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Get a life! Students’ strategic development of identity

Wilkinson, Jennifer; Grisoni, Louise

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Louise Grisoni


This empirical study of first year undergraduate business and management students explores how they construct their identity on arrival at university. The study aims to generate fresh insights and understanding of the experiences of students, processes and practices in higher education.

The research explores the concepts of ‘student as consumer’ and ‘identity as social comparison’ and builds on the work of Usher, Bryant and Johnston (1997), who argue that it is a 2:1 degree classification being consumed rather than goods and services. Adding further complexity to this debate we suggest that students, through a process of social comparison, are also consuming the development of identity. Here we draw on work of Knights and Roberts (1982), Knights and Wilmott (1985, 1999) who argue that an individual or group’s identity depends on how others regard and represent them.

This study surveys all first year students on undergraduate business and management degree programmes in a new university Business School. Data was collected from groups of 4-5 students who responded to three structured research questions. In addition a small number of semi structured interviews were carried out along with an online survey.

Working from an interpretive position, we argue that the research findings suggest that students construct their identity through comparative social processes in relation to past experiences, current understandings, and future expectations and aspirations. This draws together the interactive, systemic relationship between transitional experiences of moving into higher education, experiences of recognising they are a student, and expectations of learning in higher education. Consequently, we develop a framework describing the content and processes of identity formation that students undergo on their arrival into higher education.


Wilkinson, J., & Grisoni, L. (2005, June). Get a life! Students’ strategic development of identity. Paper presented at SRHE Annual Conference, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name SRHE Annual Conference
Conference Location University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Start Date Jun 9, 2005
End Date Jun 9, 2005
Acceptance Date Jan 1, 2005
Publication Date Jan 1, 2005
Deposit Date Feb 16, 2016
Publicly Available Date Feb 16, 2016
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords student identity, pedagogy, consumerism
Public URL
Additional Information Title of Conference or Conference Proceedings : SRHE Annual Conference


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