Class in t’Class. ‘Troubling’ the Space of Class Identity in University Education: Accents and Dialects

  • Jackie Ferguson University of Sheffield
Keywords: Socio-economic status, elite univerities, accents and dialects, pedagogy, working class tutors and students, class identity


This paper is a commentary on the experiences of working-class students and tutors in elite universities in the United Kingdom with a particular focus on sociolinguistic aspects of accent and dialect. The way that a person speaks involves more than the exchanging of information: it is a distinguishing aspect of identity related to levels of power and prestige. There are explicit and implicit expectations around particular accents and dialects in educational contexts that result in difficult living and learning encounters for both working-class students and tutors. Ideally, student population should reflect the society from which it emanates, but a disadvantageous skew in numbers towards middle-class students and tutors persists. Standard English dialect spoken with Received Pronunciation represents the most prestigious form of speech typically used by middle-class students and tutors in university settings. This paper utilises the theoretical concepts of field, habitus and social and linguistic capital associated with Bourdieu to examine the impact of speaking with working-class accents in the university context. Some anecdotal examples from my own teaching in an elite university are included to illustrate how working-class identity might be utilised and valorised in ameliorating these experiences for all concerned.


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Author Biography

Jackie Ferguson, University of Sheffield

Jackie is a tutor in the Department of Lifelong Learning at the University of Sheffield. She is a Yorkshire woman who has been teaching Foundations of Psychology and Sociology and contributing to Health, Social Science and Academic Literacy modules in this department for the last five years. Having studied as a mature, working-class student herself, she has a strong interest in and commitment to improving the educational experiences of students from these backgrounds.