Life-histories of male "non-traditional" students in two of Scotland's ancient universities
Winterton, Mandy Teresa
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This exploratory study examined the life-histories of 21 men who were mature (27years+ ), full-time students in two Scottish ancient universities. Most were first-generation entrants. Individual semi-structured interviews asked about the men's origins and lives so far. The aim was to understand men as gendered beings, and to consider the dynamics that had impacted on their lives. Though useful findings in their own right, the research also used this data to consider sociological theories of contemporary identity/ies, and to contemplate Bourdieu's theories of social-class reproduction. The legacy of trying to promote equal opportunities through education made Scotland an important test-bed for widening participation. Ancient universities were selected to throw dimensions of educational inclusion/exclusion into relief. Researching male 'first-generation' students responded to concerns that men from manual origins should return to education given the dissolution of their traditional roles. The research found few 'hybrid' identities, as experienced by first-generation students in other research. This may reflect the men's complex cultural trajectories prior to university, and distancing from former working-class origins. Adopting 'student' identities held few problems. 'Traditional' students were seen as insecure, and mature students as providing a valuable contribution to the institution. For older men, student-hood fulfilled a latent ambition. For others, 'student' added a more positive aspect to their previous identities. The post-modem celebration of playful identities was dismissed, as even playful uptakes revealed politically darker sides. There was more support for the self-reflexive identity project, which was gendered in that (with some notable exceptions) it was constructed in the context of traditional gender relationships. Bourdieu's conceptual framework was useful in explaining these 'divergent trajectories'. The Catholic community could be seen to promote a class-fraction habitus, which valued education, commitment and social networks. Residing in university-rich cities reduced the cultural distance between the men and HE, whilst the 'flexible' labour market created spaces where men from manual origins worked alongside undergraduate and graduate others. Such influences were compatible with Bourdieu' s theories. However, there was another influence that Bourdieu was less successful at explaining. The matrimonial field did not operate with the logic of other fields. Graduate women formed long-term relationships with these men, despite significant differences in their capitals. For Bourdieu, class endogemony is a key part of class reproduction. That is challenged here; human emotion cannot be reduced to simple logic. Furthermore, cities offer importance spaces for the reconfiguration of gender (as well as class) dynamics.