Theorizing cohortness: (mis)fitting into student geographies

Gavin Brown, Peter Kraftl

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This paper advances a theory of “cohortness” for understanding the experience and articulation of identities. Using a case study focusing on higher education students, we argue that thinking in terms of cohorts enables an alternative way to examine how people perform, feel, and express their subjectivities collectively, especially within institutional spaces. Our analysis is based on an ongoing research‐education project, which ran over five years and involved over 250 undergraduate students at a post‐1992 UK university. The project involved large groups of students engaging in an exercise on “mis/fitting,” which encouraged them to articulate (as individuals and groups) which identities it was “easy” to perform/hold/display as students, and which it was not. The project also involved a range of subsequent reflective discussions with each group. Our data provide striking insights into how year groups produce “cohortness” in different ways and across intersecting scales. In this paper, we focus on three key themes, which are underpinned by an often ambivalent articulation of contemporary neoliberal ideals: mixtures of deliberation and chance in the production of in‐class, micro‐spatial, intertextual dialogues; the intersection of norms and commonalities in the naming of some identity groups (such as sporting interests) and hiding of others (such as fandom); and the significance of personality, performative, and/or bodily traits compared with other aspects of identity.
Original languageEnglish
JournalTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Publication statusPublished - 28 Mar 2019


  • cohorts
  • encounter
  • England
  • identity
  • intersectionality
  • student geographies


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