Nike Person

Russell Haggar

Site Owner

Nike Person

“University’s not for Me-I’m a Nike Person”: Urban, Working-Class Young People’s Negotiations of Style, Identity and Educational Engagement Louise Archer, Sumi Hollingworth, and Anna Halsall [2007]

Introduction: Explanation of Social Class Differences in Educational Attainment: An Overview

In this introduction I summarise very briefly the main sociological approaches to the explanation of social class differences in educational achievement. I hope that beginning students will then be able to locate my summary of the original document within this overall sociological framework.

Sociologists have explained social class differences in educational achievement in terms of some combination of IQ theory [ which most sociologists criticise strongly], theories which focus on material and cultural factors external to the schools themselves and internal organisational factors operative within the national education system and the schools themselves such as setting, streaming and mixed ability teaching. It is also argued that the existence of the Independent School sector makes some contribution to social class inequalities in educational achievement.

Despite the range of material and cultural disadvantages which many working class students face there is good evidence that many working class parents and pupils have high educational aspirations including aspirations to progress to Higher Education. However, such aspirations are higher in middle class families, and it is true that some working class children have limited a spirations to progress to higher education.

There have been several studies which focus on the importance of pupil subcultures as influences on pupils’ behaviour and attainment.  For example Hargreaves argued in Social Relations in a Secondary School  that systems of streaming by ability  were important factors generating pro-school and anti-school pupils subcultures while in Learning to Labour Paul Willis argued that external factors prevalent within working class life generated a macho subculture  which encourages  some low achieving working class pupils to prioritise future employment in physically demanding manual work which requires few educational qualifications  but confirms their sense of their own masculinity. In both studies, however the pupils’ limited interest in education derives from a combination of internal and external factors.

There have also been studies of the impact of youth cultures on ethnic minority educational achievement focusing especially on the achievements of black students [ as in the work of Tony Sewell] and on the growth of disruptive behaviour among girls [ as in Lads and Ladettes by Carolyn Jackson.]

These studies do tend to focus upon the polar opposites of conformist and rebellious behaviour, but it is important to recognise that many pupils occupy an intermediate position between these poles although other studies such Phil Browne’s Schooling Ordinary Kids do  refer to a wider range of pupils’ attitudes to school .Also  in some cases pupils may strive for educational progress while simultaneously rejecting some school norms of behaviour [as in the study by Margaret Fuller on black teenage girls].

It is important to note the influences of both material and cultural factors which contribute to the development of pupil subcultures and to note the differences between theories which posit the existence of the cultural deprivation of working class pupils and those which posit their cultural difference.  We should not automatically accept that working class students are the victims of cultural deprivation as is implied by Hyman, Sugarman and Douglas because relative working class educational underachievement may be explained also by cultural difference as in the work of Willis and Bourdieu.  Professor Feinstein provides evidence that many working class children are beginning to fall behind in the educational race even before they start school and that performance in tests in the early years are very good predictors of educational achievement at ages 16-18. However, it is clear also that working class educational underachievement can also be partly explained by financial constraints and by the increasing quasi-marketisation involved in state education policy. Working class parents and their children may hope for educational success but fail to achieve it through no fault of their own.

Click here for Sutton Trust on attitudes to HE

Click here for an article on educational aspirations

Click here for lack of aspiration Amanda Spielman [OFSTED} on lack of aspiration

Click here for Widening Participation in Higher Education 2019/2020 [and scroll down to the link on Free School Meals, Gender and Ethnicity].  Published October 2021

Article Summary

“University’s not for Me-I’m a Nike Person”: Urban, Working-Class Young People’s Negotiations of Style, Identity and Educational Engagement Louise Archer, Sumi Hollingworth, and Anna Halsall [2007]

The study is informed by a Bourdieusian approach in which the pupils’ developing habitus influences their behaviour and attitudes within the educational field. Habitus is a complex concept but in broad terms an individual’s habitus comprises one’s attitudes, values and sense of self all of which influence one’s behaviour in various ways. One’s habitus is heavily influenced by one’s class and family background and by educational processes operative in schools. Thus, one can imagine thar the limitations of economic, cultural and social capital within working class families combined with consignment to lower streams within schools may shape working class students’ habitus in ways which lead them to discount the possibility of educational progress and access to higher education. However, the focus of this study is on the ways in which for some pupils the establishment of a particular cultural identity based around types of music [Hip Hop], , dress jewellery and, in particular,  trainers solidifies the pupils’ rejection of a future involving higher education.

In the study, 53 students aged 14-16 were selected from 6 London schools. They were “ostensibly working class” and comprised 23 girls and 30 boys of whom 26 were white and 27 were from a range of BAME backgrounds. All of the students lived in socially disadvantaged areas with high levels of poverty, crime and drug use. They were interviewed 3 times; a further 36 pupils took part in class discussions and there were also interviews with 19 members of staff and 5 parents.

These students in general were particularly likely to wear branded sportswear and in particular branded trainers and were in general very concerned with their physical appearance and with the need to adopt a “cool” demeanour , all of which is summarised in terms of the adoption of “Nike Identity which, the authors argue, enables the students to attain a status among their peers which  is otherwise denied  to them because they generally attend, poorly regarded , under- subscribed  and are allocated to lower sets within these schools having already gained poor SATs results. “Many of the young people in the study …..had histories of educational “failure” [ their own and within their families] and described themselves as “stupid”, “not the brightest”, “not exactly a star student” and lumped in with the “not so clever.”

The students then explain their unwillingness to opt for Higher Education in terms of aspects of their Nike identity. Thus, their preference is to enter employment as soon as possible so that they can finance continued spending on fashionable clothes which would not be possible if they were reliant solely on student loans and they are also critical of students because they are “unfashionable”. However, one pupil does state that they are unlikely to enter Higher Education because they are “not clever enough.”

The Nike Identity is very important to the pupils and when asked how important are Nike trainers , one pupil says that “they are everything” and they all tend to agree that they would lose status among their peers if they were seen to be wearing cheaper trainers although one pupil foes say that it is a pity that all pupils cannot be treated all the same rather than being vilified if they appear not to be able to afford the more expensive Nike trainers.

Although the students feel that participation in the Nike culture enables them to enhance their social status among their peers, this kind of participation also undermines these students’ formal status within the schools.  They are likely to be drawn into conflict with teachers insofar as they are flouting uniform regulation and there is evidence also that teachers, mentors and careers advisers associate participation with potentially violent behaviour by boys and with hypersexualised behaviour by girls. It is suggested also that this kind of participation is indicative of an unwillingness to work steadily toward educational success and /or with an unreadiness to believe that easy money will be available via work as rap artists or through drug dealing. In general terms the street culture is seen to inhibit learning. “You are tending to kind of battle against street culture if that’s the correct way of putting it - you know, you feel at the time when you receive classes that you’re trying to get them to put away the street culture [Head of Year].

It may reasonably be argued that these students have already been affected adversely because of their allocation to low sets and that their prospects are hardly likely to be improved by the negative stereotyping outlined above. However, we are not told how prevalent such negative stereotyping is within the sample and some pupils do indeed confess to some involvement in drug dealing which as mentioned is quite common in the areas covered by the sample. However, we do not know what proportion of youngsters who wear Nike trainers are actually involved in drug dealing nowadays. It may be a very small proportion.

Middle class students in higher sets who disassociate themselves from youth cultures may nevertheless participate in them to some extent for fear of being labelled as “nerds” by their peers while those who are attracted to youth cultures may nevertheless have educational and career ambitions which mean they do participate in youth cultures to a limited extent which will not affect their educational progress adversely. By contrast it is easy to see why working class students who have already been labelled as unlikely to achieve educational success are and much more likely to immerse themselves in youth cultures and to dismiss the possibility of Higher Education.

Students may like to read the full article for themselves. I hope it will provoke discussion

I personally wonder whether youth cultural attitudes to education are changing. We now have strong recognition that the fashion industry [ among many others] are complicit in climate changes and perhaps many school student protesters are recognising these criticisms. Also, Stormzy is helping to finance scholarships to Cambridge University thus obviously emphasising the importance of education to his many fans as is indicated in this link, where he is, however, wearing some smart, streetwise gear. Meanwhile Michael Jordan gives millions of dollars to educational causes

What do you think?