Richard Waller: Cultural Capital – getting in, getting on, getting out

Academic Enhancement and Standards Committee (AESC) – Away Day, Oxford Brookes University, Tuesday, 17 March 2015, 1400 – 1500. Views and interpretations are my own. Post updated through the day.

Richard Waller Associate Professor of the Sociology of Education, University of the West of England (UWE). draws on research from the Paired Peers project. Mobilising capitals through internships.

  • Bathmaker, A.-M., Ingram, N., & Waller, R. (2013). Higher education, social class and the mobilisation of capitals: recognising and playing the game. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 34(5/6), 723–743.

Seeks to know:

  • What factors determine the type of career our graduates enter?
  • What they can do?
  • What we can do?

Entrants to graduate jobs market need First class:

  • degree
  • CV
  • soft skills
  • A-Levels
  • GCSEs (are these even better indicators of employability than A-levels?)

Assigns social class; sets out questionnaire data to young, “home” UGs. Excluded mature studets, discounted ethnicity and disability; focus on social class.

Analytical framework draws on Phil Brown and colleagues (Cardiff): there is a: global war for talent. There has been a switch in emphasis from meritocracy to market place. A person needs positional advantage in the graduate recruitment market. This consists of “ranking tournaments” in which Playing the game is crucial.  In the market place, the “entrepreneurial story” can be a leveller-up for people without Russell Group degrees. How can we facilitate the development of this narrative for those that want? Cites Bourdieu, as an “influential public intellectual”. His frameworks are useful tools for thinking. Habitus influences disposition.

There is a tension between the development of transferrable symbolic capital, which can be exchanged in a largely tacit, unregulated “market” between agents with wide power differentials in different domains as tokens in a “game”, and the practice of values-based (or “guiding principles”) institutional development, values-based recruitment of students, values-based staff development and values-based recruitment to certain employment sectors.

Conclusion: The game has changed. The field is unequal. Are you the author of your own biographical destiny(!)?

  • there is a lack of predisposition to capital accumulation in working-class students
  • patterns of dominantion tend to persist
  • middle class privilege is tenacious
  • some working class (only?) are too proud to use their own (limited) networks (I did it on my own merit)
  • The nous to use capital is capital itself: symbolic capital overarches economic, social and cultural capitals.
  • Middle class is disposed to acquire and mobilise symbolic capitals
  • automatic mobilisation of symbolic capital is taken for granted by the privileged.

Against this how can universities be an engine of social mobility? Structural barriers restrict access to capitals: resources, connections, and the capacity to mobilise these. Should Universities be developing and delivering programmes for reinforcing or exploiting existing patterns of inequality and domination? Or should universities surface patterns of inequality in order to challenge critically and seek to overcome them?


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