School Alienation - Theoretical approaches and educational research

Hascher, Tina; Hadjar, Andreas (2018). School Alienation - Theoretical approaches and educational research. Educational research, 60(2), pp. 171-188. Routledge, Taylor & Francis 10.1080/00131881.2018.1443021

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Background: Many primary school students encounter the educational system positively from the outset. However, over the school years, students develop negative attitudes towards school, which peaks during secondary education. According to the literature, we conceptualise this process as school alienation: a decreasing sense of belonging in terms of learning, teachers and classmates at school.
Purpose: This article critically examines the research on school alienation, with a focus on primary and secondary education. In this overview, we consider definitions, general conceptual approaches and specific concepts of school alienation, as well as methodological issues, including operationalisations of school alienation. Based on our identification of the strengths and shortcomings of previous theoretical and empirical approaches, we propose a definition and model of school alienation that may guide future research efforts. We argue that future research on school alienation needs to focus on the processes by which school alienation manifests itself; moreover, it must take into account how school alienation can differ with regard to various domains in school (i.e. alienation from learning, from teachers, from classmates). Overall, we argue that instead of an emphasis on general alienation from school, a more specific approach to school alienation is required.
Sources of evidence: We used scientific research search engines to identify the body of literature that explicitly studies the phenomenon of school alienation. Firstly, we identified different types of school/ student alienation definitions and concepts. Then, we selected papers addressing school alienation as a crucial issue, as well as papers investigating this issue in relation to an outcome, such as violent student behaviour and drop-out, for review. Further, we related our review to comparable concepts, such as disengagement, to show similarities and/or differences.
Main argument: The findings of our overview point to a lack of a clear definition of school alienation, a lack of systematic concepts and a diversity of operationalisations based on manifold theoretical approaches. Thus, we propose a contemporary concept of school alienation by bridging different concepts: particularly, the concepts of alienation and disengagement. Our approach specifies core domains to which school alienation is linked: academic learning, teachers and classmates. Furthermore, in regard to each domain, cognitive and affective aspects can be identified, while behavioural aspects are conceptualised as consequences of school alienation.
Conclusions: The need for studies aimed at a more profound understanding of the process of school alienation during different stages of educational pathways (such as primary and secondary education) seems to be evident. Panel data are necessary to reconstruct student trajectories in order to take individual changes into account. Different levels of analysis (individual student level/ micro, school or classroom levels/meso, societal level/macro), as well as interaction between these levels, need to be studied.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Review Article)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Education > Sociology of Education
07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Education > School and Teaching Research

UniBE Contributor:

Hascher, Tina


300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology > 370 Education
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology




Routledge, Taylor & Francis




Christine Alexandra Röthlisberger

Date Deposited:

22 May 2019 14:00

Last Modified:

03 Feb 2021 14:01

Publisher DOI:





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