22 SES 16 B, Capability and Habitus: Critical perspectives on widening participation, social mobility and student persistence within global higher education settings
Social mobility is becoming an increasingly contested concept. In the UK, in particular, it is now seen by growing numbers of researchers (Lawler 2017; Littler 2017; Reay 2017a ) as a problematic way of tackling wider social and economic inequalities. Yet, the process of social mobility is still viewed as a uniformly positive process for the individual if not the communities those individuals are leaving behind. This paper attempts to scrutinise the process of social mobility for working class individuals through the lens of Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus and field. It argues, through reference to in depth qualitative interviews, that there is a complex matrix of costs and benefits in being socially mobile in very unequal societies like the UK. Drawing on three research projects conducted between 2000 and 2015 (Reay 2005; Reay, Crozier and Clayton 2009; Reay 2017b) it develops case studies of working class young people in order to analyses the extent to which working class habitus can adjust successfully to the field of higher education. As well as focusing on the dispositions of educational successful working class habitus, the paper also considers conditions within the field of higher education, and aspects of the field that enable or work against successful transition. The findings reveal that there is no seamless process of transition but rather a spectrum ranging from discomfort and a sense of dislocation to more disturbing feelings of tension and even, in a few cases, turmoil.
Lawler, S. (2017): Social mobility talk: class-making in neo-liberal times in S Lawler and G Payne (eds) Everyone a Winner? London : Palgrave Press. Littler, J. (2017): Against Meritocracy: culture, power and myths of mobility London: Routledge. Reay, D. (2017a): Miseducation: Inequality education and the working classes Bristol: Policy Press. Reay, D. (2017b): The cruelty of social mobility: Individual success at the cost of collective failure in S Lawler and G Payne (Eds.) Everyone a Winner? London : Palgrave Press. Reay, D. (2005): Beyond consciousness? : the psychic landscape of social class Sociology special issue on Social Class Sociology 39 (5): 911-928. Reay, D., Crozier, G. and Clayton, J. (2009): ‘Strangers in Paradise: Working class students in elite universities Sociology 43(6): 1103-1121.
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