Negotiating a Sense of Fit in Elite Higher Education: Exploring the Identity Work of Widening Participation Students

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Warwick University


Elite higher education institutions in the UK and the US are under increasing pressure to intensify their widening participation efforts and improve access for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and other underrepresented groups. Through a case study of business and law students who participated in a widening participation scheme at an elite university in the UK, we examine how WP candidates undertake identity work in order to negotiate a sense of fit in an elite higher education setting. We make two theoretical contributions. First we show the complex identity work that social minorities undertake to negotiate a sense of fit in diversifying organisations – dynamically backgrounding and foregrounding their minority identity as the situation befits. Second we illustrate how diversity and inclusion practices form an integral component of a HE institution’s identity workspace to crucially shape the identity work that social minorities undertake to negotiate a sense of fit, illuminating how an elite university’s inclusive practices facilitate the rhetoric of diversity and enable elite HE institutions to maintain their exclusive status. We discuss the practical implications of our findings.


Original languageEnglish
JournalAcademy of Management Learning and Education
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Sep 2020