Re-thinking aspirations through habitus and capital: The experiences of British-born Bangladeshi women in higher education

Berenice Scandone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (SciVal)


Since the turn of the century, young people’s aspirations have featured prominently in UK education policy and practice. Governments of all sides have espoused a rhetoric and enacted initiatives which have tended to focus on somehow ‘correcting’ the aspirations of students of working-class and minority ethnic origins. This paper applies a Bourdieusian framework to the analysis of the education and career aspirations of British-born young women of Bangladeshi heritage in higher education. In doing so, it advances a theoretically informed understanding of aspirations, which accounts for the multiple factors that contribute to shape them as well as for the relative implications in terms of future pathways. Drawing on interviews with 21 female undergraduate students, and building on Bourdieu’s notions of habitus and capital, I conceptualise aspirations as an aspect of habitus. I argue that this conceptualisation allows light to be shed on the ways in which multiple, intersecting dimensions of social identity and social structures play out in the shaping, re-shaping and possibly fading of aspirations. Additionally, it enables us to examine the mutually informing influences of aspirations and capital on practice. Findings indicate that the valuing of education and social mobility expressed by those of Bangladeshi and other minority ethnic origins are integral to collective constructions of ‘what people like us do’, which are grounded in diasporic discourses. They also illuminate the significance of social and cultural capital for young people’s capacity to aspire and actualise aspirations, as these contribute to delineate their ‘horizons for action’. This suggests that by failing to adequately recognise how structural inequalities inform differential access to valued capital, prevailing policy and practitioners’ approaches attribute excessive responsibility to students and their parents. The notion of ‘known routes’ is in this respect put forward as a way to make sense of aspirations, expectations and pathways, and the role of institutions in forging possible futures is highlighted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)518-540
Number of pages23
Issue number4
Early online date13 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2018


  • Aspirations
  • Bourdieu
  • capital
  • class
  • employment
  • ethnicity
  • habitus
  • higher education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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