‘I can breathe, finally’: pasts, presents and (imagined) futures of working-class young women and girls engaged in beauty education

Walters, Hannah (2020) ‘I can breathe, finally’: pasts, presents and (imagined) futures of working-class young women and girls engaged in beauty education. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Due to Embargo and/or Third Party Copyright restrictions, this thesis is not available in this service.


This thesis examines the social and educational experiences of working-class young women and girls engaged in vocational beauty education in the West of Scotland, with research taking place at three further education colleges. Through qualitative interviews with staff and students, supplemented with classroom observations, the pasts, presents and (imagined) futures of working-class girls are explored. Taking a feminist-Bourdieusian theoretical approach, the school experiences of working-class girls are identified as a central driver for economic and educational inequalities later in life, with school having been experienced as a space of ‘networks of violence’ relating to fights, bullying and complicated, often hostile, relationships. These inequalities include the structuring of post-compulsory educational pathways which are highly gendered and classed, intergenerationally reproducing working-class women’s disadvantage. At the same time, and contrary to the ways in which vocational education tends to be criticised from both skills-based and feminist perspectives, the thesis (re-)examines beauty education in terms of valuable opportunities for social capital, and ‘use-value’, highlighting the creative, meaningful aspects of beauty education for working-class girls. Finally, participants’ imagined futures are examined. In particular, it is argued that uncertainty represents a key theme of discussions around imagined futures, which manifests as curbed ambitions based on current economic positions and class- and gender-informed plausibility structures. This final findings chapter also examines both the enduring power of the local habitus, as well as its evolution and reconfiguration, through participants’ narratives of aspirations, resistance and meaningful work.
In doing so, the thesis mobilises Bourdieusian concepts of violence (through the application of ‘networks of violence’); habitus and dialectical confrontation; and capital, as a means by which to explore working-class girls’ educational and social experiences, as well as their imagined futures and what structures these. In particular, it will be argued that the local (working-class, feminine) habitus of the participants of this study was in conflict with the institutional habitus of the school, yet aligned well with the institutional habitus at work in beauty learning spaces. The interplay of participants’ local habitus and its evolution is then explored in terms of how this tension impacts imagined futures for working-class girls.

Overall, this thesis contributes to contemporary discussions regarding the function of both class and gender in informing inequalities at work under late modernity, including the structuring of post-16 educational options, and transitions to work for young people. It also contributes to theoretical debates around the application of the ‘institutional habitus’, widening these discussions to include empirically-informed notions of institutional and local habitus alignment. Finally, and building on the work of feminist Bourdieusian scholars, this project contributes empirical data to theoretical discussions of value, in particular the notion of ‘use- value’ and its function for working-class young women and girls.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Girls, girlhood, class, beauty, education, feminist, creative methods.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
L Education > L Education (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Education
College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences
Funder's Name: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Supervisor's Name: Doyle, Dr. Lesley and Batchelor, Dr. Susan
Date of Award: 2020
Embargo Date: 27 September 2023
Depositing User: Dr Hannah Walters
Unique ID: glathesis:2020-81673
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 29 Sep 2020 08:36
Last Modified: 25 Oct 2023 13:26
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/81673

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