Topologies of belonging in the digital university

Karen Gravett, Rola Ajjawi, Sarah O Shea

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    2 Citations (Scopus)
    9 Downloads (Pure)


    Belonging is a complex relational concept. It has been shown to be processual, emergent, and dynamic. And yet this relationality, and complexity, sits in tension with increasingly voluble calls to measure, manage and maintain students’ sense of belonging to an ostensibly fixed space of higher education. This article reports on research that invited students to not only define how they experience belonging, but also to surface belonging’s relationality: how it is entangled with material spaces and artefacts and enacted through evolving behaviours and communities. Our data depict modulations of belonging which disrupt dominant discourses of simplicity, stability and uniformity. Engaging the generative concept of social topologies, we offer a rethinking of both space and belonging as material and relational. These findings enable us to consider more nuanced perspectives about how belonging is both understood and also enacted, surfacing the complex tapestries of belonging and non-belonging experiences within education, as well as the increasing departure from a coherent delineated conception of ‘the university’. Given the diversity of both learners and the spaces in which they learn, interrogating the nature of belonging is urgently needed if we are to understand students’ diverse experiences of education in more meaningful ways.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-15
    Number of pages15
    JournalPedagogy, Culture and Society
    Publication statusPublished - 2023


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