Page created by Karl Moss
Institutionen för pedagogik, didaktik och utbildningsstudier
        Department of Education

     A conflict of lifestyles and battle of time
International students in sustainable development at Uppsala

                                Ewa Livmar

                 Master’s thesis in Sociology of Education

                                   Nr 12.

This investigation has sought to explore and understand how students who come to Sweden to
study sustainable development perceive their future and what struggles they face. Underpinned
by Pierre Bourdieu’s sociological theories the aim was thus to understand the role of education in
sustainable development for international students; by looking at what kind of assets they
possess, how struggles can be understood in relation to what assets they have, in what way
geographical place might be significant and how changes of values and views of knowledge may
affect their views of the future. The study has been restricted to Uppsala University and
specifically The Centre for Environment and Development studies, (CEMUS.) CEMUS has been
deliberately chosen since it offers many courses in sustainable development in English. As a
method, an online survey and interviews have been conducted, with the aim of constructing a
qualitative study. The data used in this study has been collected during a period of 3 months
between February and April 2019. The scope of the study covers students who defined themselves
as students within sustainable development who have or where taking courses at CEMUS at the
time of the interviews.
       The main result is that the students through the education in sustainable development
experience new understandings of narratives, critical thinking and need for societal change. The
clash between their earlier educational paths and the knowledge they have gained in sustainable
development is disruptive to the extent of causing a cognitive dissonance resulting in a cleft
habitus. It contributes to uncertainties about the future; both at the job-market as the
undisciplinary and in life choices such as where and how to live. With one foot in current system
and one foot on the edge of change towards an uncertain future. Most struggle enormously as
their “in-between” position is not only due to meeting another culture, but a head on
confrontation with earlier understandings of their reality and position in it. It is concluded that
giving up privilege and convert what they have to the new frame of sufficiency, is hard.
Nevertheless, the students who come from affluent backgrounds are those who adapt most easily
to the education they meet at CEMUS, whereas those with less still have to face the fear of not
having enough.

Keywords: Sociology of education, students in sustainability, Bourdieu, Critical
thinking, dissonance, cleft habitus.

Supervisor: Ida Lidegran
Examiner: Elisabeth Hultqvist
Defended: June 3rd, 2020.

1. Introduction ______________________________________________ 9

2. Background and previous research ______________________________ 10
     2.1 Introducing the educational context of CEMUS _________________________ 11
     2.2 Swedish educational context and Uppsala University at a glance _____________ 13
            2.2.1 Fees for international students in Sweden _______________________ 14
            2.2.2 Differences between Swedish and international students at Uppsala University
                    __________________________________________________ 15

3. Research and aim __________________________________________ 16

4. Theoretical Framework ______________________________________ 17
     4.1 Habitus, Illusio and symbolic violence in relation to the international students. __ 20
     4.2 Educational values and perspectives represented within sustainable development _ 21

5. Methodology ______________________________________________ 24
     5.1 Drawing a sample_____________________________________________ 25
           5.1.1 The survey ____________________________________________ 25
           5.1.2 The Interviews _________________________________________26

6. Results __________________________________________________ 28
     6.1 Students within sustainable development ____________________________ 28
     6.2 The student’s assets and background________________________________29
     6.3 Uppsala, a place of transit _______________________________________ 31
            6.3.1 Why study in Sweden at Uppsala University?_____________________33
     6.4 Honing critical thinking ________________________________________34
            6.4.2 The battle of time _______________________________________ 37
            6.4.3 Educational strategies ____________________________________39
            6.4.4 In transition, between the Pragmatic and the Dedicated _____________39
            6.4.5 Becoming the Undiciplinary ________________________________ 41
     6.5 Consequences of change, a cleft habitus? _____________________________42
            6.5.1 Tackling privilege _______________________________________43
            6.5.1 Eating avocadoes and growing up in airports _____________________44
     6.6 The undisciplinary future _______________________________________49
            6.6.1 Living a decent life? ____________________________________ 50
            6.6.2 The jobmarket and where to go ______________________________ 53
            6.6.3 Language skills and how it relates to future possibilities _____________54

7. Concluding discussion _______________________________________ 56
     7.1 Wrestling with the future ________________________________________58
     7.2 A sense of belonging __________________________________________ 60

Acknowledgements ___________________________________________ 62

References _________________________________________________ 63

Appendix __________________________________________________ 66
1. Introduction
In 2017, I started to study sustainable development at Uppsala University. I was
considerably older than my peers and I had worked for ten years as a teacher in
upper secondary school. What struck me as particularly interesting when
continuing my quest for knowledge – was that when I did not need the credentials
that came with it I was free to choose and reflect without the restraint of need –
in terms of livelihood. I did not have the need to always try to figure out what the
examiner wanted me to write or discuss; I could to a greater extent be reckless in
my approach to the knowledge I was presented with.
     I observed that my peers who needed the credentials for further study or a
degree seemed to be more reserved and doubting in their approach, they were
more anxious that they might have gotten something wrong and more calculating
in how they prioritised their studies. I also noticed that they seemed to be divided
into two groups; I have chosen to call them the dedicated and the pragmatic1. The
dedicated seemed to be very emotionally invested in issues of sustainability; they
felt as if they were constantly frustrated and very ardent in their studies. Several
of the dedicated voiced genuine fear for the future and said that their studying of
sustainable development was their way of trying to do something, to change what
they see as a ‘world gone mad’. The pragmatic on the other hand, exhibit a more
laid-back attitude and critically questioned what fallacies they might come across
within the field of sustainability during the duration of the course. Many said that
they studied sustainable development to pad their resume, since they felt that it
was needed to get a head in the job market.

         “ Me: Why do youc think it is important to study sustainable development?

         Co-student: Well, I don’t know if it is all that important – but I know that many
         employers are looking for people with the skills I hope to gain or at least it will look
         good in my CV.

         Me: Ok, how do you mean look good?

         Co-student: Yeah, you know – that I’m at the forefront and understand that the next
         big thing is environmentally friendly business. I guess it is like greenwashing your
         CV, hahaha”

After I had this conversation with a co-student I came to think about an article I
read some years back by Weenink.2 Weenink’s approach, which seem to portray
an elite group and an aspiring upper middle class who consciously try to acquire
certain capitals in order to gain access into a cosmopolitan elite (even though that
might not be an outspoken wish but rather my interpretation of “getting a
headstart3”). Weenink argue that a cosmopolitan capital is considered vital, and
distinguishes two groups of parents – the dedicated and the pragmatic

1   With reference to Weenink.
  Weenink, 2008, Cosmopolitanism as a Form of Capital: Parents Preparing their Children for a
3 Weenink, 2008, Cosmopolitanism as a Form of Capital: Parents Preparing their Children for a

GlobalizingWorld, p. 1097
cosmopolitans. The main difference between the two is; how they viewed the
education and what strategies they used when choosing education for their
children. The dedicated highlighted the importance of being able to go beyond
borders and be able to adapt4, whereas the pragmatic stressed the learning of
English and the competitive aspect of getting a head start.5
     In light of the idea of cosmopolitanism as an educational framework and a
globalised world, it is of particular interest to look at international students who
choose to study sustainable development, as questions regarding sustainable
development cross national borders. Sustainable development is also described
as transdisciplinary why students from various backgrounds can be expected, and
give a broader understanding towards their view of the future and the struggles
they face.
     Seeing this, my trail of thoughts led me to look closer at student mobility or,
as defined by Brooks and Waters: “young people who move for educational
purposes and, in doing so, create new networks and circuits of identity.”6What
are the inclinations for taking courses in sustainable development, and to what
extent does students’ background play part in their view on sustainable
development as a field of study? It is also the entry point of this study.
     Previous studies on educational choice usually deal with choices in
connection to geographical location, economic or cultural background, expected
academic outcomes or entrance and exit ways into specific groups in society. In
sociology of education the trajectories of students are followed to provide insight
into societal changes and understand how educational choices affect society at
large. In light of stirring global movements, such as Fridays for future created by
young people like Greta Thunberg, the issue of education and sustainable
development has become highlighted both in media and in society at large.
     Within the context of sociology of education, the aim of this study is to see
how international students in sustainable development, in relation to their
background and trajectory view their education and opportunities in the future.

2. Background and previous research
Depending on where you are born, where you live, during what time and under
what circumstances, your view on culture and education will be different. Your
cultural background will also decide how you perceive education and in what way
you use it. Education is in most societies regarded as very important. The belief
in formal education has strengthened especially since knowledge and academic
understanding has been seen as a stepping stone for obtaining and maintaining
social wealth.7 Within the educational frame of higher education, especially from
a pedagogical approach, cosmopolitanism is not only understood as habits or
values obtained by people to become citizen of the world or gain certain capitals

4 Weenink, 2008, Cosmopolitanism as a Form of Capital: Parents Preparing their Children for a
GlobalizingWorld, p.1094
5 Weenink, 2008, Cosmopolitanism as a Form of Capital: Parents Preparing their Children for a

GlobalizingWorld, p.1097
6Brooks,R,Waters,J,20011; Student Mobilites, Migration and the Internationalization of Higher Education,

7 Brown, Philip Dillabough, Jo-Anne Halsey, Albert Henry Lauder, Hugh, Education, globalization and social

change, Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2006,p. 2-3
to get a head start, as suggested by Weenink, but rather as an pedagogical
embodiment of optimism towards the future; built on the idea of linear
development. What are the limits of this cosmopolitan process and to what extent
are the students within this study affected by it? As international students’ come
from very diverse geographical backgrounds their views are of particular interest,
it is also an understudied area of research.

2.1 Introducing the educational context of CEMUS
This study will embark on an international journey dealing with students who
have come to Uppsala to study sustainable development at The Centre for
Environment and Development studies, (CEMUS.) The main reason to study
students enrolled at CEMUS is that CEMUS offers a wide range of courses in
sustainable development whereas the departments of Uppsala University do not
specifically offer the same range. Many of CEMUS courses are also offered in
English. At CEMUS another form of education is also offered; which is student
led education. Secondly, for more pragmatic reasons, I had access to contacts and
students willing to participate in this study. At Uppsala University CEMUS has
existed for 28 years, it is a student-initiated node connecting Uppsala University
and the Swedish University of Agricultural sciences (SLU). CEMUS was thus
formed in 1992 because of 2 students at Uppsala University who were:

          […] greatly disappointed by the complete lack of courses or forums that in an
         interdisciplinary way dealt with the most crucial environment and development
         issues of the time. Inspired by a lecture by American Biologist and educator Paul
         Erlich, they worked out a proposal for an interdisciplinary seminar-series. With
         feedback and support from teachers, researchers and a few progressive professors,
         their proposal reached the university president who was impressed by the student’s
         initiative capacity and engagement in the issues. To their surprise, the students’
         themselves were given the task of further developing the proposal and running the
         course which came to be called Humanity and Nature.8’

In 2007 as a result of the Bologna process, critique was raised on the framing of
the process and the streamlining of education as the autonomy of the university
could be questioned when education entered the market. Furthermore, the need
for gradient grades became a battle within CEMUS where only pass/fail had been
the model previously used.
     Today the educational model at CEMUS promotes active student
participation and recruit students as course coordinators for all the courses given
at the centre. The course coordinators work together with senior staff at CEMUS
and a group of invited senior academics from different departments from both
Uppsala University and SLU. This is to ensure the quality of the courses and
secure the standards of examination. Examination is done by a teacher holding
at least a PhD degree at either of the universities. Assessments and examination
tasks are prepared by the coordinators in collaboration with the invited
workgroup. Education is facilitated by the coordinators and provided by co-
students, invited guest lecturers from academia, the municipality, local
companies, NGO’s and other actors in society. CEMUS offer 15 courses in English,
all centred around the sustainability discourse, problematising different areas

8   http://www.cemus.uu.se/about/
and addressing different issues of social, economic and ecological sustainability.
In order to illustrate the wide range of topics covered, part of the course contents
of four English courses were chosen to provide insight into what similarities and
differences there are within the courses offered at CEMUS, starting with the
course Climate change leadership in Practice.

      The first part of the course gives a broad orientation and deals with a number of
      central concepts, theories and perspectives (climate change, leadership, psychology,
      anthropology, history, ethics, justice, power, gender) as well as current research in
      related fields. The main focus is on analysing the complexity of the questions, how
      the students can work with these questions in different contexts and how leadership
      can play a crucial role in the work for a sustainable development.9

In the course “Sustainability and Development in Latin America: Past, Present,
Future” the course content is described as:

      The course combines traditional subject matters such as history, history of thought,
      sociology, anthropology, political science and development studies with
      interdiciplinary researh areas, theories and concepts such as the global sustainability
      goals, political ecology, environmental justice, gender studies, historical ecology,
      environmental history and action research.10

In “Perspectives on Climate Change: Ecopsychology, Art and Narratives” the
focus of the course is described as follows:

      The course deals with various theoretical and practical perspectives on climate
      change in relation to ecopsychology (e.g. environmental melancholia), artistic forms
      of expression (e.g. climate art) and literary communication methods (e.g.
      ecocriticism, climate fiction).11

In “Humans, animals, Ecosystems, One health Approach in a Sustainable Global
Animal production” the content is focused on the health approach of sustainable

      […] the students will learn how humans, animals and ecosystems affect each other’s
      health. Specific topics that will be covered are diseases that can spread between
      animals and between animals and humans, and antimicrobial resistance. The
      students will also learn what different types of animal production can look like
      around the world and what challenges and opportunities that comes with animal
      production from a sustainability perspective.12

As seen from the contents provided, the courses offered by CEMUS are vastly
different in the context of the topics addressed, but very similar in their broad

9Course content, Climate change leadership in Practice,

10 Course content, Sustainability and Development in Latin America: Past, Present, Future,

11 Course content, Perspectives on Climate Change: Ecopsychology, Art and Narratives,

12 Course content, Humans, animals, Ecosystems, One health Approach in a Sustainable Global Animal

approach in addressing sustainable development using transdisciplinary
knowledge. In education for sustainable development it is recognised that the
lack of definition on what can be considered sustainable and what way of living is
considered most sustainable, poses a problem. For example, what is considered
sustainable in Sweden might not be recognised as sustainable at another time and
place. 13 In terms of education there is thus no ‘right way’ which can be taught,
why education for sustainable development becomes an approach aimed to
provide a space for dialogue instead of prediction of a certain sustainable future.
Complex relationship and processes are to be understood as non-linear, which in
many ways contradict a traditional western view on societal development.14
     In 2015 the first holder of the Zennström visiting Professorship in Climate
Change Leadership started her position at CEMUS. A professorship installed
from a donation by Niklas Zennström, Uppsala University alumni and founder of
Skype, CEO of Atomico and cofounder of Zennström Philantrophies. CEMUS,
with its different approach to knowledge and learning, is thus interesting in itself,
since it is not run as a department of its own.

2.2 Swedish educational context and Uppsala University at a
For international students to choose Sweden and Uppsala University as their
educational path, it is interesting to briefly touch upon Swedish educational
history and Uppsala University’s reputation for a fuller understanding of their
    From the 1950’s higher education in Sweden got democratic, meaning that
through different reforms it opened up for people of lesser privilege to study at
university. The explosion of students started during the 1960’s and malcontent
grew due to lack of student housing, not enough teachers and a lack of suitable
teaching facilities.15 Riots in Sweden were not as serious as those seen in France,
Germany or the USA; however, the political engagement was the same, especially
against the Vietnam war. Critique towards the universities mainly concerned
reforms and their alleged inherent injustice as Frängsmyr point out.16 In 1977 the
higher educational reform was introduced, educations which had not been
included in academia became included and older students got the possibility to
change educational paths. Since the late 1980’s Sweden’s educational system has
changed partly due to the marketisation of education, as defined by Asper.17
    In the early 21st century the Bologna process was signed and Sweden adjusted
through the 2007 higher education reform. The organisation of the universities
has changed, they used to be autonomous without political influence, but since
becoming dependent on state funding, grants and donations a shift from
democratic education, with the main task of creating a largely educated
population, to corporate collaboration,(in terms of who is to decide what is

13 Kopnina, H. 2012. Education for sustainable development (ESD): the turn away from ‘environment’ in
environmental education? Environmental Education Research, 18:5
14 Mochizuki, Y, Yarime, M. 2015. Education for sustainable development and sustainability science. Re-

purposing higher education and research. (n.a.) p.19
15Larsson, Esbjörn & Westerberg, Johannes. Utbildningshistoria – en introduktion, 2011. Lund:

Studentlitteratur AB p.155
16Larsson, Esbjörn & Westerberg, Johannes. Utbildningshistoria – en introduktion, 2011. Lund:

Studentlitteratur AB, p.155
17Aspers,Patrik. Markets, Polity Press, 2011, p.34.

needed for the future), has to some extent happened through what is known as
the third task.18Internationalisation of education and research has historically
been supported in Sweden as it allegedly strengthens diplomacy and the transfer
of knowledge between countries.19 The possibility for students from developing
countries20 to study in Sweden has also been a part of Swedish aid policy.21
     There are 16 universities in Sweden today, and Uppsala University is the
oldest founded in 1477, which also makes it the oldest university in the Nordic
countries. In 2019 Uppsala ranks as the 87th best university in the world
according to the Times Higher Education world ranking (THE) Karolinska
insitutet is the only university ranked higher in Sweden22. However, Uppsala is
ranked higher in all respects, as it offers all types of education and research fields.
Uppsala University has 9 faculties and over 45.000 students among which 12%
are international students. Uppsala also has a large network and runs exchange
programs with approximately 500 universities worldwide.23
     The fifth paragraph in the Swedish law for universities state that: ’In their
activities, colleges shall promote sustainable development to ensure current and
future generations a healthy and good environment, economic and social well-
being and justice.’24 It is thus stated that sustainability is to be promoted – but
how, and what this development is supposed to contain is not specified but left
to interpretation. At Uppsala University there is an agenda for how to incorporate
sustainable development 25in research and education as well as outreach to the
community at large. The agenda was first decided on by the consistory 2015-09-
30, but revised and updated in 2019.26 Through world leading research and
excellence in education Uppsala University purposes to stimulate engagement,
initiatives and new thinking within the field of sustainability as well as increasing
knowledge and awareness about the challenges faced to stimulate responsibility
within all levels within the university.27 However, in regards to climate change
action, Uppsala University is not ranked at all, whereas the Royal institute of
technology KTH is ranked 9th worldwide. In this regard it is specifically
interesting to learn why international students have chosen Uppsala when
studying sustainability.

2.2.1 Fees for international students in Sweden
Being able to study at Uppsala University does not only entail having the
prerequisite in credentials but also financial means as an international student.

18Larsson, Esbjörn & Westerberg, Johannes. Utbildningshistoria – en introduktion, 2011. Lund:

Studentlitteratur AB, p.157
19 file:///C:/Users/Windows/Downloads/Delmi%20Rapport%202019_4%20online%20(1).pdf
20 The term developing countries is used in the Delmi rapport, but should be used with care as it categorises

a large number of counties with very diffrents sets of prerequisites, generally from a western perspective.
21 file:///C:/Users/Windows/Downloads/Delmi%20Rapport%202019_4%20online%20(1).pdf
22 https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/uppsala-university
23 https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/uppsala-university
24 Translation done by the author.
25 It is important to note that what Sustainable development is, and how it should be defined is one of the

main issues within the discourse – it has come to mean different things in different contexts. Why it is
intriguing to further research how the concept is used, incorporated and implemented in different contexts,
by different actors.


The first of July 2011 the new reform on registration – and study fees for
students outside of the EU and Switzerland was introduced. However, some
students from third countries are allowed to study without paying fees mainly
within the frame of exchange programmes. Allowances are also made for people
who are deemed to have strong connections to Sweden, for example if they have
permanent residence for reasons other than studies. The reform meant that third
country students have to pay a registration fee of 900 SEK to have his or her
application submitted. To be able to apply for permanent residence during the
duration of the studies, the study fee must be paid.
     Most of the students in this study fall under the category of Freemover
students, as defined by UKÄ28.29 The average study fee 2015 was 125 000 SEK per
annum for international third country students in comparison to the state
allocated recompense of 76 000 SEK. UKÄ explains the difference by stating that
fee paying students tend to choose more expensive educational options, and
different institutions in Sweden adjust the prices in accordance with the market.30
Prestigious universities tend to want higher prices not to fall behind international
competition where fees are higher.31 Clearly correlating high price with quality of
     In the Delmi rapport by Bryntesson, Börjesson32 it is shown that the total
amount of international students registered at the Swedish universities has
decreased with some 12 500 students, four years after the introduction of the
reform. It is also shown that students adhering from poorer countries or
undemocratic countries are those who are decreasing the most. The authors claim
that this change is due to an ideological change in Swedish politics, from an aid-
oriented approach to a more competitive view on internationalisation of
education. In regards to international student’s possibilities and choice of
education at Uppsala University, it is interesting to explore what assets these
students possess. Furthermore, it is interesting to see if and how these assets may
have affected their choice in studying sustainable development at Uppsala

2.2.2 Differences between Swedish and international students at Uppsala
In April 2020 a rapport on student satisfaction in regards to learning and learning
environment came out from Uppsala University.33 The survey reached 32000
students but was answered by 9083 (28%) why it is hard to make general
statements about the outcome. However, in relation to this study there are
conclusions that can be drawn which are beneficial as a benchmark, as it provides
information about the student body of the wider university, and not only within
the cohort of students who study sustainable development.

28  UKÄ is short for Universitetskanslersämbetet (The university chancellor’s office, responsible for
evaluation of higher education in Sweden.)

kartlaggning-studieavgifter.pdf, p12

kartlaggning-studieavgifter.pdf, p,5

32 file:///C:/Users/Windows/Downloads/Delmi%20Rapport%202019_4%20online%20(1).pdf
33Björnermark, Ljunghammar, Magnusson, Waxell. Studenternas uppfattningar om lärande och

lärandemiljö -En fördjupad analys av Uppsala universitets studentbarometer 2018
Among the students who participated in the Student Barometer34, the
Swedish students were younger than the average international student. Where
25% are 31 years or older in comparison to the Swedish cohort of 17%.35 The level
of education of student’s parents also differ between international and Swedish
students at Uppsala University. 62% of the Swedish students had parents with a
degree from higher education versus 54% of the international students,
nevertheless among the international students 18% had parents who had a Phd
in contrast to 9% of the Swedish students. The parents which only had lower
education were 7% among the international students in contrast to 4 % among
the Swedish. Evidently the Swedish student group are more homogeneous in
terms of inherited educational background.
     Furthermore, the international students are also more experienced students
in higher education as 51% were studying on term 9 or more, where the Swedish
equivalent was 26%. The distribution of the students among the academic
disciplines were uneven, in favour of HumSam with 45%of the international and
58% of the Swedish students. The general opinion among both international and
Swedish students was that they were satisfied with the education that they get but
would want more laboratory sessions and internships.
     51% of the international students said that they had developed their
communicative skills in English in contrast to 21% of the Swedish students. All
said that they improved their ability to perform oral presentations. 46% of the
international students said that they, to a large extent, felt that international
aspects were presented in the educational context versus 34% of the Swedish
students. The international group were more satisfied than the Swedish group
with the environment at the university. 48% of the international students, and
40% of the Swedish students are positive to how their studies impact their
wellbeing. 26% of the international students feel negative stress in relation to
their studies in contrast to 41% among the Swedish students. 36% of the
international students and 26% of the Swedish students say that the education
has aspects of sustainable development in the curricula.36
     The choice of studying international students who come to study sustainable
development at Uppsala University is thus interesting, seeing that there is a
difference between Swedish and international students in general in regards to
their views of learning and learning environments. 37

3. Research and aim
Following Bourdieusian tradition within a Swedish context, the aim of this study
is to understand the role of education in sustainable development for

34 The unit for Quality and Evaluation at Uppsala University has conducted a survey targeting students at
Uppsala University, the Student Barometer.
35 However, the average Swedish students tend to be older than their international peers when they start

their higher education as many tend to work or travel before going to university.
36Björnermark, Ljunghammar, Magnusson, Waxell. p.44
37 From a broader organisational perspective, it is also interesting to note what students Uppsala University

attracts. Being closely linked to the market economy universities compete in attracting students, why ranking
and international renown is important. What types of courses or programs that attract international students
are thus interesting, especially since students provide funding, nevertheless not to be ventured into at this

international students, with diverse backgrounds and assets, coming to Uppsala,
Sweden. Especially addressing how students who study at CEMUS view their
education and future possibilities. The research questions from which the study

    1. What similarities and differences in assets do international students
       studying sustainable development possess, and how are these related to
       their understanding of the education they meet in Sweden?

    2. What kind of tensions are international students within sustainable
       development faced with and how can they be understood in relation to
       what assets they have?

    3. In what way is the geographical place of Uppsala significant for students
       in sustainable development? How can their future possibilities be
       understood in relation to where they are?

    4. How can changes of values and views of knowledge be understood as
       affecting student’s views of the future?

4. Theoretical Framework
This study is framed within sociology of education, exploring international
students who come to Sweden and chose to study at Uppsala University at the
Centre for environment and development studies (CEMUS). The mobility of
human population is generally on the increase, the power mobility is part of the
international student’s privilege. The mobility of some individuals is inevitably
accompanied by the immobility of others. Those who control mobility and those
who are controlled by it. Transnational communities are sustained by individuals
who are decidedly immobile and rooted in place. Student mobility has been
studied especially in regards to educational choice as described by Brooks and
Waters38. At the heart of the research lie questions of calculations, strategic
decision making in educational choices and accumulation of different forms of
capital, but specifically cultural capital, as defined by Bourdieu.
     In accordance with Börjesson’s study on the global space of international
students39 this study also deals with international students. To capture the
relations between coming to Sweden to study, their choice of education and their
inherited and acquired assets, the study is rooted in Bourdieu’s notion of space,
which depicts social structures in a multidimentional fashion with polarities,
oppositions and hierarchies.40 The notion of field or space in a Bourdieusian
fashion has mainly been used in a national context, but Börjesson applies it on a
global scale.41 As stated by Börjesson it is also suggested that education can be

38Brooks  Rachel, Waters Johanna: Student Mobilities, Migration and the Internationalization of Higher
Education, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. p.13
39Börjesson, Mikael (2017) The global space of international students in 2010, Journal of Ethnic and

Migration Studies, 43:8, 1256-1275
40 Börjesson, Mikael (2017) The global space of international students in 2010, Journal of Ethnic and

Migration Studies, 43:8, 1256-1275, p.1258
41 Börjesson, Mikael (2017) The global space of international students in 2010, Journal of Ethnic and

Migration Studies, 43:8, 1256-1275. p.1258
understood as a global field, but the majority of institutions in higher education
is acting in a national context rather than competing on a global level.42
     To tackle the understanding of international student’s education for
sustainable development would be to address the whole global space of education
and a multitude of questions regarding education at the same time and thus
consider highly complex relations – or wicked problems. Addressing only the
sub-space of international students and using only CEMUS, Uppsala University
as analytical frame is a serious limitation for an analysis covering such a broad
     To specifically target students within sustainable development was a
strategical choice as the subject deals with global issues. Studying international
students within higher education at Uppsala University is from a sociological view
fruitful since the nation states still form the most crucial object of analysis in
regards to globalisation of higher education43. Nevertheless, this view is
contended within other fields of study, where it is suggested that nation states no
longer control the largest flows of wealth44 and thus the corporate world would
be equally vital to study for a better understanding of globalisation within higher
education. However, nation states continue to provide the predominant
framework for higher education why national context does matter. According to
Börjesson, the recruitment of international students in higher education “have
become an important indicator of quality in higher education, used, for example,
as a measure in higher education rankings.”45 Why it is especially interesting to
see to what extent the students deem ranking as important when choosing
     Within the elite education discourse, that Bourdieu looked closely into, it is
argued that due to a larger transnational market the international programmes
and exchange education is more vital; possibly catering for a new cosmopolitan
elite as suggested by Weenink.46 This view is however contended by Hartmann
who argue that there is no cosmopolitan elite, since little evidence support
transnational careers with top positions. Moreover, Hartmann states that a
transnational elite cannot exist as long as it does not exhibit a common habitus,
which he argues it does not.47 Nevertheless, a financial elite is commonly referred
to, even if a common habitus cannot be defined, the common denominator of
wealth is evident.
     How the students in this study view their future in relation to their habitus
and their desire to stay in Sweden or go back to their original destination is thus
particularly interesting. Where do they see themselves using the credentials
received in Sweden? Are they padding their resume with international diplomas
to be used within a competitive national context?
     Bourdieu and Passeron hold that the variations on educational opportunity
differ between children from different social backgrounds. They state that
depending on what social milieu one comes from the thought of higher education

42 Börjesson, Mikael (2017) The global space of international students in 2010, Journal of Ethnic and
Migration Studies, 43:8, 1256-1275.p.1258
43 Sassen, Saskia, 2007, A sociology of Globalization, W.W Norton&Company. New York
44 Mark Herbert, lecture 18/10 2018
45 Börjesson, Mikael https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1369183X.2017.1300228
46   Weenink, 2008, Cosmopolitanism as a Form of Capital: Parents Preparing their Children for a
GlobalizingWorld, p. 1104
47Hartmann, Michael, 2007. National Education Systems and Elite Recruitment, The sociology of elites,

London: Routledge, p.87-88
becomes, impossible, possible or natural as a future path of life.48 Students from
lesser background who are successful are usually described as hard working
rather than brilliant. If, on the other hand, these students were to fail, their failure
would be regarded as a logic, self-fulfilling prophecy.49
     In this study, the relevance of education for student’s trajectories will be
discussed using Bourdieu’s and Passeron’s thoughts as a departing platform: For
the privileged education is not very important, since they already have high
cultural capital and can thus manoeuvre life without the need to flaunt
credentials. For the striving middle class, it is most important since education will
provide opportunity and hopefully prosperity, and for the under privileged, it is
seen as something impossible and thus perhaps not a viable path50. What
incentives for performing academically the students have are thus dependant on
what cultural capital he or she possesses. 51 The privileged with high cultural
capital seem to have less incentives and the less privileged seem to have more.
Does this hold true for the students of this study?
     In addition, Brooks and Waters hold that an overseas qualification does often
lead to substantial labour market rewards.52 Which is interesting to see if this
holds true to the international students within sustainability. In relation to the
international students experience of studying in Sweden it is also interesting to
investigate in what way Brooks and Waters statement holds true: ‘Through trans-
national mobility, international students imagine, conceive and experience being
insiders and outsiders on both their places of origin and destinations.’53 How is
this manifested?

48 Bourdieu, Pierre & Passeron,Jean-Claude: The inheritors. French students and their relation to culture,
Univerity of Chicago Press/London, 1979, p.3
49 Bourdieu, Pierre & Passeron,Jean-Claude: The inheritors. French students and their relation to culture,

Univerity of Chicago Press/London, 1979, p.71
50 Bourdieu, Pierre & Passeron,Jean-Claude: The inheritors. French students and their relation to culture,

Univerity of Chicago Press/London, 1979, p.3
51 As Börjesson point out Bourdieus theoretical framing is mainly used in national context, but towards

understandings of issues of sustainable development a global frame is needed. King, suggests that Bourdieu
fail to sufficiently address where material wealth comes from (apart from hereditary aspects) and thus omits
the aspect of nature, and human-nature interaction. However, Bourdieu would refute the position of being
framed as “materialist”, as he maintains that he has a pragmatic relationship to other authors,51 and is a firm
believer that science should be seen as a tool instead of a vice. “By definition, science is there to be
surpassed.”51 Therefore, it is maintained that Bourdieu’s concepts are best suited in the attempt to explain
how international students’ assets effect their choice of studying sustainable development and how that in
turn effect their view on knowledge and the future. Moreover, to overcome the critiques towards Bourdieu’s
sociology it is advised to question the narratives of what is rendered valuable. In accordance with Bourdieu,
that which is deemed valuable within a certain group can be considered a symbolic capital, the tricky part is
to see where such capital is recognised on a wider scale.
         Furthermore, one of the main critiques towards Bourdieu is his style of writing which renders his
ideas inaccessible and unnecessarily complex. It is argued that Bourdieu’s use of language, in fact creates the
very reproduction and elitism which Bourdieu points to in much of his work. In Jenkin’s words: “He does
not have to write in this fashion to say what he wants to say.”51 Bourdieu dismissed this critique by arguing
that complex language is necessary to reflect a complex reality, and easy language is suited for stereotypical
accounts of human societies.51 Furthermore Bourdieu sees a danger in using over-simplified discourse as it
assumes ‘common sense’ – which he argues is the authority of the conservative language. He furthers that a
complicated discourse is better as it attempts to convey what you are actually saying and simultaneously
reveals your relationship to what you are saying.
52 Brooks Rachel, Waters Johanna: Student Mobilities, Migration and the Internationalization of Higher

Education, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011,p.11
53 Brooks Rachel, Waters Johanna: Student Mobilities, Migration and the Internationalization of Higher

Education, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011,p.15
4.1 Habitus, Illusio and symbolic violence in relation to the
international students.
In order to make these discussions more fruitful from a sociological point of view,
it is meaningful to elaborate on the theoretical concepts for a broader
understanding. Thus, Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus and Illusio and symbolic
violence need to be explained.
     Bourdieu’s theory of the development of certain dispositions, will eventually
come to constitute a system of dispositions known as the habitus. Without
consciously coordinating actions, practices, perceptions or attitudes, the
dispositions that make up the habitus cause different outcomes in behaviour. The
habitus is formed within a social context, and change over time, depending on
relation to norms and values within the group. Their habitus is what constitutes
the students ‘sense of the game.’ In order to find out more about the international
student’s habitus it is interesting to see how they view and deem issues of
sustainability from an everyday perspective. As there are strong values, views and
practices connected to sustainable development a change in habits and lifestyle
might be expected. What are the struggles and what do they consider to be
important? Habitus is a behavioural generating principal that enables predictions
of action within subtle differences of various capitals.54 Using the habitus concept
within this study aids the understanding of how and why student’s choice to study
in Sweden is generated or reproduced. As an individual gain his or her position
in relation to the milieu from where they are and where they came. What values,
these students have from their place of origin in contrast to the values they have
in Uppsala play part in forming who they are. What is deemed important or
meaningful in one place might not be seen as valuable at all in another, the
symbolic capital is thus a representation of a certain state of affair that is seen as
legitimate. Hence different forms of capital are identified within the historical
framework and cultural context in which it has influence. As the students have
very different backgrounds, and geographical place of origin, it is interesting to
see if there are still correlations between different forms of capital that spans over
national borders. The notion of conversion, i.e transformation of different types
of capital into new ones is key in Bourdieu’s sociology. In regards to the
international students at CEMUS, this transformation is specifically interesting
to look closer into as it may reveal what struggles they are facing in their academic
     Moreover, Bourdieu talks about symbolic strategies, where holders of capital
within a specific field confront other holders of capital in another field aiming to
uphold or preserve their relation to power and position within their field.55 What
strategies the students adopt are thus key. The concept of Illusio - the
enchantment, which works twofold by upholding the symbolic capital within the
group and reproduces the willingness to take part in the institutions of education
– which upholds the Illusio is particularly important.56
     What Illusio might the international students see and to what extent does
this uphold or refute their view of the future? Bourdieu states that
correspondence between social structures and mental structures are existent, he

54 Bourdieu, Pierre & Passeron, Jean-Claude,: Reproduktionen, Arkiv förlag, Livonia Print, Riga, Lettland,

2008, p.182
55 Bourdieu, Pierre, The State Nobility, Polity Press& Blackwell Publisher Ltd,Cambridge,UK, 1996,p.265
56Bourdieu, Pierre, Homo Academicus, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, 1988,p.56

furthers the idea that habitus is what maintains the reproduction of social order.57
Because people´s habitus are in some ways made up by the institutions – or
furthered by them, he argues that people through, Illusio, interests and
recognitions within a certain field regenerate, and reproduces already existing
mental structures. The symbolic violence which follows, is the exercise of
domination and power through the educational system where values and the
order of things are upheld and seen as normal and accepted, imposed by
dominant social norms and beliefs.58 Why a countries educational system can be
said to construct dominant culture, and thus the justified authority to enforce
dominant cultural values. How do the students who are not equipped with the
language nor cultural characteristics of Swedish higher education, deal with this?
     What would it mean for students who are looking for change, especially to
the structures they see? The concepts of Illusio and symbolic violence, is therefore
very interesting in regards to what norms the students perceive at CEMUS and
what attitudes the students may have towards their education and future

4.2 Educational values and perspectives represented within
sustainable development
Looking at students within sustainable development calls for a deeper
understanding for the education they meet, and the values produced or
reproduced within the educational system. The building of an educational system
has historically been closely linked to the building of the nation-state. Since
education (at low level) is financed by the tax-payers in many nation-states, the
use of education is not only in the interest of the individual but also to the
nation.59 What is known is that middle class families exercise choice in a larger
extent than working-class families.60 Moreover, they seem to approach the
gaining of distinction, in the form of cultural capital, in a more strategic way. As
stated by Bourdieu, a democratic educational system is not true democratisation
of education since it does not consider the cultural background of the many, but
upholds the traditions and values of the few.
     For a better understanding of the national versus global narratives, or the
tensions the students within sustainable development face, we cross the
discipliner path of sociology into the field of environmental history. Ekblom
writes that we must accept that some things cannot be explained through
reasoning around history as following a linear trajectory of development, where
alternative historical narratives become incomprehensible. Ekblom furthers that
this model of thought, which is premiered in western culture is Eurocentric, and
excludes other parts of the world and views of history.61 With such a view on
history one can never explain processes in other parts of the world as they become

57 Bourdieu, Pierre, The State Nobility, Polity Press& Blackwell Publisher Ltd,Cambridge,UK, 1996,p.3
58 Bourdieu, Pierre, and Jean-Claude, Passeron, Reproduction in Education, society and Culture. Sage,
London, 1990. p.10.
59 Brown, Philip Dillabough, Jo-Anne Halsey, Albert Henry Lauder, Hugh, Education, globalization and

social change, Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2006,p.3
60 Brooks, Rachel, Waters Johanna: Student Mobilities, Migration and the Internationalization of Higher

Education Basingstoke:Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. p.13
61 Ekblom, Anneli, Miljöhistoria och dess frestelser, The Cefo interdisciplinary working paper Series (Cefo-

IWPS) No.1, p.6
defined by what they lack, as the preconception is that they are less developed as
a society.62 The questioning of the linear history and development narrative is
part of the educational values met in education for sustainable development.
     Yet, as many educational systems primarily developed as a state apparatus
for nation-building cosmopolitanism was not promoted.63 Recently a change
towards recognising and legitimising cosmopolitan values, where humanity
rather than nationality is the frame of reference has taken place according to
Igarashi and Saito. Education policies and curricula are thus increasingly
emphasising international understanding, openness towards foreign others,
global awareness and global citizenship.64 A change in the educational system
from the building of the nation state to a more global agenda, where an emphasis
on specific cosmopolitan competences is at large, as the focus of the economy has
gone from national markets to the global market. Within the sustainability
discourse the question of who benefits from such a change is asked. The term
‘cosmopolitanism’ should thus be problematised.
     Cosmopolitanism is according to Popkewitz not only the idea of a citizen of
the world but a time and space dimension which explains the reality of
cosmopolitanism. A post-colonial critique of the modern dynamic violence
through time and space which is rooted in a fixation on progress and
universalism, translated to economy, power and subjectivity embedded in
eurocentrism.65 Accordingly, educational imperatives have emerged which
suggests that cosmopolitanism is something which is promoted for educational
     What Popkewitz mean, is that the educational model which is built on the
idea of a cosmopolitan society develops practices which are both including and
excluding at the same time.66 Even though the incentives for providing the
citizens with education, might be democratic and in the name of equality, there
are many who simply do not have the opportunity to participate on equal terms.
How is this seen within the group of students participating in this study? It is
especially interesting to see how students perceive their education at a specific
moment in time; and if their choices in studying sustainable development is
induced by values corresponding with previous education. Asking the students
about what they see as educational success would also indicate if they
acknowledge the cosmopolitan values (such as inclusivity, human agency,
reasonability and rationality)67 which are promoted as prerequisites for
educational success.
     Depending on what perspective one has of the educational system, the
conclusions will obviously differ. In relation to this study it is of interest to see if
students from different geographical backgrounds develop or share habits, either
from before coming to Sweden or during their stay. As one of the reoccurring

62Sachs,     W.   (1997).    Archeology       of    the idea     of    development.     ENVIO   194
63 Igarashi,H & Saito,H (2014) Cosmopolitanism as Cultural Capital: Exploring the Intersection of

Globalization, Education and Stratification, p. 226
64 Igarashi, H & Saito,H (2014) Cosmopolitanism as Cultural Capital: Exploring the Intersection of

Globalization, Education and Stratification, p. 226
65Popkewitz, Thomas S, Kosmopolitism i skolreformernas tidevarv, Vetenskap, utbildning och

samhällskunkapande genom konstruktionen av barnet. 1st edition, Liber AB, Stockholm, 2009 ,p.12
66Popkewitz, Thomas S, Kosmopolitism i skolreformernas tidevarv, Vetenskap, utbildning och

samhällskunkapande genom konstruktionen av barnet. 1st edition, Liber AB, Stockholm, 2009, p.13
67Popkewitz, Thomas S, Kosmopolitism i skolreformernas tidevarv, Vetenskap, utbildning och

samhällskunkapande genom konstruktionen av barnet. 1st edition, Liber AB, Stockholm, 2009, p.16
questions within studies of sustainability is how and why people change habits;
what norms and habits these students displays are vital. Questions on social
norms and the potency of these interested Thorstein Veblen who released “the
Theory of the Leisure Class” in 1899. He recognised the phenomenon by which
extremely wealthy individuals altered their consumption behaviour when under
perceived social pressure – conspicuous consumption he coined this
phenomenon.68 This form of consumption permeated all classes of society, and is
described by Stiglitz as “trickle down behaviourism”. Bourdieu has to some extent
been associated with this thinking, but refutes it himself. To further the
arguments of this study, it is noteworthy that conspicuous consumption is
associated with an increase of consumption and thus waste. As the average
European citizen generate over six tonnes of waste per year.69 As consumption is
influenced by social norm, and conspicuous consumption does occur, (even
though Bourdieu would like to frame it otherwise) the link to environmental and
sustainable development is evident. What the students see as sustainable,
necessary, and how they chose to consume provides insight into what they value,
and to what extent their tastes correlates with their dedication towards the
     In addition to Bourdieu’s thoughts on the reproduction within the
educational system and Popkewitz’s explanation of the move from national to
global through cosmopolitan values. Rob Nixon introduces the term ‘slow
violence’ in 2011 and by doing so, broadened the sustainability discourse on social
and ecological justice. Nixon hold that slow violence, in contrast to structural
violence, which questions agency, gives a broader understanding of more
categories of violence enacted slowly over time.70 ‘By Slow violence I mean a
violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction
that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not
viewed as violence at all.’71 Nixon’s frame of slow violence is from an
environmental perspective , building on Marx ideas72 about the “metabolic rift73”
a result of the logics of time-space appropriation, where humans locally save time
and space to a cost of time and space at another place and time.74 What is
suggested is that environmental degradation and social inequality have common
historical roots.75
     This definition is in many ways compatible with Bourdieu’s notion of
symbolic violence; as symbolic violence is mainly exercised through education
and inculcates individuals to internalize the power structures of society and ‘ the

68 McCreesh, Johnny. 2019. Conspicuous Sustainability Harnessing the potential of the social economy in

order to achieve sustainability goals. Published at Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala University, p.5
69 McCreesh, Johnny. 2019. Conspicuous Sustainability Harnessing the potential of the social economy in

order to achieve sustainability goals. Published at Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala University, p.3
70 Nixon, Rob, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Harvard University Press, Cambridge,

Massachusetts, and London, England 2011,p.11
71 Nixon, Rob, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Harvard University Press, Cambridge,

Massachusetts, and London, England 2011, p.2
72Clark, Brett, and John Bellamy Foster. "MARX'S ECOLOGY IN THE 21st CENTURY." World Review of

Political Economy 1, no. 1 (2010). p 145
73 The term “metabolic-rift” is derived from Marx’s description of the shift in the relationship between

human species and the rest of nature developed along with class society and capitalism. The metabolism,
signifies the whole nature and the interdependent processes in which humans are a necessary part.
74   Hornborg, Alf, 2005, Fotavtryck I bomullsfälten Den industriella revolutionen som
miljöbelastningsförskjutning, in Polhem: tidskrift för teknikhistoria 2, p. 19
75 Barca, Stefania. Telling the Right Story: Environmental Violence and Liberation Narratives. Environment

and History, vol 20. No 4. pp 535-546 2014, p.539
You can also read