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International Research Conference, Lancaster UK, 21-23 July 2014
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Examining the relations between sociology students’ accounts of knowledge and identity

Paul Ashwin, Lancaster University, p.ashwin@lancaster.ac.uk

Andrea Abbas, University of Lincoln, aabbas@lincoln.ac.uk

Monica McLean, University of Nottingham, Monica.Mclean@nottingham.ac.uk

Abstract
In his think piece, Ray Land discusses liminal transitions in relation to students’ subjectivities. In this paper we seek to explore the relations between students’ changing subjectivities and their accounts of the discipline of sociology over the course of their undergraduate degrees.

The paper draws on data from The Pedagogic Quality and Inequality in University First Degrees Project, which was a three-year ESRC-funded investigation of sociology and related social science degree courses in four universities. The institutions were given the pseudonyms Prestige, Selective, Community, and Diversity Universities in order to reflect their different reputations. The departments at Prestige and Selective have been regularly rated in the top third of UK higher education league tables for their research and teaching in Sociology, whilst those at Community and Diversity have been regularly rated in the bottom third.

Three years’ intensive fieldwork produced rich data sets, including: in-depth interviews with 98 students; 31 longitudinal case studies following students throughout the three years of their degree programmes; a survey of over 750 students; interviews with 16 staff; analysis of video recordings of teaching in each institution in each year of the degree (12 sessions); analysis of students’ assessed work (examples from each year); a focus group discussion with tutors from all four institutions about students’ assessed work; as well as documentary analysis and the collection of statistical data relating to the four departments.

This paper is based an analysis of 86 interviews with the 31 case study students who we interviewed in over the course of their undergraduate degrees. These interviews focused on students’ identities, their experiences of studying at university and their wider experiences outside of university. In each interview they were asked about how they saw sociology as a discipline. In this paper we focus on our analysis of students’ accounts of their identities and the ways in which they experienced sociology as a discipline.  We analysed our interview data using a phenomenographic approach. The focus in our analysis was on qualitative variation in the ways in which the students’ described their personal identities and their understanding of sociology as a discipline

Based on this analysis, we offer an insight into the relations between engagement with knowledge and the development undergraduates’ personal identities. Understanding these relations is crucial in gaining a better sense of the way in which a higher education makes a difference to students’ lives.


Link to Full Paper (If submitted)

Conference Organisers

Paul Trowler
Lancaster University, UK

Alice Jesmont
Lancaster University, UK

Malcolm Tight
Lancaster University, UK

Paul Ashwin
Lancaster University, UK

Murray Saunders
Lancaster University, UK

Chrissie Boughey
Rhodes University, South Africa

Suellen Shay
University of Cape Town, SA

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