This paper maps the global dimension of higher education and associated research, including the differentiation of national systems and institutions, while reflecting critically on theoretical tools for working this terrain. Arguably the most sustained theorisation of higher education is by Bourdieu: the paper explores the relevance and limits of Bourdieu’s notions of field of power, agency, positioned and position-taking; drawing on Gramsci’s notion of hegemony in explaining the dominant role played by universities from the United States. Noting there is greater ontological openness in global than national educational settings, and that Bourdieu’s reading of structure/agency becomes trapped on the structure side, the paper discusses Sen on self-determining identity and Appadurai on global imagining, flows and ‘scapes’. The dynamics of Bourdieu’s competitive field of higher education continue to play out globally, but located within a larger and more disjunctive relational setting, and a setting that is less closed, than he suggests.
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