The construction of 'learning cultures' : an ethnographically-informed case study of a UK conservatoire
Perkins, Rosie Louise
University of Cambridge
Faculty of Education
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Perkins, R. L. (2012). The construction of 'learning cultures' : an ethnographically-informed case study of a UK conservatoire (Doctoral thesis). https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.11713
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This study investigates the 'learning cultures' of a UK conservatoire of music. As educational institutions; conservatoires remain largely unresearched and, crucially, relatively unchallenged. In particular, existing research has paid little attention to indepth studies of culture, so that not enough is known of the cultural practices that characterise and shape a conservatoire education. To address this gap, the study adopts the conceptual lens of 'learning cultures'. Acknowledging recent research in further education, 'learning cultures' are conceptualised not as the contexts in which people learn, but as the practices through which people learn. As such, the study aims to understand the characteristic practices of the conservatoire and its members, the ways that learners participate in, construct and learn from such practices and, thus, the constructed nature of the conservatoire's learning cultures. Methodologically, the study is grounded in constructionism and draws on the thinking of Pierre Bourdieu. In particular, Bourdieu's notions of habitus, capital and field are used as 'thinking tools' through which to access and understand 'learning cultures'. The research comprised an ethnographically-informed qualitative case study of one UK conservatoire. In the quest for in-depth understandings, a family of four methods was employed: semistructured interviews, participant observation, document analysis and participant selfdocumentation. Data were analysed using a framework that moved between inductive data-driven thematic analysis and Bourdieu-informed interpretation, with emphasis given to the socially constructed nature of 'learning cultures'. The key findings of the study are divided into three interrelated parts: the organisational, curricula and spatial practices of the conservatoire, the practices of the conservatoire's students, teachers and staff and the ways in which different learners participate in, construct and learn from these practices. Drawing these parts together, the study concludes that (1) the nature of the conservatoire's learning cultures is manifested across four intertwined features: cultures privileging the development of specialised performers, cultures of social networking, cultures of musical hierarchies and cultures of vocational position taking and (2) the conservatoire's learning cultures are constructed in different ways for differently positioned learners, appearing to privilege those 'superstar' students who visibly demonstrate high levels of symbolic cultural and social capital. In a climate where the call to 'change the cultures' of conservatoires is oft heard, the learning cultures of this particular conservatoire reveal practices that do not always appear to reflect a rapidly changing musical field. Implications of the study are discussed, and recommendations made for the introduction of creative, reflective and leadership spaces for learning in the conservatoires of the future.
This record's DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.11713
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