Parallel worlds in a performative universe: Bridging the gap between hegemonic capital and social experience in the lives of marginalised young women

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In this paper, disaffection with learning in the compulsory education system in England is explored and analysed. It is argued that many young people in this situation perceive social and educational injustices and thus experience subsequent marginalisation. Hegemonic capital is arguably a key factor of educational success, and a failure to illustrate such capital, such as an inability to compete with peers, can promote a reconceptualization of education and, consequently, learning (Allan, 2015). As such, the compulsory education system may be perceived by many to be incongruous with individual needs. The paper explores the educational experiences of both current and previously disengaged girls by drawing on data from two respondent groups: i) 14-16-year-olds identified as disaffected by their school who are undertaking vocational learning as a strategy for re-engagement (Allan, 2015), and ii) mature students, having returned to study adult literacy in further education (FE), reflecting on their former experiences (Duckworth, 2013). A Bourdieusian theoretical framework is utilised for uncovering the immediate and long-term impact of marginalisation. A range of qualitative data is utilised from the north-west of England, including ethnographically informed observations of the mature students in an FE college and a series of semi-structured interviews with the 14-16-year-olds in a vocational learning environment. It is argued that the English education system plays a major role in the reproduction of social class, leading to the potential marginalisation of many young women and, in many instances, their subjection to symbolic violence (Duckworth, 2013; Ade-Ojo and Duckworth, 2015). The identified trajectory suggests that a lack of dominant social capital is seen to manifest in long-term disaffection with learning, stigmatised perceptions of education, and the uptake of alternative (and often unwanted) work pathways at post-16. However, both the FE and vocational learning environments are identified as a second opportunity for learning, resulting in a reaffirmation of agency and re-engagement in learning (Allan, 2014). In particular, the recognition of females’ social acceptance, and thus alternative capital, is deemed to be a key feature for challenging disaffection. The current neo-liberalist agenda, and its arguably problematic focus on performativity, is also discussed as a potential contributory factor of the reproduction of both social and educational inequities (Ade-Ojo and Duckworth, 2015). The paper concludes with a consideration of the implications of the findings for teachers, teacher educators and policymakers and, most importantly, for the development of a more socially just education system.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 11 May 2016
EventBritish Educational Research Association (BERA) Conference - University of Leeds, United Kingdom
Duration: 13 Sept 201615 Sept 2016


ConferenceBritish Educational Research Association (BERA) Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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