Facing Potential Failure: Men, Masculinities, and Self-Worth Protecting Strategies in Highly Competitive Learning Contexts

Friday, July 18, 2014: 11:40 AM
Room: F201
Oral Presentation
Anne-Sofie NYSTRÖM , Mälardalen University, Västerås, Sweden
The aim of this qualitative project is to explore how male students’ self-images and self-worth are negotiated in higher education and, particulary, in an elite program and in relation to potential failure. How do masculine and student identities intersect in a context signified by class privilege and high ability and achievement? How is failure/success constructed and what kind of implications does it have socially and in terms of male students’ identities and engagement?

Research on boys and schooling pinpoints how high-status masculinity is associated with ‘effortless’ achievement, and diligent work and anxiety with femininity in Western countries. To explore if such discourses influence students’ identities and practices in HE, or are contested, is thus of interest. While a large proportion of research on education and masculinity has focused on students-at-risk or subordinated groups, there has been a call for more research on privileged groups for a deeper understanding of educational and societal inequalities. Law studies are among the most prestigious and competitive higher education programs, in Sweden and internationally, and are dominated by high achieving students with privileged class backgrounds. Prevalence of test anxiety, antisocial and manipulative behaviour has been reported as a part of avoiding failure and striving for top-positions in such high performance oriented and competitive learning culture.

The study has an interactionist approach; consequently, identities are examined as relational, situated and accomplished in interactions. The design of the study, both theoretically and empirically motivated, is to reside on interviews law student counsellors and Swedish law students. The project is work in process, and expected to contribute to knowledge on how students and staff construct masculinity and student identities in privileged and performance-oriented contexts, particularly how gender and class informs strategies of avoiding potential failure. This small scale study is partly funded by SRHE’s Newer Research Prize 2013.