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
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
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
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'.
220.127.116.11 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
2.2.1 As a result, the school puts a
higher value on middle-class
tastes, preferences and so
18.104.22.168 Because the school has a
middle-class habitus, this
gives middle-class pupils an
working-class culture is
regarded as inferior.
3 Symbolic Capital & Symbolic
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.
22.214.171.124 Bourdieu calls this withholding of
symbolic capital 'symbolic violence'.
126.96.36.199.1 By defining the working-class and their
tastes and lifestyles as inferior,
symbolic violence reproduces the class
structure and keeps the lower class in
188.8.131.52.1.1 Therefore, there is a clash
between working-class pupils'
habitus and the schools'
may experience the
world of education as
alien and unnatural.
3.2 Louise Archer found
pupils felt that to be
successful, they would
have to change how
they talked and
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
184.108.40.206 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
class identities for
themselves by investing in
'styles', especially through
consuming branded clothing
such as 'Nike'.
220.127.116.11 Style performances were heavily
policed by peer groups and not
conforming was 'social suicide'. The
right appearance earned symbolic
capital and approval from peer
18.104.22.168.1 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
22.214.171.124.1.1 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
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
4.3 Nike styles also play a
part in working-class
pupils' rejection of higher
education, which they saw
as both unrealistic and
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
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
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.
126.96.36.199 The grammar school had a
strong middle-class habitus of
high expectations and academic
achievement, while the secondary
school had a habitus of low
188.8.131.52.1 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.
184.108.40.206.1.1 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
220.127.116.11.1.1.1 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'
18.104.22.168.22.214.171.124 Ingram states that the
choice is between
'unworthiness at school for
wearing certain clothes and
worthlessness at home for
126.96.36.199.188.8.131.52.1 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.
184.108.40.206.220.127.116.11.1.1 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
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
18.104.22.168 This is partly due to a process of self-exclusion.
22.214.171.124.1 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
126.96.36.199.1.1 The few that did apply felt a sense of hidden barriers and of not fitting in.
188.8.131.52.1.1.1 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
184.108.40.206.2 Bourdieu (1984) states that many
working-class people think of places
like Oxbridge as being 'not for the
likes of us'.
220.127.116.11.2.1 This feeling comes from their habitus,
which includes beliefs about what
opportunities really exist for them and
whether they would fit in.
18.104.22.168.2.1.1 Such thinking becomes a part of their
identity and leads working-class
students to exclude themselves from
22.214.171.124.3 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.