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Title: Pleasure, pain and possibilities : an ethnography of working-class students at an elite university
Author: Rowell, Carli Ria
ISNI:       0000 0004 8509 9870
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2018
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This thesis seeks to explore the experiences of working-class, first-generation students who study at an elite university. The study is an ethnography and took place at one Russell Group university in England over an eighteen-month period from April 2015 – October 2016. The field site university has been given the pseudonym Stellar University. The core argument is that educational-success for the working-class participants of this study, by way of their elite university attendance is marked by pleasures, pains and possibilities. In seeking to argue such point, this thesis addresses three questions. Firstly, given that ‘New’ (post 1992) universities contain a high proportion of non-traditional students, and those from lower social class and black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds are poorly represented in ‘Old’ (pre-1992) universities (Boliver 2011; HEFCE 2017) What are the everyday lived experiences of working-class students at an elite university? In what ways are such experiences gendered and, if possible to say, raced? Secondly, given the speckled presence of working-class students at elite universities coupled with the notion “education is not about the valorization of working-classness but its erasure” (Reay 2001: 334) what is the effect of attendance at an elite university upon ties and relationships with ‘non-educationally mobile’ friends, family and romantic relations from the student’s home community? Finally, given massification and commodification of higher education and the rise of the pervasive public discourse that asserts universities to be engines of social mobility this study asks: In what ways do working-class students at an elite university understand and narrate their classed identity; do participants perceive social mobility through formal education a) as being possible, and b) as a desirable ideal and one that they strive for? These questions are addressed through an array of methods that make up the ethnographic toolkit. Specifically, the study includes data gathered from twenty-seven working-class, first-generation undergraduate students in addition to a small number of interviews conducted with participants ‘non-educationally mobile’ family, friends and romantic partners. Furthermore, follow up interviews, walking and driving tours, photo elicitation interviews, documentary analysis and participant observations were also conducted with a sub set of working-class, first-generation undergraduate students. The data was analysed thematically and it is this that directs, guides and enlightens this thesis research findings and arguments. This thesis concludes that participants class background shapes participants experience of being a working-class, first-generation student at the elite University of Stellar in profound ways that pervade the everyday experiences of working-class, first-generation students who attend an elite university both on campus and when among working-class family and friends and locale. The central argument of the study is that elite university attendance and all that is possible and probable is marked by much pleasure, pain and possibilities. This thesis demonstrates the complex experience of being working-class and experiencing educational success by way of elite university attendance in an epoch of heightening inequality and austerity. The conclusion of this thesis sets out the significance of the research and further areas for sociological enquiry.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Economic and Social Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: LB2300 Higher Education ; LC Special aspects of education