AQA A-Level Sociology: Class Differences in Achievement - Pupils' Class Identities & the School

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All credit goes to the 'AQA A Level Sociology Book One [Including AS Level]'. Any opinions expressed are the opinions of the sociologists mentioned. Author credits: Rob Webb, Hal Westergaard, Keith Trobe and Annie Townend

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Created by Rhiann . over 2 years ago
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AQA A-Level Sociology: Class Differences in Achievement - Pupils' Class Identities & the School
1 Sociologists are interested in how pupils' class identities formed outside school interact with the school and it's values to produce educational success and failure.
1.1 Louise Archer et al (2010) focus on the interaction between working-class pupils' identities and school, and how this produces underachievement.
2 Pierre Bourdieu: Habitus
2.1 Habitus refers to the 'dispositions' or learned, taken-for-granted ways of thinking, being and acting that are shared by a particular social class.
2.1.1 It includes their tastes and preferences about lifestyles and consumption, their outlook on life and their expectations of what is normal or realistic for 'people like us'. A group's habitus is formed as a response to its position in the class structure.
2.2 Although one class' habitus is not intrinsically better than another's, the middle-class has the power to define its habitus as superior and to impose it on the education system.
2.2.1 As a result, the school puts a higher value on middle-class tastes, preferences and so on. Because the school has a middle-class habitus, this gives middle-class pupils an advantage, while working-class culture is regarded as inferior.
3 Symbolic Capital & Symbolic Violence
3.1 Because schools have a middle-class habitus, pupils who have been socialised at home into middle-class tastes and preferences gain 'symbolic capital' or status and recognition from the school and are deemed to have worth or value.
3.1.1 By contrast, the school devalues the working-class habitus, so that working-class pupils' tastes are deemed tasteless and worthless. Bourdieu calls this withholding of symbolic capital 'symbolic violence'. By defining the working-class and their tastes and lifestyles as inferior, symbolic violence reproduces the class structure and keeps the lower class in their place. Therefore, there is a clash between working-class pupils' habitus and the schools' middle-class habitus. Consequently, working-class students may experience the world of education as alien and unnatural.
3.2 Louise Archer found that working-class pupils felt that to be educationally successful, they would have to change how they talked and presented themselves.
3.2.1 Thus, for working-class students, educational success is often experienced as a process of 'losing yourself'. They felt unable to access middle-class spaces such as university and professional careers. These middle-class spaces are seen as 'not for the likes of us'.
4 'Nike' identities
4.1 Many pupils were conscious that society and school looked down on them. This symbolic violence led them to seek alternative ways of creating self-worth, status and value.
4.1.1 They did this by constructing meaningful class identities for themselves by investing in 'styles', especially through consuming branded clothing such as 'Nike'. Style performances were heavily policed by peer groups and not conforming was 'social suicide'. The right appearance earned symbolic capital and approval from peer groups. However, it led to conflict with the school's dress code. Reflecting the school's middle-class habitus, teachers opposed 'street' styles as showing 'bad taste' or as a threat. Pupils who adopted street styles also risked being labelled as rebels.
4.2 Archer argues that the schools' middle-class habitus stigmatises working-class pupils' identities
4.2.1 The pupils' performances of style are a struggle for recognition: while the middle-class see their Nike identities as tasteless, to the young people they are a means of generating symbolic capital and self-worth.
4.2.2 According to Archer et al, working-class pupils' investment in Nike identities is not only a cause of their educational marginalisation by the school; it also expresses their positive preference for a particular lifestyle. Consequently, working-class pupils may choose self-elimination or self-exclusion from education.
4.3 Nike styles also play a part in working-class pupils' rejection of higher education, which they saw as both unrealistic and undesirable.
4.3.1 It was undesirable because they would have to live on a student loan and this would make it hard to afford their street styles that gave them their identity.
5 Working-class identity and educational success
5.1 Nicola Ingram (2009) did a study of two groups of working-class Catholic boys from the same deprived neighbourhood.
5.1.1 One group had passed their 11+ and had gone to grammar schools, while the other group had failed and gone to a local secondary school. The grammar school had a strong middle-class habitus of high expectations and academic achievement, while the secondary school had a habitus of low expectations. Ingram found that having a working-class identity was inseparable from belonging to a working-class locality. The neighbourhood's dense networks of family and friends were a key part of the boys' habitus. It gave them an intense feeling of belonging. The boys experienced a great pressure to fit it and this was particularly a problem for the grammar school boys, who experienced a tension between the habitus of their working-class neighbourhood and that of the middle-class school. One boy was ridiculed by his peers for coming to school in a tracksuit on non-uniform day. By opting to fit in with his neighbourhood habitus by wearing a tracksuit, he was made to feel worthless by the schools' middle-class habitus. Ingram states that the choice is between 'unworthiness at school for wearing certain clothes and worthlessness at home for not'. The boy being ridiculed is an example of symbolic violence, in which pupils are forced to abandon their 'worthless' (according to the school) working-class identity if they want to succeed. Meg Maguire (1997) notes that when she went to grammar school, "the working-class cultural capital of my childhood counted for nothing in this new setting."
6 Class identity and self-exclusion
6.1 Despite the class inequalities in education, many more working-class young people now go on to university.
6.1.1 However, the clash between working-class identity and the habitus of higher education is a barrier to success. This is partly due to a process of self-exclusion. Sarah Evans (2009) studied a group of 21 working-class girls studying for A-Levels and found that they were reluctant to apply to elite universities such as Oxford and Cambridge. The few that did apply felt a sense of hidden barriers and of not fitting in. Sarah Evans also found that the girls had a strong attachment to their locality. Only four of the 21 intended to move away from home to study. Bourdieu (1984) states that many working-class people think of places like Oxbridge as being 'not for the likes of us'. This feeling comes from their habitus, which includes beliefs about what opportunities really exist for them and whether they would fit in. Such thinking becomes a part of their identity and leads working-class students to exclude themselves from elite universities. Reay et al (2005) point out that self-exclusion from elite or distant universities narrows the options of many working-class pupils and limits their success.

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