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You are reading: Why university? A case of socio-cultural reproduction in disadvantaged secondary schools

Dr Deborah Tranter

Hawke Research Institute Postgraduate Working Paper Series No 1, written by Dr Deborah Tranter


This paper draws on research undertaken as part of my doctoral thesis on the influence of school culture on the higher education aspirations of secondary students in one of the most socioeconomically and educationally disadvantaged regions in Australia: the outer northern suburbs of Adelaide. Using a case study approach, I am investigating the attitudes towards higher education of students from three schools in this area, with a particular focus on how and why these students make personal decisions about higher education.

Bourdieu’s theory of reproduction in education and his concepts of field, capital and habitus offer one explanation of the ways in which the environments in which people are raised, their conditions of cultural and material existence, shape their attitudes, their means of interpreting the world, and their capacities to engage with academic discourse (Bourdieu and Passeron 1977). Using the voices of the students and teachers, I will use Bourdieu’s theories to begin to explore and analyse how the culture of the three schools I am studying shapes the aspirations of students and contributes to their eventual post-school destinations.

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Dr Deborah Tranter currently works as a free-lance consultant in student equity practice and research and an adjunct senior lecturer at Flinders University, following nearly 20 years as a senior equity practitioner at both the University of South Australia and ANU. In her role at UniSA she was instrumental in the establishment of the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education, a member of its inaugural Board and part of the research team that produced the Centre’s foundation report for the Federal Government on Interventions early in school as a means to improve higher education outcomes for disadvantaged students (2010). President/Convener of Equity Practitioners in Higher Education Australasia (EPHEA) for 2010, 11 and 12, Deborah has successfully combined leadership in student equity policy and practice with research into questions of university access for students from disadvantaged schools at both the level of national policy and the level of local school culture.

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