Útvalin og úrvals: Stofnanaháttur elítuskóla og vegferð stúdentsefna í Reykjavík og Helsinki

Translated title of the contribution: The consecrated youth and the institutional habitus of elite upper-secondary schools in the urban North

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This study explores the choices and experiences and future aspirations of Icelandic and Finnish students. When the research is conducted, they are finishing their matriculation exams at the upper-secondary education level from schools known as elite schools in terms of academic performance. The paper is based on the authors’ recent publication (Berglind Rós Magnúsdóttir & Kosunen, 2022) with a deeper analysis of the Icelandic case and a more nuanced analysis of the institutional habitus of the two elite schools in Reykjavík. The Nordic countries are often presented as model societies with high levels of happiness, commitments to democratic and meritocratic processes and low levels of corruption and elitism. However, in recent years, the social and cultural landscapes of the educational field in Nordic cities have been changing into multicultural, class divergent and marketoriented societies. Recent studies show the increasing correlation between student achievement and b) their backgrounds (Elsa Eiríksdóttir et al., 2022) as well as b) socio-geographical accumulation of economic and/or educational capital in certain neighbourhoods and schools (Berglind Rós Magnúsdóttir et al., 2020). The hierarchy among schools at the upper-secondary level has become steeper, and the route to success through the education system is muddier. Thus, exploring if and how elitist institutions and identities are constructed and socially reproduced in Icelandic educational contexts and practices is important. The elites are the dominant agents in a certain social space, the field of power. Elite identity formation is shaped differently from one nation to another, but generally, the secondary and higher education system has an important role in its (re)production (Bourdieu, 1998; Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977). In both countries, all the general uppersecondary schools can selectively assess their students based on academics. In Finland, there is a standardised matriculation exam, but in Iceland, there are no standardised tests that direct the transition between school levels. This paper is a comparative qualitative case study utilizing Bourdieu’s concepts of the interplay between habitus, capitals, and fields to examine elite educational institutions and the experiences and aspirations of their students. Semi-structured individual interviews were conducted with 20 students. Highly selective schools tend to produce what Bourdieu (1998, p. 102) described as a ‘consecrated elite, that is, an elite that is not only distinct and separate but also recognised by the other and by itself as worthy of being so. In our analysis, we extend the concept of habitus to capture the set of predispositions, takenfor-granted expectations and schemes of perception based on which schools are organised (Reay et al., 2005; Tarabini et al., 2017), what has been referred to as institutional habitus. This is done through the voices of students and background information derived from their administration. The students did not experience much disjuncture between habitus and field in these two cities. Educational choices were shaped and restricted by the inherited capital of their families, peers and/or friends, especially in Iceland, while in Finland that was mainly visible when confronted with HE choices. Family and fellow students’ values were ingrained into the habitus, and the awareness of privilege and class position was limited, as the schools were filled with other young people from higher social classes. The feeling of being the ‘right’ student for the school is an enactment of their habitus fitting well in highly selective education. There were narratives of consecrative moments because of students’ visibility as members of elite institution, in terms of respect and popularity on the social media. The few students who experienced being out of place were coming from a more sociocultural distance in terms of social class, despite their good school attainment. In both countries, these students were strongly directed towards status or canonical disciplines in universities. An obvious class (re)production mechanism drives their HE choices shaped by the institutional habitus of their upper-secondary schools and inherited capitals. The actual admission to the ‘right’ universities and disciplines requires certain capital and habitus formation that is further nuanced in the general upper-secondary schools of these selected few students.
Translated title of the contributionThe consecrated youth and the institutional habitus of elite upper-secondary schools in the urban North
Original languageIcelandic
Pages (from-to)1-20
Publication statusPublished - 14 May 2024

Other keywords

  • Upper-secondary education
  • Elite education
  • Higher education
  • Transition
  • Educational choices
  • Bordieu
  • Habitus
  • Social class
  • Educational opportunity


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