Unn-Doris K. Bæck

Nordic Educational Research Association (NERA)


Bæck works as a sociology professor at the Department of Social Sciences, UiT The Arctic University of Norway. Her main research interests lie within the sociology of education, focusing on educational achievements and trajectories and on how social background, gender, ethnicity and place, as well as the intersections between these, play a part when it comes to different forms of inequalities in education. With an aim to reveal how inequalities are produced and reproduced, she is also interested in the relationship between the education system and other basic institutions, such as policy, family and the labour market. This has led her to investigate the education system from different angles, from the perspectives of students, teachers, parents and from policy perspectives. From a theoretical point of view, she has been particularly interested in how social and cultural structures condition the actions of individuals, and she puts forward power relations and questions regarding inequality as essential to understanding constraining and enabling elements when it comes to educational achievements and trajectories.

Bæck’s broad interest in education and inequalities, has also led her to investigate research problems through different methods, and she has worked extensively with mixed methods approaches that include document studies, qualitative interviews, as well as analysis of different forms of quantitative data. She has also conducted comparative studies in a number of different countries: Finland, Sweden, Russia, Canada.

Bæck has been a project manager on several research projects, among other things focusing on geographic education differences, unemployment among youth in peripheral places and home-school relations.


Education, togetherness and robust community in precarious times

The starting point for this presentation is one of the key questions for the sociological discipline, namely how modern societies can maintain social integration in times of swift and thorough changes. An answer can be found in ideas of connectedness, belonging and togetherness, that is, community, and in this presentation the role education plays for the creation of community is highlighted.

Education and its relationship to community is two-fold. Firstly, a common foundation of norms, values and culture is transferred through the education system, installing a sense of community in individuals. Secondly, the education system equips individuals with the capacity for social participation and grants access to goods and benefits in our society, therein ensuring that new generations become part of society. Thus, the education system can be seen as an agent for social inclusion and a corner stone in creating and maintaining a sense of community.

At the same time, the education system operates as a motor of exclusion. Access to the knowledge and the credentials schools provide is not evenly distributed. Individuals’ opportunities to access them may be dependent on the resources they bring with them in their encounters with the system or on the opportunity structures surrounding them where they live. The entrance ticket to inclusion and participation can be more readily available for some than for others. In this presentation, spatial education differences are used as examples on how the education system excludes and threatens the conditions for community, and the presentation concludes by asking how the education system can instead contribute to building robust community.