The complexity of educational elitism: moving beyond misrecognition

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Critical, and in particular Bourdieusian, sociology of education is often suspicious about educators when they describe their ideal students. It tends to see these descriptions as euphemisations, so that apparently intellectual assessments are really elitist evaluations about students’ class positions. However, this way of thinking about educators can lead to reductive accounts in which actors are completely blind to the real meaning of their beliefs, which must be unveiled by sociologists. In this article I utilise Luc Boltanski’s pragmatic sociology to offer an alternative model of educators’ accounts, in which there is no real meaning to be unveiled, but rather a complex mix of meanings held in educators’ minds at once. Analysing interview data with those teaching on new liberal arts degrees in English universities, I demonstrate what can be gained by staying with the complexity of participants’ own accounts, rather than mining them for one fundamental truth.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)927-941
Number of pages15
JournalBritish Journal of Sociology of Education
Issue number7
Early online date14 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2020


  • elitism
  • Luc Boltanski
  • pragmatic sociology
  • Pierre Bourdieu
  • misrecognition
  • liberal arts


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