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'Classification' and 'Judgement': social class and the 'cognitive structures' of choice of Higher Education

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The issue of social-class-related patterns of access to Higher Education (HE) has become a matter of public debate in the UK recently, but is on the whole portrayed one-sidedly in terms of issues of selection (elitism), and the social dimensions of choice are neglected. Here, drawing on an Economic and Social Research Council research study, choice of HE is examined using Bourdieu's concepts of 'classification' and 'judgement'. HE is viewed in terms of its internal status differentiations. Students' positive and negative choices are addressed using qualitative and quantitative data, and the 'accuracy' of status perceptions are also tested. It is argued that choices are infused with class and ethnic meanings and that choice-making plays a crucial role in the reproduction of divisions and hierarchies in HE, but also that the very idea of choice assumes a kind of formal equality that obscures 'the effects of real inequality'. HE choices are embedded in different kinds of biographies and institutional habituses, and different 'opportunity structures'.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2002

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