‘Fitting in’ or ‘standing out’: Working-class students in UK higher education



Drawing on case studies of 27 working-class students across four UK higher education institutions, this article attempts to develop a multilayered, sociological understanding of student identities that draws together social and academic aspects. Working with a concept of student identity that combines the more specific notion of learner identity with more general understandings of how students are positioned in relation to their discipline, their peer group and the wider university, the article examines the influence of widely differing academic places and spaces on student identities. Differences between institutions are conceptualised in terms of institutional habitus, and the article explores how the four different institutional habituses result in a range of experiences of fitting in and standing out in higher education. For some this involves combining a sense of belonging in both middle-class higher education and working-class homes, while others only partially absorb a sense of themselves as students.