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Investigating the Imagination of Possible and ‘Like-to-Avoid’ Selves among Higher Education Students from Different Socioeconomic Backgrounds at a Selective English University

Graduate School of Education, University of Exeter, Exeter EX4 4PY, UK
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Soc. Sci. 2020, 9(5), 67; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci9050067
Received: 31 March 2020 / Revised: 21 April 2020 / Accepted: 24 April 2020 / Published: 1 May 2020
Access to and participation in higher education (HE) remains unequal, with social background continuing to influence decisions and experiences. In this paper, we undertake a proof-of-concept design to apply the theory of ‘possible selves’, as adapted by Harrison and published in Social Sciences (2018), to university students from different socioeconomic backgrounds. In 2019, we conducted semi-structured interviews with 12 first-year students, from different socioeconomic backgrounds, currently studying at a selective English university. We applied a deductive analysis based on Harrison’s adaptation of the ‘possible selves’ model originally put forward by Markus and Nurius in the 1980s. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds had a clear drive to ‘avoid’ future selves that would emerge without HE. Across all socioeconomic groups, we found a strong sense of agency, and a strong personal belief in success. Overall, our study shows that the model of possible selves is useful for understanding personalised and individualised student experiences, and the interrelation between social structure (socioeconomic condition) and agency. The model also offers a new way for practitioners to plan interventions for enhancing equity in HE access and participation. View Full-Text
Keywords: higher education access; student experience; social class; inequality; possible selves; aspirations; psychology; social mobility; practice; policy higher education access; student experience; social class; inequality; possible selves; aspirations; psychology; social mobility; practice; policy
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Barg, K.; Benham-Clarke, S.; Mountford-Zimdars, A. Investigating the Imagination of Possible and ‘Like-to-Avoid’ Selves among Higher Education Students from Different Socioeconomic Backgrounds at a Selective English University. Soc. Sci. 2020, 9, 67.

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