Perceived parental influence on adolescent students' mathematical dispositions: A Bourdieusian perspective

  • Irene Kleanthous

Student thesis: Phd


Adolescent students' perceptions of parental influence in relation to mathematics education is an under-researched area, since most studies in this area focus on parental involvement in primary mathematics. This research study aims to fill this gap in the literature by exploring adolescent students' perceptions of parental influence on their dispositions towards studying mathematically-demanding courses in Higher Education (HE). This study employs mixed research methods to investigate students' perceptions of parental influence with a survey (N=563) and semi-structured interviews with six students and their parents. Additional interviews were conducted with three immigrant families in Cyprus. The study builds on Bourdieu's theory of reproduction of social inequalities and extends some concepts of Bourdieu's theoretical framework to discuss parental influence. The main findings of this research study are reported in three journal papers whilst the papers are under review for publication. The first paper of the thesis reports the analysis of the quantitative data of this study by combining Rasch analysis with statistical modelling. The statistical analysis showed that parental influence is not statistically significant for predicting students' mathematical dispositions in some models, when other background variables are included in the models. However, further statistical analysis showed that the effect of parental influence is mediated through students' choice of mathematics course and their mathematical inclination. The non-statistical significance of parental influence in some models was interpreted as a 'misrecognition' after Bourdieu (1980). The same phenomenon was noted in the second paper of the thesis, where students and their parents 'denied' parental influence during their interviews. This was again interpreted as 'misrecognition' and parental influence is conceptualised as a form of 'symbolic violence' that parents exercise on their children. Arguably, parents possess more capital in the family field and their influence on their children's educational choices might be unconscious, thus students' misrecognise their parents' influence but they draw significantly on their family's capital to make their choices for future studies in HE.Lastly, the third paper of the thesis explored cultural differences in students' perceptions of parental influence in England and Cyprus; stronger perceptions of parental influence were identified in immigrant students' interviews compared to indigenous students in both countries. Bourdieu's (1977) concept of 'hysteresis' was adapted to theorise this phenomenon. Arguably, while immigrant students' habitus adjust to the new field, students become more reflective on their parents' influence because of the reflexivity the hysteresis effect entails.In all three papers Bourdieu's theoretical framework was used to operationalise students' mathematical dispositions and to interpret the findings of this study. The main contributions to knowledge of this study is the operationalisation of students' mathematical habitus; the new theoretical conceptualisation of parental influence as a form of symbolic violence in the family field and the extension of the hysteresis effect to interpret immigrant students' stronger perceptions of their parents' influence.
Date of Award1 Aug 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJulian Williams (Supervisor)


  • Rasch analysis
  • parental influence
  • mathematical dispositions
  • Bourdieu's theory
  • choices for HE studies

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