Making sense of the community college: interrogating belongingness


  • Naja Berg Hougaard


Drawing on the transformative potential of critical-theoretical learning grounded in the CHAT
framework of recognizing the bi-directional relationship between learning and development, the
present paper is an investigation of how nine American community college students participating
in a critical learning community (Peer Activist Learning Community) make sense of and position
themselves towards the pursuit of higher education. The paper has two key findings: (1) students
primarily draw on vocational discourse paired with a conceptualization of learning as rote
learning (i.e. memorization and acquisition of skills) in making sense of their pursuit of higher
education, and (2) students embody a transitional positioning toward the community college,
which poses the ontological challenge of belonging to an academic institution while seeking to
negate this belonging. The findings are framed and discussed in particular through the lens of the
transformative activist stance (Stetsenko) with an emphasis on the recognition of education as the
process of becoming human as well as with a focus on the transformative potential of meaningful
learning experiences. I conclude by suggesting the need for transforming the aim of retention
studies as well as put forward the suggestion of re-conceptualization the concept of belongingness
in educational psychology in light of the CHAT framework.


How to Cite

Hougaard, N. B. (2013). Making sense of the community college: interrogating belongingness. Outlines. Critical Practice Studies, 14(2), 29–53. Retrieved from