Capital Gains? Empowerment and social mobility through maths achievement.

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Adult learners returning to education to study maths often do so for a wide variety of reasons, such as to build self-esteem, to help with their children's schooling, or to acquire the necessary skills for a particular job. Maths, then, can function as a commodity for societal exchange, or what Pierre Bourdieu would term “cultural capital”. This paper presents findings from a small-scale, qualitative research project that explored the impact of maths education on the lives of adult learners. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 17 participants from three separate functional skills classes and a narrative analysis was undertaken to illustrate perspectives. Following the completion of a level two maths qualification, the participants were also tracked over three years and data were recorded on their involvement with further education and training, along with their employment situations. Several themes emerged from the analysis, relating to teaching and learning, career prospects, personal development, and altruism, and from this core areas of empowerment from maths were identified, as well as some instances of null impact. Using Bourdieu's concept of capital, it is argued that maths can be used as a form of empowerment for social mobility and personal development, as well as acting as a leverage tool for supporting others. Moreover, maths is seen to stimulate a “learning appetite” in adult students returning to study after many years. However, maths is also conceptualised by some as a make-or-break subject and thus carries performance pressures and even (mis)perceptions of ability.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2 Feb 2017


  • Adult education
  • Bourdieu
  • empowerment
  • cultural capital


Dive into the research topics of 'Capital Gains? Empowerment and social mobility through maths achievement.'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this