) The Challenger for Technology and (3) The Challenger for Citizenship. By constructing the habitus of the teachers in the different groups we can explain why teachers teach as they do and thereby make a contribution to both science education research and to teaching training, whereas reflective approach which also includes the individual dispositions and representations are paramount. In our paper we elaborate the grounds and implications of these findings further.


Physics teachers Physic teaching Upper secondary school Habitus Life styles 


  1. Aikenhead, G. S. (1996). Science education: Border crossing into the subculture of science. Studies in Science Education, 27, 1–52.
  2. Alexander, R. J. (2004). Towards Dialogic Teaching: rethinking classroom talk. North Yorkshire: Dialogos.Google Scholar
  3. Archer, M. (2003). Structure, agency and the internal conversation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Babour, I. (2000). When science meets religion. New York: Harper Collins Publisher.Google Scholar
  5. Berner, B. (2004). Ifrågasättanden. Linköping: Linköping University.Google Scholar
  6. Bertilsson, E. (2009). Lärarstudenterna. Förändringar i rekryteringen under perioden 1977–2007. Praktiske Grunde. Nordisk tidsskrift for kultur-og samfundsvidenskab, 4, 19–42.Google Scholar
  7. Bihagen, E. (2000). The significance of class. Studies of class inequalities, consumption and social circulation in contemporary Sweden. Doctoral theses at the Department of Sociology, Umeå University, No. 17. Umeå: Umeå University.Google Scholar
  8. Bosnjak, M., & Tuten, T. L. (2001). Classifying response behaviors in web-based surveys. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 6(3). doi: 10.1111/j.1083-6101.2001.tb00124.x.
  9. Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction. A social critique of the judgment of taste. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  10. Bourdieu, P. (1989). Social space and symbolic power. Sociological Theory, 7(1), 14–25.
  11. Bourdieu, P. (1990). In other words. Essays towards a reflexive sociology. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  12. Bourdieu, P. (1996). Homo Academicus. Stockholm: Brutus Östlings Bokförlag.Google Scholar
  13. Bourdieu, P. (2000). Konstens regler. Det litterära fältet uppkomst och struktur. Stockholm: Brutus Östlings Bokförlag.Google Scholar
  14. Bourdieu, P. (2004). Science of science and reflexivity. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  15. Bourdieu, P. (2005). Udkast til en praksisteori—Indledt af Tre studier i kabylsk etnologi. Köpenhamn: Hans Reitzels Forlag.Google Scholar
  16. Bourdieu, P., & Passeron, J.-C. (2008). Reproduktionen. Lund: Arkiv förlag.Google Scholar
  17. Broady, D. (1991). Sociologi och epistemologi. Stockholm: HLS.Google Scholar
  18. Broady, D., & Börjesson, M. (2007). Elite formation in Sweden. Funeral oration over a Swedish model, in session “Reproduction and Transformation of Access through Education to Elite Positions in Society” at European Educational Research Association, (ECER-2007), 19–21 September, 2007, Gent, Belgium.Google Scholar
  19. Broady, D., Börjesson, M., Larsson, E., Lidegran, I., & Nordqvist, I. (2009). Skolans kungsvägDet naturvetenskapliga programmets plats i utbildningssystemet. In VR Resultatdialog 2009.Google Scholar
  20. Calander, F., Jonsson, C., Lindblad, S., Steensen, J., & Wikström, H. (2003). Nybörjare på lärarprogrammet: Vilka är de? Vad vill de? Vad tycker de? En studie av nyantagna studenter höstterminen 2002 till lärarprogrammen i Gävle, Karlstad och Uppsala samt vid de danska folkeskolelærerseminarierna Nørre Nissum och Zahle. Uppsala: Uppsala University.Google Scholar
  21. Callewaert, S. (2003). Fra bourdieus og foucaults verden—pædagogik og sociologi, diskurser og praktikker efter det moderne. Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag.Google Scholar
  22. Charlesworth, S. (2000). A phenomenology of working class experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Cross, R. T., & Ormiston-Smith, H. (1996). Physics teaching, professional development and a socialy critical ideology. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 28(6), 651–667. Scholar
  24. De Souza Barros, S., & Elia, M. F. (1998). Physics teachers ‘attitudes: How do they affect the reality of the classroom and models for change? In A. Tiberghien, E. L. Jossem, & J. Barojas (Eds.), Connecting research in physics education with teacher education. Published by International Commission on Physics Education.Google Scholar
  25. Driver, R., Asoko, H., Leach, J., Mortimer, E., & Scott, P. (1994). Constructing scientific knowledge in the classroom. Educational Researcher, 23(7), 5–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Engström, S. (2008a). Fysiken spelar roll! Undervisning om hållbara energisystem, fokus på gymnasiekursen fysik A. Licentiate Thesis. Eskilstuna: Mälardalen University Press (in Swedish). The Physics matter! Teaching about Sustainable Energy Systems in Upper Secondary school, in Physics Course A. Google Scholar
  27. Engström, S. (2008b). Content objectives for teaching sustainable energy in physics education. In Proceedings of the XIII. IOSTE Symposium. ISBN 978-605-5829-16-2 (pp. 271–278). Ankara: Palme Publications & Bookshops LTD.CO.Google Scholar
  28. Engström, S., & Gustafsson, P. (2010). Are there different types of physics teachers? About teaching sustainable energy in an upper secondary school physics course. In Proceedings of international organization for science and technology education. symposium (14; 2010; Bled) Socio-cultural and human values in science and technology education. ISBN 978-961-92882-1-4 (pp. 418–430). Ljubljana: Institute for Innovation and Development of University.Google Scholar
  29. Engström, S., Gustafsson, P., & Niedderer, H. (2011). Content for teaching sustainable energy systems in physics at upper secondary school. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 9(6), 1281–1304.Google Scholar
  30. Fensham, P., Gunstone, R., & White, R. (1994). Part 1. Science content and constructivist views of learning and teaching. In P. Fensham, R. Gunstone, & R. White (Eds.) The content of science (pp. 1–8). London: The Falmer.Google Scholar
  31. Field, A. (2000). Postgraduate statistic: Cluster analysis. Retrieved January 26, 2010 from
  32. Ford, K. W. (1989). Guest comment: Is Physics difficult? American Journal of Physics, 57, 871–872. Scholar
  33. Frängsmyr, T. (1984). Vetenskapsmannen som hjälte. Aspekter på vetenskapshistorien. Stockholm: Nordstedts.Google Scholar
  34. Government Communication 2005/06:126. Strategic challengesA further elaboration of the Swedish strategy for sustainable development. Retrieved June 2009 from
  35. Gunstone, G. F., & White, R. T. (1998). Teacher’s attitudes about physics classroom practice. In I. A. Tiberghien, E. L. Jossem, & J. Barojas (Eds.), Connecting research in physics education with teacher education. Published by International Commission on Physics Education. Web site:
  36. Gyberg, P. (2003). Energi som kunskapsområde—Om praktik och diskurser i skolan. Linköping: Linköping University.Google Scholar
  37. Hallström, J. (2009). Systemteori och teknik. In P. Gyberg & J. Hallström (Eds.), Världens gång—Teknikens utveckling. Studentlitteratur: Lund.Google Scholar
  38. Hultqvist, E. (2006). Viljan att göra gott—Om uppgiften att tygla det normativa i lärarutbildningen. In M. Börjesson, I. Heyman, M. Langerth Zetterman, E. Larsson, I. Lidegran, & M. Palme (Eds.). Fältanteckningar. Utbildnings-och kultursociologiska texter tillägnade Donald Broady. Uppsala: Uppsala universitet.Google Scholar
  39. Ingelstam, L. (2009). Varför är tekniska system intressanta? In P. Gyberg & J. Hallström (Eds.), Världens gång—Teknikens utveckling. Studentlitteratur: Lund.Google Scholar
  40. Karlsson, L. (2005). Klasstillhörighetens subjektiva dimension: Klassidentitet, sociala attityder och fritidsvanor. Umeå: Umeå University.Google Scholar
  41. Katz-Gerro, T. (2002). Highbrow cultural consumption and class distinction in Italy, Israel, West Germany, Sweden and the United States. Social Forces, 81(1), 202–229.
  42. King, A. (2000). Thinking with Bourdieu against Bourdieu: A ‘Practical’ critique of the habitus. Sociological Theory, 18(3), 417–433.
  43. Lpf 94. (1994). Läroplan för de frivilliga skolformerna. Regeringskansliet: Stockholm.Google Scholar
  44. Muel-Dreyfus, F. (1987). Folkskollärare och socialarbetare. Metodologiska kommentarer till den historiska sociologin. Stockholm: HLS Förlag.Google Scholar
  45. Mulhall, P., & Gunstone, R. (2008). Views about physics held by physics teachers with differing approaches to teaching physics. Research in Science Education, 38, 435–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Myrdal, J. (2005). Om humanvetenskap och naturvetenskap. Report from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). Department of Economics 159. Uppsala: SLU.Google Scholar
  47. Nash, R. (2002). The educated habitus, progress at school and real knowledge. Interchange, 33, 27–48.
  48. Pugsley, L. (2004). The university challenge. Higher education markets and social stratification. Aldershot: Cardiff papers in qualitative research.Google Scholar
  49. Reay, D. (2004). ‘It’s all becoming a habitus’: Beyond the habitual use of habitus in educational research. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 25(4), 431–444. Scholar
  50. Roberts, D. A. (2007). Scientific literacy/science literacy. In S. K. Abell & N. G. Lederman (Eds.), Handbook of research on science education (pp. 729–780). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Publishers.Google Scholar
  51. Sayer, A. (2004). The moral significance of class. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Sjøberg, S. (2005). Naturvetenskap som allmänbildning—En kritisk ämnesdidaktik. Lund: Studentlitteratur.Google Scholar
  53. SKOLFS 2000:49. Curriculum in physics A. Retrieved November 18, 2009, from
  54. Space, W. (2007). Climate physics. Using basic physics concepts to teach about climate change. Science Teacher, 74(6), 44–48.Google Scholar
  55. The Swedish National Agency of Education. (2003). NU 03. Skolverkets nationella utvärdering av grundskolan. Retrieved May, 2008, from (In Swedish). The Swedish National Agency of Education: National Evaluation of Lower Secondary School.
  56. The Swedish National Agency of Education. (2010). Retrieved March 22, 2010, from
  57. Ulfsdotter Eriksson, Y. (2006). Yrke, Status & Genus En sociologisk studie om yrken på en segregerad arbetsmarknad. Gothenburg: Gothenburg University.Google Scholar
  58. UN. (2003). Economic commission for Europe, statement on education for sustainable development by the UNECE ministers of the environment, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, Kiev, 21–23 May 2003.Google Scholar
  59. UNECE. (2005). Unites Nations Economic Commission for Europe. Strategy for education for sustainable development. CEP/AC.13/2005/3/Rev.1. Retrieved June, 2009, from
  60. Von Wright, G. H. (1986). Vetenskapen och förnuftet. Stockholm: Bonnier.Google Scholar
  61. Wertheim, M. (1997). Phytagoras′ trousers. London: Fourth Estate.Google Scholar
  62. World Conference on Physics and Sustainable Development, WCPSD. (2005). Retrieved May 2009, from

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Education, Culture and CommunicationMälardalen UniversityVästeråsSweden
  2. 2.Department of EducationUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden

Personalised recommendations