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Exploring the spatial belonging of students in higher education

Wong, B. ORCID: (2024) Exploring the spatial belonging of students in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 49 (3). pp. 546-558. ISSN 1470-174X

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2023.2243285


This paper presents a conceptual framework of spatial belonging. The aim is to enrich our conceptual understanding of space and belonging in higher education, with a provisional spatial belonging framework for researchers and practitioners to critically reflect on the different ways in which higher education spaces can facilitate and shape belonging and inclusion for students. Understanding spatial influences on student belonging is key to appreciating the nuances and multidimensionality of their experiences, especially for underrepresented students whose belonging at university is often more precarious. Drawing on theories from education, sociology and geography – especially Foucault’s (1986) heterotopia, Lefebvre’s (1991) spatial production, Massey’s (2005) spatial relations and literature on spatial justice – four dimensions of spatial belonging are proposed as a lens to better recognise the influence of multiple spaces on student belonging. The physical dimension includes the material and visible aspects of space and how that can shape student experiences and belonging, while the digital dimension considers the role of technology, especially virtual learning and hybrid spaces. The relational dimension highlights the importance of social relationships and connections, which transcends physicality and digitality, and likewise, the structural dimension focuses on the wider societal system and how dominant discourses shape the way space is experienced by different students. By examining the physical, digital, relational and structural spaces, the spatial belonging framework provides an innovative conceptual insight into student belonging in higher education. This paper lays the groundwork for future research to examine how multiple spaces intersect and contribute to student belonging.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Institute of Education > Improving Equity and Inclusion through Education
ID Code:112722
Publisher:Taylor & Francis


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