Flora Petrik works as a research associate and lecturer at the Department of Foundations of Education at the Institute for Educational Science, University of Tübingen. She studied Educational Science, German Studies and Comparative Literature in Vienna and Jyväskylä and has been an associate member of the DFG graduate program “Doing Transitions” since January 2020.
In her PhD-project, she explores the experiences of working-class students in Austrian and German Higher Education and shifts the perspective to the potentially empowering spaces at university. Her areas of focus in research and teaching include social inequality in schools and universities, qualitative methods; social class and Bourdieu's theory of practice as well as epistemological and methodological issues.
Doing Class Transitions
First-Generation Students in Austrian and German Higher Education
In recent years, educational research has illustrated how persistent social structures are: Social background has a decisive influence on study experiences, life trajectories and regulates transitions within the education system. Especially studies on higher education have shown that one’s social class is not neutralised by entering university but rather stays persistent throughout students’ educational careers. The equal distribution of opportunities remains an »illusion«, as Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron have already noted in the 1960s.
In my dissertation project, I explore a subject matter that has been gaining increasing attention during the past years: Upward mobility. I place the experiences of those who escape their supposedly predetermined fate and transgress the persistent class barriers at the centre of attention. The aim of my PhD project is to examine biographical transformations of first-generation students at university. Thus, the research project is interested in linked transitions, in particular how biographical and class transitions relate to one another. How are transitions to and in higher education shaped, produced and experienced? How is a sense of belonging constructed in the field of university? Which arrangements of time, space, actors, and practices frame and navigate upward mobility in education? Which spaces of possibility for habitual transformation open up in the process?
Drawing on case studies of 24 first-generation students across higher education institutions in Austria and Germany, the project attempts to understand the complexity of climbing up the educational ladder and examines both the normalising and empowering dimensions of upward mobility. Collecting different biographical data (biographical-narrative interviews, diary entries, autobiographical documents of one’s educational path), allows to explore the powerful interrelatedness of discourses, institutions, and individuals. Transitioning to university hence appears as a non-linear, conflicting process of becoming.