CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW
This chapter begins with a review of how belonging was defined in both westernised and non-westernised literature. This is followed by an account of the historical development of the concept of belonging from 1930 through to the present day. The chapter continues with a summary of the review of the literature relating to the concept of identity with a focus on social identity. As such, aspects of social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979) and social categorisation theory (Turner et al., 1987) were reviewed. Literature relating to national identity and, in particular, Australian national identity, along with research which examined the relationship between belonging and identity was then reviewed. Finally, the literature relating to migrant belonging in multicultural social systems was reviewed.
2.2 Aims and scope of the literature review
This chapter deals with debates surrounding the interplay between technology and the practice of research conducted in an academic setting. In doing so, this literature review starts with an historical perspective of the information age and its impact on research practice throughout the times. It then filters down to three key components of contemporaneous research practice. These deal with new trends of communication and dissemination of research; forms of association enabled by the Participatory Web; and implications of the Participatory Web on professional practice and identity. The conflicts between web based practices and institutional conventions are considered and discussed.
The rationale for this literature review is that the interaction between new technologies and established practices disclose both innovative approaches and struggles between individual practices and organisations. It aims to explore multiple perspectives of the same reality in order to avoid slipping into a technological deterministic debate in that technology is an autonomous system that affects society independently of human intervention. Yet, this thesis does not try to ignore the importance of technology in the current society. Instead, I attempt to provide a view that consolidates both perspectives. Building on McLuhan’s aphorism (1964) regarding the reciprocal effect between technology and human behaviour, I agree that individuals can shape technology and that the technology that individuals use also shapes their practice and approach. This literature review seeks to provide a social understanding of the effects of technology in contemporaneous research environments.
Some sections of this review build on peer reviewed published journal articles and book chapters produced or co-authored by the researcher of this project (Costa, 2011; Costa and Torres, 2011).
2.3 A social constructionist path to belongingness and identity
This thesis takes up identity from a social constructionist view of learning in relation to identity and doctoral-level study. Through the use of communications technologies, doctoral students in NL programs are able to interact across physical, socio-linguistic, and political boundaries. Doctoral students can continue to work and live within local contexts yet interact with others who may be located on different continents.
Philosophically, philosophers have pondered issues concerning personal identity and its relation to ethics from the time of the ancient Greeks. They have taken perspectives from the psychological, biological, and narrative in an effort to answer questions pertaining to ethics, illness, and existence itself (Olson, 2010; Schechtman, 1996; Shoemaker, 2009). Fitzmaurice (2011) outlines four key stages in leading to current conceptions of identity. She notes that in the midseventeenth century, identity was acquired through shared practice and the acceptance of given truths as transmitted through authority. The work of Descartes opened the door to the questioning of authority permitting individual thought and reflection. The 19th and early 20th century led to an interest in individual freedom and ability of individuals to shape their own identities. Finally, in Fitzmaurice’s fourth stage, the post-modernist movement, identity became conceptualized as continually changing, subject to influences of individual and context in a process of co-construction.
I do not take an extreme view of social constructionism in which the world and all our conceptions of it are purely socially constructed (Hacking, 1999). Nor do I take an individual constructivist view in which identity is shaped within the individual mind (Gergen & Gergen, 2008; Gergen, 2009). The constructionist position that I take is that a learner’s conceptions of identity are continuously co-constructed, shaped, and reshaped by his/her ability to discern variation in behaviour and narrative within unfolding contexts of interaction. Within this view, identity is “fluid, particularistic, and sociohistorically embedded” (Weinberg, 2008, p. 14). Identity, like other human products is not inevitable, but contingent. Learners can actively direct their own future by constructing who they are in relation to their context.
Philosophically, social constructionists see individuals’ conceptions as constantly changing through dialogue. Although unable to access others’ subjective perceptions diretly, constructionists recognize that people may perceive their conceptions to make up an already existing, objective reality. Berger & Luckmann (1966) grapple with this in their description of the processes of externalization, objectivation, and internalization (p. 104).
In my research, I try to consider descriptions from the perspective of the research participants and the original context of the described experience. I try to avoid reaching beyond their descriptions of their experience in order to presume an underlying reality or essence. This philosophical orientation is different from that of critical realists who support, to varying degrees, the dualistic, Cartesian separation of mind and world. Instead, I take the position that the mind and the world work together as a whole. What this suggests about identity research for me is that as individuals interact with each other and the world they perceive around them, they constantly create and re-create their sense of self(-ves) and their conceptions of their world. As identities and social positions mutate, individuals might even be said to be shifting discourses.
Social construction theorists consider that identity is socially constructed rather than naturally occurring. Each of us constructs our own identities through social and personal relationships and no distinction is drawn between them. Language is used from the earliest stage of child development and significant. How we see the world. How we interact with others. Sue Widdicombe (1998) suggests that language is used as a resource in the development of ‘identity’. Hall (1996) we try to find life balance in telling and reconstructing our personal and social stories. These stories give a private and social representation of our past, present and how we see the future. Phoenix et al., (2005) Identity has the characteristics of being multiple, decentred and changing rather than singular, centred and stable. Power relations are an important part of ‘identity’ change. This may be influenced by parental expectations, religion, cultural / social norms and values. An example of this is a ‘student’ who seen by himself and peers in contradictory ways. He may be seen at different times as lively, a risk taker, studious, lazy, free spirited, adventurous, a protester.
These fluid ‘identities’ become challenged when prevailing social, economic, cultural conditions dictate. Kenneth Gergen (1970) talks of how when technological changes happen we are forced too modify our identities. We only maintain identities for as long as the conditions necessitate. When the effort becomes too much we change. Life experiences can alter our view of self-identity. Identity helps maintain a sense of who and what we are and is dependent on time and social context.
Social Construction theory is helpful in understandings identity? It shows that our daily interactions combine to maintain and inform new ‘identities’. It is a combination of the personal and social, however there is no distinction between them. The method used by social constructionists is ‘discourse’ talking and thinking about identity. So why should our genetics makeup not impact on how our identities develop? This is not addressed by social construction theory. Our height is not determined by social construction. Yet through out our lives it will have an impact on how we are treated in social situations. We may be perceived as having high or low social status. Tanner, JM (1986) ‘a lack of variation in height can be an indicator of social equality. This is not explained using social constructionist theory. The approach presents the concept of social categories where there are many groups some with high and low relationships of power. These inequalities may determine how our identities change over time. If we look at children with low reading and language skills they will suffer inequalities through out there lives. Reading and language skills are important in how we see ourselves. It is clear that social constructionist theory can in some way address how ‘identity’ is formed and maintained.
2.4 Interaction and the objectification of belongingness and identity
One may argue that status and social position are kinds of identities—whether identities of individuals, groups of individuals, or establishments. Identities are relational and affected through dialogue and patterns of interaction. One may additionally argue that individuals are active agents who choose patterns of behaviour in response to the reactions and expectations of others. This suggests that a given individual may choose from a variety of behaviours at different times and contexts (Hyland, 2002). That is, an individual may have multiple and shifting identities. This raises troublesome questions regarding authenticity, fragmentation, and embodiment as the individual moves into doctoral studies and into online, networked environments. The question of authenticity is further exacerbated in the world of online communications. Whilst text is often viewed as “stable, graspable, and knowable”, digital text “belongs to the realm of the inauthentic” (Bayne, 2006, p. 7). And, in the academic world, printed and published texts are still used to measure worthiness (Bayne, 2006). As learners engage in less traditional doctoral programs particularly via NL, their interactions might feel less tangible and their outputs less legitimate; their relational positions might be perceived as less authentic.
Cranton and Carusetta (2004) define authenticity as “the expression of the genuine self in the community” (p. 7). Presuming that individuals have one, true identity is a somewhat realist view of identity. Lee and Williams (1999) suggest that a sense of a single, coherent identity may be possible through an ability to forget, ignore, or disclaim evidence that contradicts one’s current or desired self-conception(s). Yet, individuals can choose to take on different appearances and manners. As active agents, they can choose to break rules. Doctoral students, for example, may shift between identities as students, undergraduate tutors, peers, and experts depending on the context. I would suggest that context, though it plays a role, does not completely determine an individual’s behaviour or development (Berger & Luckmann, 1966; Billet, 2006). In the case of online, networked doctoral students, what appearances and manners should they adopt?
Frequent contact amongst individuals can reveal patterns which can aid in shaping a general sense of someone’s identity(-ies) as well as detecting anomalies and inconsistencies. Chayko (2008) has noted that, over time, it becomes increasingly difficult to obfuscate certain elements of one’s online identity, especially gender (Chayko, 2008). Breaking rules, inconsistent behaviours, or obfuscation of identity may cause confusion between what one says and what one does, and can lead to social repercussions such as marginalization or punishment if infractions are considered sufficiently bothersome to others. Infrequent contact amongst individuals can lead to lack of trust or a sense of identity fragmentation (Goffman, 1959, Giddens, 1991).
In face-to-face settings, learners can draw upon a variety of gestures and facial expressions, clothing, posture, accents, and other physiological factors in order to both present an identity and to interpret others’ identities. In-person interactions are seen to emanate directly from the speaker, and by extension, are assumed to be more authentic. Technology-mediated texts (communications) seem to be separated from the speaker or writer and may be regarded as somehow less authentic (Land & Bayne, 1999). Face-to-face speech is sometimes assumed to be un-mediated, but this assumption is questionable: “face-to-face . . . appears deceptively to approximate the ideal speech situation. It is of course no such thing and is as mediated, though by no means as self-evidently, through linguistic signs and signifiers that are as independent of the self and as dependent on a linguistic system and interpretation as any written text” (Land & Bayne, 1999, p. 739).
Matheson and Zanna (1988) suggested that fewer cues in online environments, by contrast, could reduce access to others’ private feelings, values, and beliefs. Sproull and Kiesler’s (1986) research has led them to suggest that lack of cues in online learning environments had an equalizing effect on communication because characteristics such as nationality, occupation and social position are more difficult to detect. However, networked learners may choose different cues upon which to base their assumptions of others. For example, in my experience as a doctoral student, orthography, eloquence, quality of argument, and speed of response may be taken as indicators of erudition, class, or cleverness. And, in limited-cue environments, participants may take more time to compose themselves—that is, they may take more care in shaping how they present themselves (Walther, Gay, & Hancock , 2005). In online environments, individuals may form impressions of each other that are as deep as in face to face environments— sometimes even more intimate (Walther, 1996). Land and Bayne (1999) argue that online writing can give an individual more freedom in the expression and variety of identities. They add that the seemingly unified appearance of the in-person identity may appear to fragment or shift. I would argue that rather than simply reducing cues, mediated environments alter the means of expression; that is, the individual’s personal characteristics (such as autonomy, motivation, and skill), and environmental characteristics (such as tools, social hierarchies, and permitted behaviours) affect dialogue and viceversa.
In transactional distance theory, these factors are said to affect interaction between learners and instructors, learners and learners, and learners and content (Moore, 1991, 1997). A fourth form of interaction was later added to this list: learner-interface interaction (Hillman, Willis, & Gunnawardena, 1994). The medium may enable or prevent learners from accessing content, their instructors, or each other. The interface, then, can affect confidence, emotions (such as fear) or sense of empowerment (Koole, 2006).
Online, it may seem that individuals can create an unlimited number of identities and withhold fragments of themselves causing a sense of decontextualization (Giddens, 1991) and disembodiment. Hughes and Oliver (2010) refer to the disembodiment argument as the incorporeal fallacy which suggests that “learners are somehow disembodied when learning online, subjected to an inauthentic experience that is risk-free and therefore meaningless” (p. 2). One might respond to the issues of fragmentation and disembodiment by arguing that in any social setting, it is impossible to have complete knowledge of another individual (Sarup, 1996). Yet, identity(-ies) may show continuity across situations. For example, Christensen (2003) found that the Inuit shared aspects of their day-to-day lives online. This had the effect of strengthening their sense of belonging to their own communities. The medium of the Internet merely changed how they expressed their views of themselves and the world. Austin (1975), in his work on speech acts, also recognized that “the divorce between the ‘physical’ actions and acts of saying something is not in all ways complete—there is some connection” (p. 114).
Bayne (2005) supports this idea by suggesting that researchers may “underrecognize the significance of embodiment” (p. 30). She adds that who we are online is affected by our embodied experiences. Furthermore, I would suggest that interaction via computers requires individuals to physically manipulate their devices to produce an effect that can be observed by others. It can also be argued that online interaction may be equally “real” as, or at least, informed by embodied interaction (Chayko, 2008).
Hopwood and Paulson (2011) contend that the social constructionist perspective on embodiment is that of “a fleshless body of discursive production” (p. 3). This does not seem to do justice to the constructionist perspective. I would suggest that what is more important from the constructionist perspective, rather, is not embodiment itself, but how bodies are discursively constructed and how the body is perceived to affect experience and interaction and vice-versa. For example, stress, fatigue, and exhilaration may be perceived in the body, but the identification and effects of such feelings are defined and labelled socially.
2.5. A brief overview of belongingness
The term ‘belonging’ has been defined, described, and interpreted in different ways by authors from multiple disciplines and in many contexts. In order to establish the premise for the concept of belonging in the multicultural context of this research, both western and non-western definitions were reviewed. Firstly, a western dictionary definition of what it means ‘to belong’ was: “to have a proper, appropriate or suitable place; to be naturally associated with something; to fit into a group naturally” (Webster, 1979). This suggested that belonging was a connection to a place, event, culture, or another undefined feature, and implied that there was a connection and alignment between the person and these phenomena in some way.
The use of the word ‘naturally’ in this definition was significant in that it implied a natural congruence existed between a person and the place or thing at some level, such that a feeling of harmony was experienced between one’s inner landscape and one’s outer life-world.
Belonging appeared to be a multifaceted psychological construct. One facet that appeared to be identified consistently in the literature as crucial in the overall concept of belonging was a sense of belonging; however, two other facets were described, the need to belong (Baumeister & Leary, 1995), and antecedents to adult belonging (Adler, 1930; Hagerty & Patusky, 1995). The need to belong was defined as “a fundamental human motivation for frequent, non-aversive interactions with ongoing relational bonds and strong desire to form, and maintain a minimum number of enduring interpersonal attachments” (Baumeister & Leary, 1995, p. 522).
Baumeister further argued that the need to belong was a fundamental and powerful social motive that fashioned a person’s idiosyncratic thinking processes, emotions, and behaviours in different contexts, situations, and times (2012). Antecedents to adult belonging on the other hand have been described as those incidents in childhood and adolescence that transpire before a sense of belonging occurs in adulthood (Hagerty et al., 1992a).
Another facet of belonging related to the positive and negative consequences associated with belonging or not belonging respectively. A summary was created of what appeared to be the positive or negative mental, emotional, and physical outcomes associated with experiencing or not experiencing a sense of belonging.
These outcomes were found to include increased or decreased levels of mental and/or physical wellbeing (Murray et al., 2008), academic performance (Faircloth & Hamm, 2005b), sports performance (Allen, 2006) and contribution to others in a community (Young, Russell, & Powers, 2004).
2.5.1. Theoretical evolvement of belongingness
Viennese psychiatrist Alfred Adler proposed one of the first psychological theories about belonging and, in his development of the concept of individual psychology (Orgler, 1976), broke new ground by suggesting that, for an experience of belonging, a person’s whole environment must be taken into account (Adler, 1930, 1931). Adler suggested that childhood antecedents were critical to experiencing belonging in adulthood. In his book titled What Life Should Mean to You, Adler proposed a social interest theory which suggested that parents have a critical responsibility to train a child in the development of ‘social feelings’ in order to prepare them for future adult sociability and belonging (p.115). Thus, adult sociability was achieved through the use of social interest skills learned in childhood. According to Adler, three ‘ties’ to belonging, place, society, and a commitment in a man-woman marriage relationship underpinned adult sociability.
This third tie, regarding marriage, reflected the social influence of the time and projected Adler’s own religious beliefs. Adler also proposed that people without well-developed social interest skills lacked social feelings, and, as a consequence, were predisposed to mental health afflictions and maladaptive behaviours.
Thirteen years after Adler, American humanist and psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed that the need to belong was a mid-tier fundamental need equal to love in a structured hierarchy of human motivation (Maslow, 1943). In his book The Theory of Human Motivation, Maslow argued that once human physiological needs such as food, shelter and sex were fulfilled, psychological needs of belonging and love took primacy in a person’s motivation. Once belonging and love were satisfied, Maslow suggested that the human need for self-actualization became primary, followed then by self-transcendence. After Maslow, there appeared to be little development in the advancement of belonging theories for a number of years.
A further contribution to belonging theory came 23 years after Maslow from Santokh Anant, an Asian Indian migrant resident in Canada who was an academic, researcher, and clinical psychologist. Historically, Anant was not as well-known as Adler or Maslow; however, his contribution formed ideas that future researchers would cultivate (Hagerty & Patusky, 1995). Anant (1966) suggested that a sense of belonging or as he called it, ‘belongingness’ was “the missing link” in people’s wellbeing (p.21) as it described the type and quality of interpersonal relationships most effective for healthy social, emotional, and mental growth. Firstly, Anant proposed that a person’s belongingness was embodied by their presence in and involvement with social groups in their social system and that personal involvement was the anchoring psychological platform through which positive feelings of a sense of belonging were experienced. Secondly, he proposed that belongingness was experienced when an individual felt acknowledged, indispensable, valued, and integral within those social groups (Anant, 1966). Anant argued that a person’s social group membership was the nexus of interaction between them and their social milieu, and that a sense of belonging or belongingness was a consequence of positive interaction with others.
Anant also proposed that belongingness and social identification were two different concepts but suggested that identification and belongingness had an “empathic relationship” (Anant, 1966, p. 23). He suggested that social identification was developed through external modelling; firstly, parental and family behaviour and then the influence of others outside the family. Anant’s proposal regarding the relationship between social identity and belonging, and what he meant by an individual’s feelings of belongingness, was outlined in his original diagram and explanation (see Figure 1). The circle depicted a social group in a social system.
Figure 1. Belonging as part of a social group
There are six members of this group. Sam, Peter, Sarah, Anna, Jess and John have so much identified themselves with the group, are so personally involved, that they feel they belong to the group. John, however, though physically present and a participating member, has not involved himself to the extent that he feels a part of the system.
Consequently, were he to find another group to which he felt he belonged, he would drop out of the present group much more easily than any other of the four members…belongingness is used in the subjective sense. It has to do with how a particular member feels about his membership. Reproduced from Anant, S S. (1966). The need to belong. Canada’s Mental Health, 14, p. 22. Copyright 1966 by Mental Health Division, Dept. of National Health and Welfare.
After the studies carried out in the 1960s and 1970s there appeared to be a significant gap of more than 20 years in the literature contributing to belonging theory. Then, in the 1990’s, public awareness of mental health issues began to grow, and within the discipline of nursing, and particularly psychiatric nursing, further research into belonging emerged. Hagerty et al. (1992a) drew from Anant’s 1966 hypothesis and expanded the definition of belonging beyond a social system to include any social context within an individual’s environment. Hagerty et al. defined belonging as “the experience of personal involvement in a system or environment so that persons feel themselves to be an integral part of that system or environment” (p. 172).
Three characteristics were proposed as antecedents to a positive experience of adult belonging, “a person’s energy for involvement, their potential and desire for meaningful involvement, and their potential for shared or complementary characteristics for belonging” (Hagerty et al., 1992a, p. 174). This study formed the conceptual foundation on which Hagerty and others would base further empirical research as a sense of belonging became recognised as an “important health phenomenon” in the mental health arena (p.176).
The development of two psychometric instruments soon followed; the Sense of Belonging Instrument-Psychological (SOBI-P) scale where two factors of belongingness emerged, valued involvement and fit; and, the Sense of Belonging Instrument-Antecedent (SOBI-A) scale developed as a measure of childhood antecedents to adult belonging (Hagerty & Patusky, 1995). Positivity of adult belonging was argued by Hagerty and Patusky (1995) as being more strongly related to the antecedent of family of origin relationships in childhood, than those of childhood peer relationships.
The resurgence of interest in belonging research through the discipline of psychology appeared in the early and mid-1990s. Social psychologists Baumeister and Leary (1995) published a seminal paper empirically that demonstrated the need to belong as a central human motivation, as had been suggested by Maslow in 1943.
Baumeister and Leary (1995) found that the need to belong met nine criteria they suggested as underpinning a fundamental human motivation. They proposed that the need to belong
• produced effects readily under all but adverse conditions;
• guided cognition;
• guided emotions;
• lead to pathological outcomes when lost or thwarted;
• elicited goal-directed behaviour seeking to satisfy it;
• was universal and beyond cultural boundaries;
• was non-derivative of other motives;
• influenced a diverse range of human behaviours; and
• had implications beyond instantaneous psychological functioning (p. 498)
The definition of the need to belong was proposed as “a strong desire to form, and maintain enduring interpersonal attachments” (Baumeister & Leary, 1995, p. 522). Interestingly, the interpersonal attachments referred to were later demonstrated to be gender specific in their form and processing. Baumeister and Sommer (1997) found that women were oriented towards close forms of dyadic relationships to fulfil a need for sociality and belonging whereas men pursued their attachments through a greater number of acquaintance level groups and relationships.
Baumeister and Leary’s research inspired further examinations of belonging, and the development of psychometric instruments with which to measure aspects of belonging. Lee and Robbins (1995) developed the Social Assurance Scale (SAS) that aimed to measure the need to belong based on a person’s need for reassurance from at least one other person, along with the Social Connectedness Scale (SCS), whereby the perceived emotional distance between oneself and others was a measure of a sense of belonging.
In the mid-nineties, Hagerty, Williams, Coyne, and Early (1996) proposed the first ‘sense of belonging model’. The model showed that a linear connection existed between precursors or antecedents to belonging, a sense of belonging, and consequences of belonging or not belonging (see Figure 2).
Figure 2.2. A sense of belonging model
Using this model as a framework, an individual’s social and psychological functioning were found to be positively and strongly related to a sense of belonging (Hagerty et al., 1992a; Hagerty & Patusky, 1995). Lower levels of a sense of belonging were found to relate to higher levels of loneliness, anxiety, prior psychiatric treatment, and suicidal ideation.
From 2006, there was a resurgence in belonging research due to increasing global migration, particularly of refugees from Africa and the Middle East into the UK and Western European countries. Increased migration brought a political focus to the interdisciplinary need to improve levels of analysis, explanation, and communication of belonging. This led to a ‘sociological’ interest in the concept of belonging, particularly in the politics of belonging. Sociologist Yuval-Davis (2006) argued that, overall, the social sciences lacked consensus on what constituted the construct of belonging and that a comprehensive analytical framework was needed to examine and explain the phenomenon. Yuval-Davis proposed that belonging was not static or a fixed state of being; rather, belonging was dynamic and subject to different temporal and spatial contexts. She suggested that belonging varied according to three aspects; “the first level concerns social locations; an individual’s identifications and emotional attachments to various collectives and groupings, and the third relates to ethical and political value systems which people judge their own and others’ belonging/s” (p.199).
In 2011 a further research study examined the idea of a person’s motivation to gain acceptance and thus avoid rejection. DeWall, Deckman, Pond, and Bonser (2011) argued that belongingness was a core personality trait. A year later, in an further attempt to link personality traits and belongingness, Malone, Pillow, and Osman (2012) developed the General Belongingness Scale (GBS) which suggested that two factors, acceptance/inclusion and rejection/exclusion, measured ‘achieved belongingness’ (2012). In this same study, two of the ‘big five’ personality traits (Costa & McCrae, 1992), neuroticism and extraversion, were found to strongly correlate negatively and positively respectively, with achieved belongingness.
Walton, Cohen, Cwir, and Spencer (2012) introduced the concept of ‘mere belonging’ as a “minimal social connection to another person or group in a performance domain” (p. 513). Walton et al argued that social connectedness, even through sharing the same birthday with another person in a group, indicated an increased motivation to share in the activities of that group. This introduced the idea that a variation in levels of belongingness may be experienced in different social contexts, and in relation to the salience of different social identities.
In 2013, Mahar, Cobigo, and Stuart (2013) examined the concept of ‘social belonging’ with the intention of developing indicators for facets of social inclusion for people were intellectually disabled. They found “five intersecting themes, subjectivity, groundedness to an external referent, reciprocity, dynamism, and selfdetermination” (p.1026). As a result, Mahar, Cobigo, and Stuart (2013) suggested a new definition of a sense of belonging as:
a subjective feeling of value and respect derived from a reciprocal relationship to an external referent that is built on a foundation of shared experiences, beliefs or personal characteristics. These feelings of external connectedness are grounded to the context or referent group, to whom one chooses, wants and feels permission to belong. This dynamic phenomenon may be either hindered or promoted by complex interactions between environmental and personal factors (p.1026).
In 2013, the New South Wales (NSW) Government in Australia recognised the importance of developing the belonging capability of young people in the adolescent stage of education. The NSW Higher School Certificate (HSC) offered a unit of study called ‘Belonging’ in the years 7-12 English curriculum. Student learning was focused on exploring the meaning of belonging and consequences of not belonging using a variety of reference texts. Perceptions and ideas of belonging were shaped within personal, cultural, historical, and social frameworks. Students had to consider belonging in terms of experiences, identity, relationships, acceptance and understanding (New South Wales Government, 2013).
2.6. A brief overview of social identity
A social identity has been defined as “that part of an individual’s selfconcept which derives from his knowledge of his membership of a social group (or groups), together with the value and emotional significance attached to that membership” (Tajfel, 1981, p. 255). Social identity has also been referred as collective identity, “one that is shared with a group of others who have (or are believed to have) some characteristics in common” (Ashmore et al., 2004, p. 81).
Deaux (2001) argued that social identity served three functions. Firstly, social identity made people feel better about themselves and strengthens self-esteem. Secondly, social identity was a vehicle that allowed a person to interact relationally with others through shared beliefs, values, and activities associated with the identity. Thirdly, social self-identification enabled a person to position themselves in a distinctive place in a community. The three functions can be interpreted as belonging to self at an intrapersonal level, belonging socially among others at an interpersonal level, and belonging by holding a legitimate social place in society.
2.6.1. Theoretical review of social identity
The perceived importance or salience of a social identity to an individual was suggested as being related to a specific context situation (Deaux, 2001). The salience of a social identity represented a “state of personal activation characterised by heightened sensitivity to identity-relevant stimuli” (Forehand, Deshpande, & Reed, 2002, p. 1086). They further argued that salience of a social identity was prompted by a context-situation and thus influenced a person’s “perceptions, behaviours, and performance” (Forehand et al., 2002, p. 1086). Similarly, from a self-categorisation perspective, Turner et al. (1987) also argued that identity salience arose from a social situation. While salience “has been shown to prompt recall of beliefs, emotions and behaviours associated with an identity, underlying ”, beliefs, emotions, and behaviours were found to remain consistent even when identity primacy changed” (Hodgins et al., 2015, p. 6).
Over a normal day, a person may experience multiple social identities as a result of engaging in different circumstances during the day (Jaspal & Cinnirella, 2011). For example, Deaux, Reid, Mizrahi, and Ethier (1995) found an average of 13 social identities made up the self-concept of university students. Roccas and Brewer (2002) argued that membership of many different social groups simultaneously (multiple social identities) resulted in social identity complexity (SIC). SIC was defined as “an individual’s subjective representation of the combination of his or her multiple ingroup memberships” (p. 88). Levels of complexity were shown to be influenced by the level of overlap of identities, greater overlap resulted in more simplified identity structures.
Turner et al. (1987) developed a self-categorisation theory (SCT) to explain the processes individuals used to form cognitive representations of themselves among others when related to social groups, conceptually extending Tajfel’s social identity theory. While SIT focused more on an intergroup perspective, SCT emphasised the intrapersonal processes an individual used within a group. Turner refers to two central creeds of SCT; firstly, that a person self-categorises in terms of belonging to a social group (‘we’) rather than as an individual (‘I’) in a process called depersonalisation; and secondly, that an individual’s perceptions of fit within their social world was important. Further, SCT aimed to explain that perceived readiness was an important mechanism, whereby a person’s cognitive capacity to self-categorise was dependent on their prior experience, needs, expectations and current goals. Turner argued that self-categorisation was a means to help individuals know and feel more secure in their social world, but was also useful to reduce the cognitive load of others in order to recognise the social location of an individual.
Deaux (1991) proposed that the self-categorisation process involved “three interrelated processes, self-definition in terms of group membership, the acquisition of relevant information about group characteristics, and public proclamation of belonging to the group” (p.90). Deaux further suggested that “only by understanding what the basis for differentiation is can we begin to think about what the consequences of different identity categories might be” (Deaux et al., 1995, p. 280). Deaux (2001) further proposed five types of social identity categories as
• ethnicity/religion e.g., Asian-American, Jewish, Muslim;
• political affiliation e.g., feminist, republican, environmentalist;
• relationships e.g., mother, parent, teenager, woman;
• personal/stigmatized e.g., person with AIDS, homeless person, fat person, alcoholic; and
• vocation/avocation e.g., psychologist, artist, athlete, military veteran (p. 2).
Hornsey (2008) suggested that people self-categorize by positioning themselves at different levels of inclusiveness along a spectrum of identities that made-up their self-concept. ‘Social identity’ was positioned at an intermediate level on the spectrum between the superordinate identity ‘human’ and the subordinate identity ‘personal’. For example: Canadian Indigenous First Nations people were found to self-categorize their identities into a three layered spectrum (Coates, 1999).
Coates found that a First Nations person self-categorized at the superordinate level of ‘human’ first, which was synonymous with the land, country, place, and also with totemic connections. The second and mid-level self-categorization was both social and local and encompassed elements of their birth, clan or community, local culture, and language. Finally, the third layer comprised of their self-categorization not only as a part of Canada’s First Nations people, but also as a part of all Indigenous people who shared the same experience in other countries.
2.7 The significance of communication in belongingness, identity and learning
The significance of dialogue in identity and learning is seen in the seminal works of Cooley (1922), Mead (1934), Vygotsky (1978), and Goffman (1959). Already in the 1920s, Charles Cooley (2009) went so far as to say that the mind and society “are aspects of the same whole” (p. 42) that the individual with all his/her attributes are all social, “part of the collective development” (p. 19). He used the metaphor of the looking-glass to describe how an individual develops his/her concept of self as it is reflected back at him/her by others. This metaphor persists in the literature as seen in the more recent work of Chayko (2008) who suggests people take on behaviours and roles that they observe of others, and they adapt their own performances and behaviours depending on how they perceive others view them—others become mirrors to the individual.
Writing in 1934, Mead contended that social processes generate the mind and the self. He suggested that language, even when used internally in thought, is essentially social—although it is arguable whether or not it is an “objective phenomenon of social interaction” (Morris, 1934, p. xvi). Mead suggested that understandings emerge through social activity. He began considering private and public experience as opposites, but relative to one another. The notion of self and the ability to self-reflect could arise if an individual could view him/herself as an object (me). Similar to Vygotsky’s work later, he also envisaged a process of internalization in which individuals use their experiences with conversation and gestures as symbols for thinking. The me, he suggested emerged through social process whilst the I is the agent of activity, change, and agency. Mead argued that the meanings individuals attribute to symbols might be similar, but are unlikely to be identical, necessitating the need for cooperation. An individual acts whilst others react or readjust creating a relationship between acts. “Meaning is a content of an object which is dependent upon the relation of an organism or group of organisms to it” (p. 80). Through interaction, individuals learn to adjust their relationship towards objects and each other. Internalization allows them to discern patterns and relationships in their social environment, something Mead refers to as the generalized other (p. 90).
According to Wiley (2011), Mead distanced himself from Cooley, yet they shared some similarities such as the ideas of role-taking, inner-speech, the social-self, and the I and the me. For Mead, reflexivity had two meanings: 1) reflexivity between people, and 2) self-reflectivity. Building on the work of both Cooley and Mead, Wiley suggests that Cooley’s mirror is really two mirrors:
It is first a mirror reflecting the world in all its aspects, including the physical, social and cultural. This mirror gives us phenomenological consciousness. But the self is also a second mirror, reflecting everything in the first mirror. This second mirror captures the way the self is self-conscious, or, in Mead’s terms, has reflexivity. The self is turned onto itself. (p. 184)
Vygotsky (1978) also noted that memory and the formation of concepts occurred twice: firstly, among people (socially, publicly) and secondly, inside the individual (internally, privately). With regard to identity, Vygotsky (1978) noted a connection between the development of speech and the learner’s ability to view oneself as both “subjects and objects of their own behaviour” (p. 26). He also hypothesizes about how “socialized speech” becomes a tool for thinking as it is internalized (p. 27, 57).
Goffman (1959) took a turn towards the dramaturgical. But, similar to Cooley, Mead, and Vygotsky, he also recognized the significance of shared awareness (Scheff, 2003). He viewed social interaction as an interweaving of performances, interpretations of performances, and reactions to performances. Learning to interact socially involves the ability to manage impressions through technical, political, structural, cultural, and dramaturgical techniques used within a given social establishment. Through impressions management, individuals can project their own identities and interpret those of others. Ivanič (1998) notes that Goffman’s dramaturgical approach is criticized because it suggests that people are completely free to perform as they please and that performances are seemingly problem free when enacted. However, Koole and Parchoma (2012) suggest through the Web of Identity model that there are tensions inherent in such performances and that performances are adapted from socially available possibilities. Goffman (1959) also acknowledged that interaction is not without difficulties. Discontinuities can be detected between appearance and manner: “the dilemma of expression versus action” (p. 33). He also noted that status, position, and social places are not material, but patterns of behaviour recognized within members of a given context. This, too hints at a relationship between the individual and the sociocultural context.
2.8. The relational nature of social identity and belongingness
Turner et al. (1987) proposed that a sense of belonging was a consequence of a person’s adoption of a social identity associated with a social group or category. Studies of belonging in association with social identity were found in various contexts and situations including students in university sporting teams (Allen, 2006); refugees in host countries (Correa-Velez, Gifford, & Barnett, 2010; Kumsa, 2006); gays and lesbians in family events (Oswald, 2002); drug users in rehabilitation (Moshier et al., 2012); nurses in training college (Levett-Jones et al., 2009a); the elderly in aged care facilities (Nolan, 2011); and students in high school (Osterman, 2000).
However, the relationship between identity and belonging has been proposed as a “dynamic process, not a reified fixity” (Yuval-Davis, 2006, p. 99). In line with this idea, Yuval-Davis argued that some social identities were more fixed than others. Thus, identities derived from birthplace or ethnicity were suggested as being fixed; whereas, identities associated with values, vocation or personal interest may be flexible. Whilst the need to belong might be fundamental and a constant, as suggested by Baumeister and Leary (1995), Yuval Davis suggested that the experience of belonging was fluid, reflecting movement and interaction over time within the place and context of an individual.
The positional aspect (Doise, 1986) of a social identity may also affect how the individual experiences belonging. The positional aspect refers to the circumstances created when an individual experiences a new situation such as moving to a new home. In these circumstances, it could be argued that pre-existing social identities were retained and transferred with them. However, in order for a pre-existing social identity to be retained in a new place or situation, it may require the individual to re-evaluate its value and application in the new situation. An identity brought to the new situation may need to be adapted, accommodated, or even removed in the process of establishing a continuing sense of belonging.
Social identities that contribute to the make-up of an individual’s selfconcept have been found to vary in terms of contribution to a sense of belonging. For example, a large UK study by Marsh, Bradley, Love, Alexander, and Norham (2007), found that the top six social identities, when ranked in level of importance to a sense of belonging were (in descending order) family, friendships, lifestyle choices (explained as being a brand/product affiliated identity), nationality, professional identity, team spirit, and shared interests (club/hobby identities). While no cultural distinctions were made in this study, perhaps due to the predominantly ‘white’ mono-cultural sample, gender mediated the ranking of social identities. Men ranked sports team identities more highly than religious, ethnic, or political affiliation identities, while women did not.
2.9. The landscape of technology-enhanced learning within distance doctoral degree
The use of computers and communications networks in education has influenced a variety of learning approaches of which TEL is but one. TEL is a broad term encompassing a large array of technical and pedagogical options.
This thesis focuses specifically on NL and, as such, places an emphasis on relational aspects of online learning. In NL, learning and identity are seen to emerge from interaction within networks of people and resources (Parchoma, 2011; Ferreday, Hodgson, & Jones, 2006). Exposure to networks is both enhanced and limited by the learning environments. To elaborate, the media of the learning environment influence positioning by aiding and/or restricting certain manners of expression. At the same time, participants actively struggle to manipulate the medium and available symbols with which to position themselves (Savin-Baden & Sinclaire, 2007).
Trede, Macklin, and Bridges (2011) conducted a literature review on professional identity development in higher education resulting in the location of 20 relevant journal articles. My own search through the literature has revealed that there are even fewer studies on the formation and maintenance of learner identity in NL, perhaps due to the relative youth of the field (Goodyear, Banks, Hodgson, & McConnell, 2012). The first NL conference was held in 1998 at Lancaster University (McConnell, Hodgson, & Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012), and has become an emerging area of interest. In NL, how an individual understands her/his relational position influences emotional processes connected to learning and social development.
Hypothetically, awareness of the learning-self can enable individuals to better evaluate troublesome experiences (Land, Cousin & Meyer, 2005; Meyer & Land, 2005). The ability to harness opportunities and choices arising from such struggles could, perhaps, allow a greater sense of agency to emerge (Davies & Harré, 1990). One’s awareness of self-as-learner—along with the potential for an increased sense of security and agency in learning activities— may transfer across learning situations and influence the formation of the learner’s other identities be they personal, professional, or academic (Coll & Falsafi, 2010).
Epistemologically, this relational approach complements a social constructionist view in which discursive experience with people and resources influences an individual’s self-conception, goals, and future social behaviour. Identities are constructed through discourse, reciprocality, and reflectivity; they are in continuous flux, construed differently from different relational positions.
2.10. Distance doctoral students’ community and social networks
The term community is broadly used in higher education to encompass departments, institutions, classrooms, and subpopulations of students. Community in educational contexts is also frequently associated with foundational ideas of belonging and mattering as they relate to meaningful relationships with others and becoming a valued member of a sustained, collective group (Tinto, 1993; Wenger, 1998; White & Nonnamaker, 2008). Developing a sense of community requires interacting regularly with other members in the departmental community, including faculty and peers. Though there are multiple ways the concept of community is applied and defined in higher education, explanations of community customarily include the concept of shared experiences and supportive relationships among members. For this study, community is defined as the development of social networks through relationships (Kadushin, 2004).
From a social network standpoint, according to Kadushin (2004), social networks are personal relationships that one can draw upon as resources during graduate study. Social relationships with faculty and peers serve as important resources to assist students in working through social, emotional, and academic problems they are likely to encounter while pursuing the doctorate (Hawley, 2010; Golde, 2005; Lovitts, 2001). When graduate students experience challenges, they frequently turn to faculty and peers in advanced stages of the program for assistance since they have already experienced the difficulties of doctoral study and may be able to help (Weidman, et al., 2001).
Each student and faculty member in an academic department establishes multiple relationships with other community members. In turn, these relationships build upon each other to form extended social circles including even more community members. As a student’s number of relationships and intersecting social circles increases, the student’s ability to draw upon resources expands because the student can receive support from even more constituents in the department (Kadushin, 2004; Lovitts, 2001). This is important to the development of community during doctoral study because sources of support have been shown to positively influence student adaptability, motivation, and perseverance, ultimately affecting degree completion (Golde, 1998, 2005; Lovitts, 2001; Lovitts & Nelson, 2000; Tinto, 1993; White & Nonnamaker, 2008).
To create and develop strong relationships and support networks, doctoral students need consistent opportunities to connect with faculty members and peers in the community and cultivate a sense of belonging and mattering (White & Nonnamaker, 2008). Belonging and mattering in relationships increase the student’s feelings of being appreciated, important, and valuable to the community (Kadushin, 2004). Meaningful interactions with faculty and peers contribute to a shared sense of purpose, a collective sense of trust, and a deep commitment to the departmental community (Wenger, 1998).
2.10.1. Community in Online Environments
The literature provides many definitions of community within online learning environments at the graduate level. While these definitions differ slightly from the explanations of community within face-to-face environments, many of the common elements remain the same: trust, shared goals and values, connectedness, collaboration, and a sense of belonging within the group (McMillan & Chavis, 1996; Misanchuk & Anderson, 2001; Rovai, 2002; Shea, et. al, 2002). While community exists in some online courses, many scholars have found that weak social connections in online and distance courses often lead to lower rates of student persistence (Carr, 2000; Eastmond, 1995; Sweet, 1986). Primarily, the lack of connections resulted from limited contact with peers, faculty, and student services within the academic department (Exter, et. al, 2009; Liu, et. al, 2007; Morgan & Tam, 1999).
2.11. Distance doctoral students’ socialisation
Socialization is widely accepted as a framework to describe the experiences and development of doctoral students during graduate study (Antony, 2002; Austin, 2010; Gardner, 2007; Golde, 1998, 2000; Weidman et al., 2001). According to Golde (1998), doctoral student socialization is a process in which “a newcomer is made a member of a community of an academic department or a particular discipline” (p. 56). Similarly, Weidman et al. (2001) define socialization as a process in which doctoral students obtain the knowledge, skills, and values that will help them succeed academically and professionally. Through sustained interactions with faculty, advisors, and peers in the department, doctoral students learn values and norms regarding what it takes to succeed or fail during graduate study.
Since doctoral programs prepare students to be professionals in the field, most of the literature on this topic combines socialization into the roles of student and professional (Antony, 2002; Austin, 2002; Gardner, 2007; Golde, 1998, 2000; Weidman et al., 2001). However, doctoral education should not be viewed solely as a stepping stone; it is a specific role in itself.
Students are socialized into, assume, and then leave the role of graduate student (Golde, 2000). As individuals assume the role of doctoral student, they develop personally in many ways that are specifically related to their experience at the degree level, not the professional level. They learn to express ideas, think independently, balance multiple responsibilities, and develop integrity and a sense of purpose as a student (Gardner, 2010). They begin to view themselves differently as they develop autonomy and identify as a creator of knowledge instead of only a consumer of knowledge (CGS, 2005).
Very few studies focus on the socialization of the individual at the degree level and researchers have noted this as a significant gap in the literature (Austin, 2010; Gardner, 2007, 2010). This gap is particularly significant for part-time students who are rarely included in studies of doctoral student socialization. Many part-time students have been working full-time for many years prior to beginning doctoral study, so they often find the transition to being a student again very difficult and they may struggle to become integrated into the departmental community (Austin et al., 2009; Deem & Brehony, 2000).
Doctoral students are often perceived to be proficient navigators of processes and systems of higher education, having completed their undergraduate degrees successfully. Consequently, it is falsely assumed that doctoral students require only limited support in cultivating community and developing ways to belong and matter (White & Nonnamaker, 2008). This incorrect assumption sometimes leads to a failure of university systems to socialize students properly about differences between doctoral study and previous educational experiences. While pursuing the undergraduate degree, most students experience a highly structured and collaborative learning environment, but graduate programs require students to quickly become independent, self- sufficient researchers (Gardner, 2007). Without the proper support, students navigate these changes alone without being socialized effectively into the role of a doctoral student. This situation often contributes to doctoral student attrition (Golde, 1998; Hawley, 2010; Lovitts, 2001). The model of doctoral student socialization developed by Weidman et al. (2001) describes these changes and categorizes them into a four stage process.
2.12. Distance doctoral students’ identity development and ‘fitting in’
The identity development of doctoral students is strongly influenced by the beliefs, values, and experiences in the departmental community (Gee, 2000; Jazvac-Martek, 2009; Sweitzer, 2008; Weidman et al., 2001; Wortham, 2006). Most of a student’s identity development occurs prior to beginning doctoral study. However, students may encounter developmental challenges that require them to revisit certain aspects of their social and academic identities while pursuing the doctorate (Gardner, 2010). In response to these challenges, doctoral student identities are constantly constructed, co-constructed and reconstructed over time (Hall & Burns, 2009; Jazvac-Martek, 2009; Weidman et al., 2001).
Sweitzer (2008) notes a difference between fragmented identity (focused only on one role) versus integrated identity (connections across multiple roles). Doctoral students may identify with multiple roles and assume different identities for each role or maintain one identity in multiple roles. When two identities with contrasting meanings and/or expectations are active simultaneously, a student is likely to experience role conflict (Colbeck, 2008; Gardner, 2007; Jazvac-Martek, 2009; Tinto, 1993). If role conflicts escalate or a student experiences a persistent role mismatch, the individual may decide to exit a role completely or look to others to help them redefine themselves (Cast, 2003).
Doctoral student identities are formed based on how students view themselves, but also how they are positioned in a community and how they are defined by those around them (Gee, 2000). Therefore, students are influenced by the valued models of identity that are most recognized in their academic community. Students who “fit in” with the community and embody the valued identity characteristics of the department are often viewed as successful and their identities are legitimized, whereas those who do not are more likely to be marginalized and isolated (Jazvac-Martek, 2009; Wortham, 2006).
Furthermore, the academic department is the environment where community begins for doctoral students since the majority of their interactions take place there (Berelson, 1960; Gardner, 2007; Tinto, 1993; White & Nonnamaker, 2008). Frequent interactions and common attributes among students and faculty in a department often lead to a set of shared norms, values, and attitudes, often known as a program culture. Many studies indicate that the extent of a student’s integration, or fit, into the social and academic culture in a department is strongly connected to persistence and the quality of the overall doctoral student experience (Gardner, 2008; Hall & Burns, 2009; Hawley, 2010; Lovitts, 2001; Tinto, 1993; Watts, 2008).
Researchers have found that incongruence, or a lack of fit, into the social and academic culture of a department leads to feelings of isolation, disconnection, and/or marginalization (Gardner, 2008; Goodman, Schlossberg, & Anderson, 2006; Hall & Burns, 2009; Hawley, 2010; Tinto, 1993; Watts, 2008). This marginalization can be particularly pronounced for part-time students who spend limited time in the department and have the most difficulty accessing peers and academic cultures (Deem & Brehony, 2000). If students are unable to become integrated into the dominant and valued models of the department, they may consider leaving the program (Golde, 2005; Lovitts, 2001).
Conversely, when student characteristics are aligned with the valued norms of the academic department, their level of fit increases (Lewin, 1935; Sweitzer, 2009) and they integrate successfully into the doctoral community. The degree of integration increases through frequent supportive interactions with members of the departmental community who share common interests, common attributes, and common challenges (Lovitts, 2001). As students recognize these commonalities and experience deep engagement with faculty and peers, they develop a sense of joining and integrating into a large supportive intellectual community (Jazvac-Martek, 2009).
2.13. Distance doctoral students’ interaction with Faculty
Researchers consistently indicate that regular interaction with faculty advisors and mentors is a strong predictor of doctoral student satisfaction, persistence, and productivity (Golde, 1998, 2005; Lovitts & Nelson, 2000; Tinto, 1993; White & Nonnamaker, 2008). In fact, Lovitts (2001) found that a student’s relationship with an advisor is “probably the single most critical factor in determining who stays and who leaves” (p. 270).
The assignment of a faculty advisor is significant for doctoral students, but the quality of the advising relationship has even more influence on how students connect with their departmental community. The amount of time spent, frequency of the interactions, trust, and a sense of care from an advisor are crucial to student success and satisfaction (Austin, 2010; Barnes, et al., 2010; Golde, 2000; Lovitts, 2001). Advisor mismatch or personality conflicts with an advisor may result in a failure to connect with the doctoral community and may contribute to a student’s decision to leave the program (Golde, 1998; Lovitts & Nelson, 2000).
Most of the recent literature on the doctoral student experience differentiates between faculty advisors and faculty mentors as these can be two very distinct roles (Golde, 2005; Nettles & Millett, 2006; Weidman et al., 2001). Advisors are usually formally assigned by the academic department to discuss and approve coursework, whereas mentors are typically selected based on interests or personality similarities and are often “faculty to whom students turn for advice…or for general support and encouragement” (Nettles & Millett, 2006, p. 98). Weidman et al. (2001) found that program completion often depends on whether the student has a faculty mentor who is more than just an advisor. A faculty mentor influences student persistence and connection with the doctoral community because of the student’s sense of personal obligation and accountability to the mentor (Weidman et al., 2001). Faculty mentors also encourage students when they doubt themselves during doctoral study by helping students recognize their skills, knowledge, and potential (Barnes et al., 2010; Jazvac-Martek, 2009).
For some students, the faculty advisor or mentor may become the only contact in the departmental community. This is especially true for students in later stages of the doctoral journey who are writing, revising, and defending their dissertation research (White & Nonnamaker, 2008). Similarly, the faculty advisor may be the only departmental connection for part-time students who often do not spend much time in their departments outside of required classroom attendance (Deem & Brehony, 2000).
2.14. Distance doctoral students’ interaction with Peers
Interactions with peers are just as important as interactions with faculty in facilitating doctoral student success (Gardner, 2007, 2008; Golde, 1998, 2000, 2005; Lovitts & Nelson, 2000; Tinto, 1993; Weidman et al., 2001; White & Nonnamaker, 2008). Interactions with peers shape community during doctoral study by providing support, challenge, mentoring, and accountability (Gardner, 2007; Weidman et al., 2001). Doctoral students often find themselves at the bottom of the status hierarchy and can feel uncomfortable approaching faculty who are on a different professional level (Lovitts, 2001). Consequently, students often fill information gaps by asking their peers for academic advice rather than asking faculty (Gardner, 2007; Weidman et al., 2001). Peer interactions also blend social and academic components, whereas faculty relationships can often be strictly academic in nature (Golde, 2000). As early as 1960, Berelson recommended that campuses create informal gathering centers specifically for graduate students to provide a social outlet, reduce anxieties, and enrich and broaden the social atmosphere for students.
Lovitts (2001) indicates that the frequency and quality of interactions with the peer community can either enhance the student experience or hinder engagement. Students who are not connected to the social peer community in the department often consider leaving their program because they feel they are missing a significant piece of the overall doctoral student experience (Gardner, 2008; Golde, 2000; Lovitts, 2001).
Peer interactions are often very limited or absent for part-time doctoral students. Many part-time students experience difficulty creating and maintaining peer relationships from each semester to the next due to academic demands and balancing other commitments in their lives (Austin et al., 2009; Smith, 2000).
2.15. Balancing of multiple life roles by distance doctoral students
Doctoral students experience role conflicts while managing their commitments as students, academics, peers, researchers, and many other roles they assume in their academic communities (Jazvac-Martek, 2009). Furthermore, students often carry nonacademic roles that are just as important, if not more important, than their roles within academia (Baird, 1990).
Many doctoral students are also parents, spouses, professionals, caregivers, and friends. Students often find these non-academic roles to be important sources of support during their doctoral program. In fact, many students note support from family and friends outside academia as the most significant motivation for success during their program (Austin et al., 2009; Sweitzer, 2009).
The challenges of balancing multiple life roles are particularly significant for part-time students who manage multiple commitments and identities due to professional and familial responsibilities while pursuing the doctorate (Deem & Brehony, 2000). For part-timers, doctoral study is likely to be their second or third priority and they often have more roles to balance than full-time students (Evans, 2002). This creates significant barriers for part-time students when attempting to integrate into the academic and social community. Full-time students who work as graduate assistants interact frequently with faculty and peers, so they integrate and connect with the departmental environment to a greater extent than part-timers who spend less time on campus (Austin, et al., 2009).
Over time, part-time students have become defined not by how many credit hours they are taking, but by professional obligations and commitments they have outside the academic setting (Smith, 2000). Since part-time students have been excluded from most of the research on the doctoral student experience, the definition of exactly what makes a student part-time or fulltime is unclear in the literature. Berelson noted this confusion when indicating that “the term full-time itself is quite ambiguous: it might be fair, as a quick summary, to say that full-time means half-time or more” (Berelson, 1960, p. 130). This is a substantial gap in the literature that needs to be addressed and clarified in future studies.
2.16 Distance doctoral students’ belonging and alienation
Awareness of oneself involves discernment of one’s own identities in contrast to those of others. This idea is reflected in Ricoeur’s (1992) concepts of idem and ipse, temporal continuity of self and differentiation of self from others, respectively. However, Ricoeur recognized that idem and ipse evolve together.
A social constructionist position would suggest that idem and ipse mutually influence one another as they co-evolve. The relationship between belonging and differentiation can be somewhat counter-intuitive. One might assume that belonging to a community will be associated with feelings of acceptance and comfort. Group interaction, in theory, can allow learners to find others who may become “role models, mirrors, and sounding boards” (Chayko, 2008, p. 160).
In learning environments, belonging to a community may require a certain degree of adherence to norms of behaviour, limiting creativity and alternative views (Ferreday & Hodgson, 2008). Individuality can threaten group standards resulting in efforts to stymie individual expression and agency (Bonnett, 2009). To an extent, the tension between individual expression and group conformity can be viewed as necessary for learning and performance as it can stimulate reflection and acquisition of strategies by leading a learner into a state of liminality. In a phenomenological study of belonging at the workplace, McClure and Brown (2008) observed that successful performance of duties was related to the individual’s ability to negotiate “issues of inclusion and participation, levels of influence, dealing with problem members, dysfunctional behaviour, and dominance and risk-taking norms” (p. 6). But, one’s sense of belonging is affected by other factors: 1) frequent and positive interaction, and 2) the perception that there is a stable bond that is likely to continue into the future (McClure & Brown, 2008). Walther (1996) also notes that the anticipation of future interaction is likely to encourage cooperation.
Discomfort may arise from conflicting discourses, the resolution of which may result in alienation or a strengthened sense of belonging. “It would seem to me that every person’s identity is a site of struggle between conflicting discourses . . . and in the struggle of discourses, not only words change their meanings, but identities also” (Sarup, 1996, p. 73). Sorting through conflicting discourses can stimulate critical reflection and, potentially, a greater understanding of one’s own identity relative to other individuals within various contexts.
2.17 Some previous attempts to understand doctoral students belonging and identity
Studies Approach Data Collection and Analysis Emphasis
Phelps, J. M. (2016). International doctoral students’ navigations of identity and belonging in a globalizing university. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 11, 1-14.
Curtin, N., Stewart, A. J., & Ostrove, J. M. (2013). Fostering academic self-concept: Advisor support and sense of belonging among international and domestic graduate students. American educational research journal, 50(1), 108-137.
McAlpine, L., Jazvac-Martek, M., & Hopwood, N. (2009). Doctoral student experience in education: Activities and difficulties influencing identity development. International Journal for Researcher Development, 1(1), 97-109.
White, J., & Nonnamaker, J. (2008). Belonging and mattering: How doctoral students experience community. NASPA Journal, 45(3), 350-372.
Sweitzer, V. (2009). Towards a theory of doctoral student professional identity development: A developmental networks approach. The Journal of Higher Education, 80(1), 1-33.
McAlpine, L., Jazvac-Martek, M., & Hopwood, N. (2009). Doctoral student experience in education: Activities and difficulties influencing identity development. International Journal for Researcher Development, 1(1), 97-109.
Baker, V. L., & Pifer, M. J. (2011). The role of relationships in the transition from doctoral student to independent scholar. Studies in Continuing Education, 33(1), 5-17.
Foot, R., Crowe, A. R., Tollafield, K. A., & Allan, C. E. (2014). Exploring doctoral student identity development using a self-study approach. Teaching and Learning Inquiry, 2(1), 103-118.
Hall, L., & Burns, L. (2009). Identity development and mentoring in doctoral education. Harvard Educational Review, 79(1), 49-70.
Antony, J. S. (2002). Reexamining doctoral student socialization and professional development: Moving beyond the congruence and assimilation orientation. In Higher education: Handbook of theory and research (pp. 349-380). Springer, Dordrecht.
McAlpine, L., & Amundsen, C. (2009). Identity and agency: Pleasures and collegiality among the challenges of the doctoral journey. Studies in Continuing Education, 31(2), 109-125.
Baker, V. L., & Lattuca, L. R. (2010). Developmental networks and learning: Toward an interdisciplinary perspective on identity development during doctoral study. Studies in Higher Education, 35(7), 807-827.
2.18 Chapter summary
Doctoral learners’ cross boundaries between academic, personal, and professional identities. In each environment, they interact differently and have varying feelings of self-efficacy and agency in accordance with their participation and competence. As they interact with others, they effectively negotiate their identities relative to others in their environments.
The SPC is neither individualist nor social-determinist. It shows how the location of human interaction (collective or individual) and the expression (public or private) interweave in such a way that the individual and society co-create each other. The relational nature of identity formation and the significance of language and interaction are commensurate with the underpinnings of NL: “a social constructionist view that assumes that learning emerges from relational dialogue with and/or through others in learning communities” (Hodgson & Watland, 2004, p. 126). By examining learners’ descriptions of experience through the SPC lens, it is possible to explore how doctoral learners navigate through changing relative positions.
And, we might better understand the array of challenges that might impinge upon the learning experience. In the following chapter I will outline the methodological approaches I used to examine the kinds of experiences that lead to identity positioning amongst doctoral students in NL.
Many implications from the literature that are important to this study have been addressed throughout this chapter. However, three gaps in the literature are especially significant. First, part-time students have been excluded from most of the research on the doctoral student experience. Studies involving part-time doctoral students are necessary in order to understand this population and their unique needs and experiences (Austin et al., 2009; Deem & Brehony, 2000).
Second, the existing literature indicates that the development of community during doctoral study is important to student persistence and overall program satisfaction. However, existing studies do not address how doctoral students develop community within their academic departments. Research focusing on the ways in which doctoral students develop community is needed to better understand how students connect with faculty and peers in their departments.
Lastly, most of the existing research on the doctoral student experience focuses on the negative aspects and what is missing from the experience; very few studies address success factors or interventions that can be implemented within departments or institutions. More research is needed to investigate departmental influences and how they affect doctoral student community and student attrition/retention (Golde, 2000, 2005; Lovitts, 2001). For these reasons, this study focused on part-time students and explored the ways they develop a sense of community during doctoral study.
Hodgins, Jeff. (2016). Towards a psychology of belonging: A theoretical model. 10.13140/RG.2.2.29513.95840. The presentation summaries results of a systematic
study and proposes a new theoretical model for the psychological construct of belonging.
Hodgins, Jeff. (2018). Belonging and Identity in Australia’s Multicultural Society.