Constructing a graduate career future: Working with Bourdieu to understand transitions from university to employment for students from working‐class backgrounds in England

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In high participation systems of higher education, the link between undergraduate study and progression to graduate employment is increasingly tenuous. One response is a growing emphasis on the development of employability skills and preparing students to take advantage of future opportunities as part of university study. This paper uses a Bourdieusian‐based conceptualisation of graduate capitals, combined with a concern for the psycho‐social dimensions of classed experience, to consider transitions through university and into employment for students from working‐class backgrounds in England, drawing on data from a study of students who attended the two universities in Bristol UK. It is argued that the assemblage of capitals that make up graduate capital could be seen as constituting a form of symbolic capital with magical powers, that hides the power relations involved in successful progression to graduate futures. While the move from university into work is more prolonged and precarious for students from all backgrounds, access to the resources that enable the development and mobilisation of graduate capitals, along with psycho‐social dimensions of class, create additional challenges for the development of viable graduate career identities for working‐class students such as those discussed in this paper. The paper concludes by noting implications for policy and practice.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)78-92
JournalEuropean Journal of Education
Issue number1
Early online date20 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2021