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Research Case studies

An exploration of the link between 'possible selves' and the attainment of BME students on social science courses


Funded by the HEA Centre for Sociology, Anthropology and Politics, this project was a collaboration between our University and four partner FE colleges.

The research explored the perceptions and experiences of BME and White students, including the range of 'possible selves' students describe, whether there are different narratives in different social science settings and between groups of students from different ethnic and class backgrounds, and whether elaborate notions of possible selves positively correlate with students' immediate post-graduate plans and aspirations. Nine focus groups comprising 67 students as well as 18 individual interviews took place with students on applied and basic undergraduate social science courses (social sciences Level 1 and Level 3; youth work Level 3; and development studies Level 1) and on FE Access courses. We also interviewed 6 staff.

Our results showed that whilst some students are able to concretely relate their future possible selves to present actions, others are only able to describe their future possible selves in the most general terms and are unable to connect these futures with present actions. The reasons for these differences appear complex and do not appear to be related in any simple way to race, gender or class. We found that further and higher education institutions heavily influence the development of possible selves with teachers, advisers and mentors not only sources of possible selves but also a context for their elaboration. Concrete pedagogical interventions, and in particular examples or experiences of work place settings, also seem to have a positive impact. Our results have been presented as a series of conference papers and presentations as well as a short booklet which explores the concept of future ‘possible selves’, suitable for integration into PDP elements of the social sciences curricula.

Key papers:

  • Stevenson, J. and Clegg, S. (forthcoming), “My past is a double edge sword”: temporarily and reflexivity in mature learners, Studies in Continuing Education

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