Working-Class Participation, Middle-Class Aspiration? Value, Upward Mobility and Symbolic Indebtedness in Higher Education

Loveday, Vik. 2015. Working-Class Participation, Middle-Class Aspiration? Value, Upward Mobility and Symbolic Indebtedness in Higher Education. The Sociological Review, 63(3), pp. 570-588. ISSN 0038-0261 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This paper interrogates the relationship between working-class participation in higher education (HE) in England and social and cultural mobility. It argues that embarking on a university education for working-class people has been construed in governmental discourses as an instrumental means of achieving upward mobility, or of aspiring to ‘become middle class’. Education in this sense is thus not only understood as having the potential to confer value on individuals, as they pursue different ‘forms of capital’, or symbolic ‘mastery’ (Bourdieu, 1986), but as incurring a form of debt to society. In this sense, the university can be understood as a type of ‘creditor’ to whom the working-class participants are symbolically indebted, while the middle classes pass through unencumbered. Through the analysis of empirical research conducted with staff from working-class backgrounds employed on a university Widening Participation project in England, the article examines resistance to dominant educational discourses, which understand working-class culture as ‘deficient’ and working-class participation in HE as an instrumental means of securing upward mobility. Challenging the problematic notion of ‘escape’ implicit in mobility discourses, this paper concludes by positing the alternative concept of ‘fugitivity’, to contest the accepted relationship in HE between creditor and debtor.

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The paper draws on empirical research supported by the ESRC (grant number ES/F022387/1).


social class; higher education; Bourdieu; value; forms of mobility; aspiration; symbolic indebtedness; fugitivity

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1 August 2015Published
10 September 2014Published Online

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Date Deposited:

24 Jun 2014 07:15

Last Modified:

25 Mar 2021 09:30

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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