'Strangers in Paradise'? : working-class students in elite universities

Diane Reay, Gill Crozier, John Clayton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

424 Citations (Scopus)


This article draws on case studies of nine working-class students at Southern, an elite university. It attempts to understand the complexities of identities in flux through Bourdieu’s notions of habitus and field. Bourdieu (1990a) argues that when an individual encounters an unfamiliar field, habitus is transformed. He also writes of how the movement of habitus across new, unfamiliar fields results in ‘a habitus divided against itself ’ (Bourdieu, 1999a). Our data suggest more nuanced understandings in which the challenge of the unfamiliar results in a range of creative adaptations and multi-faceted responses. They display dispositions of self scrutiny and self-improvement – almost ‘a constant fashioning and re-fashioning of the self ’ but one that still retains key valued aspects of a working-class self. Inevitably, however, there are tensions and ambivalences, and the article explores these, as well as the very evident gains for working-class students of academic success in an elite HE institution.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1103-1121
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2009


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