Loughborough University

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Social class and the cultivation of capital: undergraduate PE students’ socialisation in sport and physical activity

journal contribution
posted on 2023-02-08, 09:26 authored by Michael Roy Hobson, Rachel SandfordRachel Sandford, Julie StirrupJulie Stirrup, Gareth WiltshireGareth Wiltshire
Social class inequalities in accessing sport persist across the western world as a result of financial, social and cultural factors. Research to date largely explores how inequalities impact both accessing and practicing sport and physical activity–identifying patterns and differences between social classes but failing to identify the long-term implications such as how students exchange these as official qualifications and knowledge in Physical Education (PE) degrees. In this paper, we use Bourdieu’s concepts of capital, and to a lesser extent habitus and field to theorise about sport as sites of socialisation that shapes the composition and volume of capital students enter PE degrees with. To date, research suggests the role socialisation and informal learning plays in shaping PE students’ development of valued dispositions, but often overlooks the intersecting impact of social class. We draw on data from seventeen undergraduate students, studying a non-teacher training PE degree, in the UK. The data presented is selected from interviews exploring how the fields of family, school, extra-curricular sport and the geo-demography of the area they grew up in shaped their access to and practice of Sport/PA. Furthermore, it indicates class differences exist in both the key sites and agents of socialisation. We suggest this has ramifications, in relation to the volume and composition of capital PE students enter Higher Education (HE) with, highlighting the importance for PE staff in HE to be aware of this. Consequently, we demonstrate prior socialisation contributes to students’ differing experiences of PE degrees, potentially shaping inequalities resulting from their capacity to exchange capital when studying PE at university. This paper encourages PE staff in universities to question the assumption parity of entry qualification results in all students entering HE with same access to knowledge and experiences valued in PE degrees.



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

Published in

Sport, Education and Society


Taylor & Francis


  • AM (Accepted Manuscript)

Rights holder

© Taylor & Francis

Publisher statement

This is an Accepted Manuscript version of the following article, accepted for publication in Sport, Education and Society. Michael Roy Hobson, Rachel Sandford, Julie Stirrup & Gareth Wiltshire (2022) Social class and the cultivation of capital: undergraduate PE students’ socialisation in sport and physical activity, Sport, Education and Society, DOI: 10.1080/13573322.2022.2146084. It is deposited under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Dr Rachel Sandford. Deposit date: 7 February 2023