Research Article Open Access

Transformation or Transgression? Institutional Habitus andWorking Class Student Identity

Tina Byrom and Nic Lightfoot


Problem statement: Whilst evidence continues to highlight disparity in Higher Education (HE) participation rates across social groups, there continues to be small numbers of young people from social groups 4-7 choosing to go to university. However, university experience varies across the different social groups and differing social positions appear to influence the higher education institution students apply to and secure places in. Whilst this raises questions concerning the potential for social mobility, it also points to issues concerning how young people, who are first generation students, cope with the emerging theoretical distance between themselves and their families, once they begin to embrace university life (an issue that can negatively impact on student retention and achievement). A body of literature deals with such issues within institutions that are considered to be elite, but there is little that focuses specifically on students within post-1992 institutions-institutions that tend to be viewed as less prestigious. Approach: This research attempts to fill this apparent gap by exploring the ways in which first generation students within a post-1992 institution understand and explain their identity transformation as they progress through their undergraduate programme. A qualitative approach was used to gather data. A questionnaire was administered to a Year 1 undergraduate cohort (comprising 120 students) in a post-1992 institution. This approach was used to establish a sample of first generation students. All students who identified themselves as first generation students were emailed and invited to take part in the research. Semi-structured interviews with 10 students took place. Results: Results would suggest that when students continue to live at home whilst studying, their identity transformation or transgression from a family based habitus is not as pronounced as for students who leave home and live on campus. Conclusion/Recommendations: This research has potential to inform H.E policy on transition processes and retention and contributes to a recognition beginning in the literature that not all first generation students see higher education as transgression.

Journal of Social Sciences
Volume 8 No. 2, 2012, 126-134


Submitted On: 18 January 2012 Published On: 18 February 2012

How to Cite: Byrom, T. & Lightfoot, N. (2012). Transformation or Transgression? Institutional Habitus andWorking Class Student Identity. Journal of Social Sciences, 8(2), 126-134.

  • 10 Citations



  • Higher Education (HE)
  • Office of National Statistics (ONS)
  • Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD)
  • widening participation
  • identity transformation