Thinking with and beyond Bourdieu in widening higher education participation

Sue Webb, Penny Burke, Susan Nichols, Steven Roberts, Garth Stahl, Steven Threadgold, Jane Wilkinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


This article argues that to better investigate the enduring relationship between social class background and inequalities in post-compulsory education necessitates a more comprehensive approach to thinking with Bourdieu, but also a need to move beyond his seminal, much used concepts. Through meta-analysis, we review how Bourdieusian theory has been used in widening participation research in mainly Anglophone contexts, and consider how including concepts from his wider ‘toolbox’ can aid this pursuit. We consider new theories and concepts that have emerged largely after Bourdieu and their appropriateness for research in Australian higher education. We explore how a ‘practice-based’ theory of widening participation might be developed, drawing on the work of Schatzki and Kemmis which permits researchers to usefully consider the internal goods of a practice and the role of institutions and the non-human. We also suggest that incorporating intersectionality, as both a social theory of knowledge and an approach to analysis, facilitates exploration of routine practices and struggles and reveals the complexities, provisionality and becomingness of social positioning, subjectivities and change. Such theoretical extensions to Bourdieu’s legacy enable more nuanced understandings of how complex and intersecting social inequalities in higher education are realised or challenged in countries beyond the global north.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)138-160
Number of pages23
JournalStudies in Continuing Education
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2017


  • Access
  • Bourdieusian
  • equity
  • theory
  • universities

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