How are the career related decisions of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds shaped during their transition towards the end of compulsory schooling?

  • Danielle White

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis explores the two year transition period leading towards the end of compulsory schooling. It asks how young people who live in disadvantaged locations make career related choices, and is concerned with why such people often do not choose in ways that are advantageous to them. In order to provide a comprehensive understanding of how young people's career related decision-making is shaped, this study uses an approach that is both theoretically engaged and young person focused.Thirteen young people took part in the research over two years; interviews utilised visual research and analysis methods to engage with the experiences of these young people towards the end of their time studying at a secondary school in the North West of England. Data is analysed using a conceptual framework that incorporates selected 'thinking tools' from Bourdieu (1977) to explore the structural influences shaping career ideas that are typical for this group (i.e. 'field', 'habitus', 'social capital' and 'cultural capital'). The concept of reflexivity is also used to consider the presence of and potential for these young people to exercise agency within the structurally embedded context in which they are situated.The study demonstrates the ways in which the career ideas of these young people are heavily shaped by the environment they inhabit and, therefore, typically reproduce the existing, limited range of occupations already prevalent within the community. The social networks participants engage with when contemplating their ideas are critical in this process of reproduction since they mediate transference of cultural capital to the habitus. Such networks tend to be insular and made up of close family and friends. However, there is also evidence that reflexivity within this context is possible, and this can be vital in promoting social mobility - but this requires the creation of spaces where young people can reflect and discuss their experiences and options with actors who are genuinely seen as trustworthy (I argue that this occurred for some participants through this research process). Finally, the study concludes that although reflexivity is atypical for students from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, in certain circumstances it shows the potential to be transformative.
Date of Award1 Aug 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAndrew Howes (Supervisor) & Laura Black (Supervisor)


  • Place
  • young people
  • Bourdieu
  • Youth transition
  • Sociology of education

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