Formation of identity and individualization among undergraduate law students

Senior Common Room - Law Building
Arts and Law, Research
Wednesday 3rd May 2017 (13:00-14:00)
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Rob Doolan,

BLS Staff Seminar

Piers von Berg 
(Doctoral researcher at Institute of Education, UCL and Teaching Fellow, University of Birmingham)

The relationship between university and the formation of civic identity is a paradoxical and perplexing one. It is well documented and declared by universities that higher education can foster citizenship. If so, the steady upward trend in attendance contrasts sharply with the persistent downward trend of non-participation and support for democratic values among young people. It raises the question of what kind of civic identity is emerging among undergraduates and the nature of the influence of universities on it. This is an important question, to understand the characteristics of late-modern democracies and the role of universities in the creation of a graduate class during an extended transition to adulthood.

This pilot research project sought to address the question of how identities are being formed among undergraduate students and the impact of university life and study on it. It used questionnaires and semi-structured interviews with 13 law students at the author’s university. It found that students were individually and reflexively constructing their identities with significant influence from their families. There was a pronounced dichotomy of instrumentalist and prosocial values. The data was suggestive of students pursuing identity capital in an individualized fashion with little evidence of collective civic identities.