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Social class as a blessing in disguise? Beyond the deficit model in working-class and higher education studies

Kamil Luczaj (University of Information Technology and Management in Rzeszow, Rzeszow, Poland)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 5 September 2022

Issue publication date: 21 March 2023




The overarching question of this paper is, “What are the advantages of being an upwardly mobile academic?” The extant academic research on working-class academics has usually emphasized various kinds of “deficits” of working-class academics. In this paper, the author demonstrates that although class positions can constitute a formidable burden, they can translate into specific advantages in academia.


This study is based on the narrative, phenomenological approach, which has been applied in working-class studies and higher-education research. The empirical material comprises the collection of 25 narrative interviews conducted and analyzed according to the biographical narrative interpretive method (BNIM).


This paper looks at the experience of working-class academics from a holistic perspective, including both the downsides and upsides of being an “outsider within,” or “insider without.” It uncovers four assets of a working-class background – referred to as “navigational capital,” “revolutionary potential,” “wisdom” and a distinct “working-class pedagogy.”

Practical implications

The working-class pedagogy can be turned into support programs for working-class individuals. Their navigational capital can foster evolutionary changes and small improvements for the benefit of the entire academic community. Their revolutionary dispositions can trigger major reforms, and their unique experiences can be utilized as case studies in teaching.


This paper engages with the literature on the cultural mismatch and cleft habitus in the academic context. It analyzes the positive but rarely discussed aspects of being an upwardly mobile academic with a working-class background. By recognizing these unique assets, it engages with the literature on inclusive universities and can help make higher education more inclusive and sustainable.



This work was supported by the National Science Centre, Poland (grant ID: UMO-2019/35/D/HS6/00169).


Luczaj, K. (2023), "Social class as a blessing in disguise? Beyond the deficit model in working-class and higher education studies", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 42 No. 2, pp. 193-209.



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