Notions of human capital and academic identity in the PhD: narratives of the disempowered

Lynette Pretorius, Luke Macaulay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


An important component of PhD students’ educational experiences is the understanding they develop of their academic identity. In this study, we explore PhD students’ expectations and lived realities during their studies through the lens of Bourdieu’s theory of practice. We show that doctoral students perceive the PhD as an all-consuming endeavor and, at the same time, a degree of competing demands. Importantly, several doctoral students’ academic identities were laden with conceptions of marginalization, which evoked feelings of disempowerment and lead to a lack of agency. Therefore, this study advocates for a doctoral environment where different forms of human capital are valued and the voices of PhD students are respected within the academy. This will ensure that future scholars are able to enter the academy with a strong sense of who they are and where they fit within their field.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)623-647
Number of pages25
JournalThe Journal of Higher Education
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • academic identity
  • agency
  • capital
  • disempowerment
  • Doctoral education
  • marginalization

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