Monthly Archives: July 2014

Bourdieu Study Group co-convenor on Thinking Allowed



Bourdieu Study Group co-convenor Jessica Abrahams has been on BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed talking to Laurie Taylor about the paper (“Staying Classy: How Perceptions of Honour amongst the Working Class Prevents them from Using Nepotism to get Ahead”)  she presented at the BSA annual conference 2014. The paper explores working class students refusal to use networks and contacts as a route to career advancement.

You can listen to it on BBC  iplayer here.


Call for Papers: Bourdieu and Education at the BSA Annual Conference



The Bourdieu Study Group will be having another sub-stream in the Education Stream at the British Sociological Association’s annual conference: Societies in Transition: Progression or Regression?  The conference will take place at the Glasgow Caledonian University from 15-17 April 2015.

We invite submissions relating to the broad theme of Bourdieu and education and would particularly welcomed submissions for symposiums consisting of three to four papers.

The BSA Annual Conference is the primary annual conference for sociology in the UK with opportunities for everyone connected to the discipline and we would encourage member to submit abstracts to other streams if your work does not fall into our study group category. The themes of the BSA annual conference is deliberately broad and all-encompassing, designed to appeal to the entire spectrum of sociologists


Abstract Submission
Please submit your abstracts to the main BSA abstract submission site. For papers wanting to present in the Bourdieu sub-stream please use the heading: ‘For the attention of the Bourdieu Study Group’.  If the abstract is part of a symposium please also include in the heading: ‘ Symposium and then the symposium’s name.

The abstract submission deadline is 17 October 2014


17 October 2014 – Abstract submission deadline.

5 December 2014 – Abstract decision received no later than this date.

16 January 2015 – Presenter booking deadline.

20 February 2015 – Early booking rates end.

6 April 2015 – Registration closes.

A Resounding No for Are Elite Universities Meritocratic?

On Tuesday 8th of July 2014, the BSA Bourdieu Study Group hosted an event at Cardiff University on inequalities and reproduction in higher education (HE). The event was entitled ‘Are Elite Universities Meritocratic?’ – yes, we know it’s an oxymoron. The event brought together two highly regarded scholars in the field who delivered keynote talks – Professor Diane Reay and Dr Vikki Boliver – as well as an expert panel to debate ‘fair’ access in HE consisting of; Professor David James (Cardiff University), Professor Harriet Bradley (University of West of England) and Mr Richard Smith (Higher Education Funding Council for England – HEFCE).





Dr Vikki Boliver’s keynote talk on ‘meritocracy’ and ‘fairness’ in elite university admissions debunked the rhetoric that school attainment is the biggest barrier for elite university entry for ethnic minority applicants, arguing that students from ethnic minority backgrounds with good grades are still less likely to receive offers. Often lower rate of ethnic minority students at Oxbridge and Russell Group universities is ‘blamed’ on them typically clustering in certain subjects areas, yet Oxford won’t release any analysis on this. One of the problems, Boliver argued, is that admission in subjects/areas with high concentration of black and minority ethnicity (BME) candidates are established on the proportional ‘representativeness’ of those groups in wider society. Such a pursuing of ‘representativeness’ is at the cost of equal treatment/fairness at an aggregate level rather than an individual one. Oversubscription on certain degree courses does not completely explain why these applicants have lower offer rates. Boliver talked about her frustration at admission data not being openly available. In 2013, UCAS started to deny data to all independent third parties. ‘They must open up their data to scrutiny and proper analysis’, argues Boliver.




Admission selectors may also recruit in their own image or be influenced by unconscious bias. Coincidentally, an article Boliver wrote for the Guardian, ‘Why do Elite Universities Admit so Few Ethnic Minority Applicants’, was published on the day of the event. It revealed that the universities of Oxford and Cambridge recently published figures showing that British ethnic minorities are significantly less likely than their white British peers to be offered places, with Russell Group universities making offers to 55% of white applicants but 23% of black ones. Boliver states that this worrying ‘under-representation of British ethnic minority students at elite UK universities is being investigated as part of an all-party parliamentary inquiry led by David Lammy MP’.


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Professor Diane Reay’s keynote talk, ‘Elite universities and their centrality in the reproduction of educational inequalities’, drew on Bourdieu’s work; The State Nobility: Elite Schools in the Field of Power and Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture. Quoting Bourdieu on the ‘triumphant ignorance’ of elites was well received by the audience.


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Reay argued that there is too much sameness and not enough difference at elite universities, compounding inequalities in social class reproduction and institutional racism. Oxbridge is the equivalent of a finishing school for the privately educated. The audience were shown shocking quotes by Oxbridge admission tutors illustrating the terrible prejudices at play. They were also told that in the same year only 50 pupils entitled to free-school-meals (FSMs) across the entire UK were admitted to Oxbridge while 60 pupils from Eton were admitted. Reay argues that ‘positive discrimination is at play in Oxbridge. It works to help elite students gain further advantage.’ Even when working-class students manage to get a place at Oxbridge, they struggle to access financial hardship bursaries. Only 30% of Cambridge bursary allowance is allocated. The bursaries at the richest exclusive colleges go undistributed as they have very small or no intake of poorer students. Reay told of how Cambridge has an estimated £76,000 per head per year compared to Liverpool Hope University which has £7, 500 per head per year. In addition, working-class students at Oxbridge have to deal with higher levels of intellectual anxiety as well as the unease of what to do after their degree, while the privileged students often talked of ‘backup plans’ involving the nepotistic safety net of wide and powerful networks.


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During the panel discussion, Professor Harriet Bradley reflected on the habitual symbolic violence operating in HE and the sense of superiority inflicted by the privileged on the working-class. Privately educated students often have the verbal confidence that silences working-class students. Comparing social mobility to previous years, Bradley argued that ‘we are seeing a fossilisation of the class structure and the re-emergence of a narrative from the working-classes that “university is not for the likes of us”. The concept of meritocracy is a sham that needs to be exposed. What’s worse, adds Bradley, is that universities that were once the centre of critique are in decay, as the role of the universities now is seemingly to maintain the status quo. Her hope is to foster a new generation of critical thinking radicals.



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Professor David James applied a Bourdieusian framework to the issue, stressing the importance of using the concept of capital as relational and convertible: ‘We need to understand where and when capital is gained and the misrecognition that functions to manufacture inequalities in education.’ James also made the case that policies such as ‘widening participation’ exacerbates hierarchies and the language of ‘outreach’/‘hard-to-reach’/‘reaching-out’ is a discursive construction of the problem. He suggested affirmative action is a way to make entry to elite universities fairer. From the floor, Dr Richard Waller reasoned that if elite universities are so confident in their own superiority then they should accept ‘lower’ performing students. Richard Smith from HEFCE said he felt sorry for Oxbridge, as it is regularly used as the ‘whipping-boy’ in the debate on fair access at Britain’s ‘top’ universities.


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Jessie Abrahams, BSA Bourdieu Study Group co-convenor, spoke of how she had been inspired to organise the event after a discussion on the study group’s Facebook page when an article was published in Times Higher Education – ‘Oxford students deny role of class in elite admissions’, which drew on research conducted by Professor Natasha Kumar Warikoo and Dr Christina Fuhr. The research found that undergraduates ‘reproduce social inequality by asserting that they won their place at Oxford on “merit” alone.’ Furthermore, despite the students’ awareness that many British young people do not have access to educational experiences that would make Oxbridge an attainable goal, they would not support changes for more equitable admission procedures across class and/or ‘racial’/ethnic lines. Jessie spoke about how the event has given the opportunity to explore the argument often used in defence of Oxbridge admissions that structural inequalities are the ‘real’ cause of disadvantage of entry to elite institutions. No one is denying this, but it still wouldn’t explain why those applicants from working-class and ethnicity minority backgrounds who do manage to get the same grades as privately educated pupils still have lower offer rates. On the question of whether elite universities are meritocratic, it was a resounding no.

The day finished with a wine reception funded by Cardiff School of Social Science. As per usual the Bourdieu Study Group had inclusive after event dinner.


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BOOKING NOW OPEN ‘On the Street Where you Live’: Bourdieusian analysis of socio-spatial hierarchy 



Tuesday 2nd December 2014, London

Key Note SpeakersDr Paul Watt (Birkbeck)  Dr Michaela Benson (Goldsmith) Dr Tracey Jensen (UEL)  Dr Simon Harding (Middlesex University) and Stephen Crossley (Durham)

The relations between the social world and urban space have been of interest to sociologists since the Chicago School’s human ecology tradition. In today’s globalised world, urbanisation is increasingly manifesting itself in people’s everyday lives, expressed through the diverse social, cultural and political space in which class, cultural and gender differences are continuously produced, contested and reworked. The move towards austerity in UK government’s fiscal policy, the weakening of state planning for urban growth and changes in residences from state property to private property has resulted in escalating house prices and the gentrification of traditionally ‘no go’ areas for the middle-class.  Social divisions and sociocultural relationships are becoming ever more spatially generated.

In Distinction (Bourdieu, 1984) survey data was gathered in Paris, Lille and an unspecified agricultural town. However, Distinction focused on social class and the spatial dispositions and relation to the ‘cosmopolitan metropolis’ habitus of Paris as major global city was unexplored (Butler, 2002). Nevertheless, Bourdieu’s conceptualisation of distinction as a relation of social differences is useful in analysing socio-spatial hierarchy of neighbourhoods as well as the wider processes of segregation along preconceived lines of ‘race’, ethnicity, religion or social class.

Over the last decade urban studies have increasingly drawn on Bourdieusian theory to examine the practices and trajectories of individuals and classes in an urban setting. This event will bring together participants for discussion and debates on socio-spatial stratification in an increasingly middle-class city as well as social exclusion of  the inner-city working classes and the usefulness of Bourdieu’s theory in analysing these issues.


9.15-9.45 Registration and Refreshments Introduction

10.00-11.15 Key Note: Dr Michaela Benson (Goldsmith) Place-making? Middle-class residential choice, trajectories and dynamics.

11.15-11.30 Comfort Break

11.30-13.30 Panel Key Notes:

Dr Tracey Jensen


A Good School and a Decent Cup of Coffee: connecting the mundane desires of parental gentrifiers to the politics of displacement

Stephen Crossley(Durham)’Looking at the family from the inside out’: social space and symbolic power in the Troubled Families Programme.

Dr Simon Harding

 Middlesex University

The Street Casino: Survival in violent street Gangs (London Street Gangs using Bourdieu)

13.30-14.30 Lunch

14.30-15.45 Key Note: Dr Paul Watt (Birkbeck) ‘On the Street Where You Won’t be Living for Much Longer’: What Bourdieu Can and Cannot Offer Urban Studies’

15.45-16.15 Refreshment Break

16.15-17.15 Workshop Discussions

Workshop One:

Dr Michaela Benson

Workshop Two:Dr Paul Watt

Workshop Three:

Dr Tracey Jensen and Stephen Crossley

17.15-17.30 Closing Remarks

This event costs £28 for BSA student members, £33 for BSA-members and £43 for non BSA members.

Refreshments and lunch are included

Early booking is recommended as we anticipate this to be a popular event. There will be 30 places available. Booking to open soon.

The event will take place at the BSA meeting room in Imperial Wharf London

To register for this event please go to the BSA events site.

For academic queries contact: Jenny Thatcher:

For further info contact:  or (0191) 383 0839

For more info about the BSA Bourdieu Study Group: