1st Edition

Gendering the First-in-Family Experience Transitions, Liminality, Performativity

By Garth Stahl, Sarah McDonald Copyright 2022
    216 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    216 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Despite efforts to widen participation, first-in-family students, as an equity group, remain severely under-represented in higher education internationally. This book explores and analyses the gendered and classed subjectivities of 48 Australian students in the First-in-Family Project serving as a fresh perspective to the study of youth in transition. Drawing on liminality to provide theoretical insight, the authors focus on how they engage in multiple overlapping and mutually informing transitions into and from higher education, the family, service work, and so forth. While studies of class disadvantage and widening participation in HE remains robust, there is considerably less work addressing the gendered experiences of first-in-family students.

    Part I: The Australian higher education context 1: Educational inequities and widening participation in Australia 2: Gender, class, and aspirations in higher education 3: Liminality, gender subjectivities, and the transition to higher education Part II: Gender subjectivities in schooling and family life 4: Family life and gendered aspirations 5: Secondary school-based influencers Part III: Liminality, gender and the transition to higher education 6: Belonging, liminality, and changing subjectivities in the first year of higher education 7: Liminal experiences with service-sector labour 8: The gendering of mental health and wellbeing 9: Cultural and ethnic lifeworlds 10: Fulfillment in the first-in-family experience Part IV: Implications for higher education policy 11—Gender, the first-in-family experience and widening participation


    Garth Stahl is an Associate Professor in the School of Education at the University of Queensland and Research Fellow for the Australian Research Council. His research interests lie on the nexus of neoliberalism and socio-cultural studies of education, identity, equity/inequality, and social change. Currently, his research projects and publications encompass theoretical and empirical studies of learner identities, gender and youth, sociology of schooling in a neoliberal age, gendered subjectivities, equity and difference, and educational reform.

    Sarah McDonald is an early career researcher in the Centre for Research in Education and Social Inclusion in Education Futures at the University of South Australia. Her current research focuses on how the intersection between gender and class interacts with higher education, and how this interaction impacts upon the construction of feminine identities for young women transitioning into university. She is interested in gendered subjectivities, girlhood, social mobility, social barriers, and inequalities in education.

    Gendering the First-in-Family Experience provides fascinating and comprehensive insight into the experiences of 48 "first-in-family" students embarking on higher education in Australia. The book draws on longitudinal data gathered over a two-year period to examine the gendered and classed patterns within these students’ lives that constrain their educational experiences and aspirations. The notion of liminality—which refers to moments of transition where there is a self-questioning of the normative—is drawn on theoretically to offer an exciting provocation to trouble these gendered and classed patterns. Despite significant government investment focused on widening participation of non-traditional students in higher education in Australia, first-in-family students remain underrepresented. This book’s nuanced and rich account of the challenges confronting this group in the transitionary period from school to higher education makes a novel and strong contribution to research and scholarship in the field of higher education.”

    Amanda Keddie, Professor of Education at Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia

    "This book provides important insights into the intersections of class and gender. Using extensive qualitative data, Stahl and McDonald carefully describe how working-class men and women negotiate and manage their university lives. Readers are offered fascinating accounts of the different ways in which these young people understand and explain their experiences. In addition to the rich empirical detail, the concept of liminality is a very important addition to the canon of scholarship on widening participation in higher education. Highly recommended."

    Wolfgang Lehmann, Professor in the Department of Sociology at Western University, Ontario, Canada

    "This is a comprehensive exploration of the role of classed and gendered subjectivities in shaping the aspirations of a group of young men and women choosing to embark on a course of higher educational study in Australia. It is very well done, offering both a strong theoretical foundation and clear conceptualisation, as well as rich and insightful data. The challenges experienced and negotiations required in navigating the decision-making and transitions are carefully presented and considered. Studies of this nature and depth are not always possible. This book is therefore a wonderful contribution to the literature in this area of aspirations, particularly for those most socially disadvantaged. I therefore recommend this book most highly."

    Carol Fuller, Professor in Sociology of Education at University of Reading, United Kingdom

    "Stahl and McDonald’s Gendering the First-in-Family Experience: Transitions, Liminality, Performativity explores the experiences of young people transitioning to university. The 48 young people who are featured are the first in their families to study higher education. Their complex negotiations of gendered subjectivities and scholarly subjectivities are brought to life in this intriguing monograph. The young people’s accounts of managing their lives in the context of families, friendships, part-time work and, of course, the university offer unique insights into what is at stake for first-in-family young men and women. Richly theorised and fast-moving this book is a must-read for scholars of gender, class and education."

    Barbara Comber, Research Professor, Centre for Research in Educational and Social Inclusion, UniSA Education Futures I University of South Australia, Australia