Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy




Wright, Ruth

2nd Supervisor

Lehmann, Wolfgang



This thesis investigates Bourdieu’s concepts of doxa and illusio in English secondary school music education, using data collection from a comparative case study undertaken at two contrasting schools in a rural county, Stonefarm High School and Friars Hall School. Data were gathered over five months in 2018, using lesson observations, student focus groups and teacher interviews. Three classes were invited to participate at each school.

The data were analysed using Bourdieu’s Theory of Practice (1977), especially the field mechanisms of doxa and illusio. Doxa, the unwritten rules of a field, and illusio, belief in the game being played in the field, are rarely acknowledged and articulated, which perpetuates the reproduction of social inequalities. Additionally, Rist’s (1977) summary of labelling theory in education demonstrates how labels contribute to preserving social structures that favour the dominant classes.

The music teacher at Stonefarm High School was focused on creating a doxa and illusio relevant to the students, most of whom occupied a rural, working-class habitus. Whilst this school music experience was well-received by the students, the music teacher was concerned that their school music education would place them at a disadvantage when approaching the middle-class focused requirements of the national music education field. The student participants also perceived a physical and cultural distance from music education policymakers

The Friars Hall School music department was aligned with the national music education field. Students who excelled in school music viewed the music department as a supportive “family” that helped them access more prestigious musicking opportunities. However, some other students perceived an “inner circle” from which they were excluded. Both groups believed that the school recognized musical worth based on the formal labels of graded music examinations and other Western classical music practices.

Findings from both cases draw attention to the doxa and illusio of the national music education field. The case study schools highlight how exclusion occurs on micro and macro levels. This demonstrates how representative student and teacher voices are necessary to identify and challenge these exclusions, raising concerns about whose voices remain unheard in the current national political climate.

Summary for Lay Audience

This thesis presents data about music education in two English secondary schools, Stonefarm High School and Friars Hall School, which I visited from January-May 2018. At each school I regularly observed three music classes, interviewed the music teachers, and facilitated student focus groups. I gathered data about the student and teacher participants’ musical interests and their experiences of school music education. The student participants were aged 11-17 and, whilst the younger students were studying music as a compulsory school subject, those aged 14-17 had chosen to continue studying music.

Stonefarm High School serves a rural, working-class community and the music teacher focused on creating a music education experience that engaged the students. Music lessons encouraged risk-taking, creativity and inclusivity. Whilst this approach was popular with the student participants, the teacher expressed concern that it did not facilitate transition to other music education settings, many of which require participants to demonstrate skills generally acquired through private instrumental lessons. In contrast, at Friars Hall School, a more affluent school community, the music department prioritized curricula and activities that benefited those children who had individual instrumental lessons. The participants who excelled in this system saw the music department as a supportive “family”, but some other students described being excluded from an “inner circle.”

I analysed the data using concepts developed by the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, supported by labelling theory. Bourdieu’s Theory of Practice (1977) is used to identify and explain the reproduction of inequity within social fields. Within this theory, doxa are unwritten and often unconscious rules within a field and illusio is the belief in the game being played within a field. By uncovering the doxa and illusio in the Stonefarm and Friars Hall music departments, I have highlighted how social class influences student success in music education at the two schools. The cases also provide insight into how doxa and illusio operate in the national field of music education, which includes structures such as GCSE Music and ABRSM graded exams. These systems are examples of how labelling contributes to the doxa and illusio of the national field of music education.