Thursday, 20 February 2014

Learning through writing 2: Fitting in?

Following my last blog on Bourdieu, this posting focuses on another article that has Bourdieu at the heart of it (still waiting for Distinction to arrive......).  This one was recommended to me by my colleague who knows Reay's work well, and I plan to provide a simple overview of the key points (as part of the learning process!).

Reference for the article:
Reay, D., Crozier, G. and Clayton, J. (2009). 'Fitting in' or 'standing out': working-class students in higher education. British Educational Research Journal, iFirst Article, 1-18.

  • Students who enter higher education (HE) come from a range of socio-economic groups. 'Widening participation' has been on the government's agenda for some time now.
  • Retention and success of students is important for a number of reasons (social, economic, cultural, personal, etc), and with widening participation has come an increase in attrition rates.
  • There are differences between universities in their ability to attract students from working-class and minority ethnic backgrounds. Prior attainment is not the only reason for lower numbers accessing HE from these backgrounds in certain universities (Russell Group). Still, even the post-1992 universities are not as successful overall as they might like to be in recruiting the numbers of students from these backgrounds.
  • Race, social class and gender impact on the way in which students access and experience HE. This article focuses on class whilst acknowledging that race and gender are important mediating factors. The research uses the concept of 'institutional habitus' to explore these experiences.
  • Habitus:
    • dynamic concept
    • 'a rich interlacing of past and present, individual and collective'
    • adaptation to external influences leading sometimes to change
    • social context key to behaviours and characteristics
    • institutional habitus reflects these points but are less likely to change than individuals due to the size of the organisation
  • 'Expressive order' of the HE is important to the case studies under investigation in this research and this relates to expectations, conduct, character and manners - 'embodied cultural capital' (we can see it in the way that students dress, how they behave, how they view their learning and their level of confidence in the world of HE).
  • The research: undergraduate students, aged 18 or over, working class backgrounds (defined through the ONSSEC); mixed methods; 4 different kinds of HEIs; different degrees; questionnaire, interviews; habitus and field were used as sensitising concepts in the data analysis phase.
  • Findings:
    • institutional habitus impacts on the ways in which class has an effect on student experiences including how the students see themselves within the different kinds of HEIs.
    • Staying close to home geographically and academically had its benefits (safety, reassurance) but means that the process of transformation through the educational experience is not as stark as in those students who went further afield for their education (both in geographical and academic terms). 
    • When students attended HEIs within their 'comfort zones', they may have felt accepted, but may have taken a more instrumental approach to their education.
    • Living in halls (rather than at home) appears to impact on the ability of students to integrate into the social and academic aspects of university life that are on offer - relating to the institutional habituses.
    • Those in paid work and with family commitments were less likely to take on the strong learner identify that others who could commit more time to the whole student experience. These factors impacted on the students' identities as academic learners.
    • The students who managed to 'fit in' socially whilst also 'standing out' as different were the ones who, unsurprisingly, were most successful.
    • Working class students who enter into elite HEIs may face both academic challenge (like their counterparts) as well as 'identity work' - where their habitus comes into contact with a very different field to the one(s) they had been used to.
  • The most important message is that inequalities persist, with working class students being less likely to make it into elite institutions.
An interesting article - an area where there is still much to be done. As before, the work of Reay et al resonates with the findings from my PhD (although I didn't investigate social class as such but knew from my data that the overwhelming majority of the students were first generation university goers). Further thoughts on Bourdieu will follow once my book arrives.

To carry on my theme of including a photo - this is another taken in France and I imagine this (somewhat tentatively) as a hard slog to get the top - reflecting what it may feel like for some working class students who enter into HE. 


  1. Hi, nice blog Really very interesting post shared above. Awaiting for more posts like this.

  2. Hi Ruth
    I discovered your blogs when doing research for my PGC Teaching & Learning. I really enjoy reading them & you are quite inspirational & write very interesting blogs.
    My plan was to go into lecturing but my timing was poor as there were some down sizing at universities & I was always up against experienced lecturers.
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  3. Thank you for all your comments. Distinction has arrived - more posts to follow once I've read a bit more. Ruth :)

  4. Great post! Recent Supreme Court upholding of some states ban on affirmative action for college admissions eases the way for more states to bar public colleges from considering race in admissions. Affirmative action amends disadvantages experienced by minority groups. Although the global perspective on the trend of crossing over cultures and ethnicity has facilitated an evolution towards a “colorblind” society, the effects of the history of discrimination remain prevalent within unequal representation in many professions including nursing. However, HE committed to social transformation could facilitate a countermeasure by focusing on persons of a low-income status rather than age, race, or ethnicity.

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