Men Students and Negative Emotions in Prestigious Degree Programmes

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Carolyn JACKSON, Lancaster University, United Kingdom
Anne-Sofie NYSTROM, Uppsala University, Sweden
Minna SALMINEN-KARLSSON, Uppsala University, Sweden
This paper explores men students’ experiences and expressions of negative emotions, especially shame and fear. We ask how these are informed by gender, social class and higher education contexts. Context and social categories inform affect-norms, which in turn inform understandings of which kinds of emotions are legitimate to experience and express. The importance of considering affective dimensions in education has been demonstrated beyond their effects on well-being; for example, joy and pride, as well as shame, fear of failure and test-anxiety, have implications for students’ motivation, effort and choice of educational trajectories.

The paper draws on data from an ongoing qualitative, large-scale study about masculinity and self-worth protection in England and Sweden (2015-2018). Semi-structured interviews (approx. 1-1.5 hours) were conducted with approximately 150 students and staff in Law, Medicine and Physics engineering, i.e. prestigious and stressful programmes that recruit primarily top-achieving, middle-class young people.

The findings suggest that experiencing (overwhelming) pressure was expected and normalized in these milieus. This applied to both men and women, although men were seen as more likely to conceal stress and anxiety. Furthermore, expectations relating to degree programme, as well as gender, were important in shaping affect-norms. For example, whereas law and engineering students were expected to conceal ‘weaknesses’, medical students had considerably more leeway to be open about difficulties, and peers were expected to respond sympathetically. Of course, men students within programmes do not constitute a homogeneous group, so we also investigate differences at an individual level about how pressures were felt and expressed.