Social reproduction and higher education
: Aspirations, transitions and social inequalities in Chilean society

  • Carlos Palma Amestoy

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


After the implementation of the 1980s’ educational reform in Chile which promoted neoliberalisation in the sector, higher education underwent significant transformations. Deregulation and privatisation boosted the expansion and diversification of the system. Although these changes entailed an increase in the participation of youth from different social groups, research in the area has noted that the reproduction of social inequalities continues to be one of the main features of the system. In line with this scholarship, this research deepens the understanding of the process of social reproduction in connection with higher education. Particularly, this thesis sheds light on how higher education is implicated in the reproduction of social inequalities in Chile. In so doing, it starts with Pierre Bourdieu’s theoretical framework. Social reproduction, hence, is understood by applying Bourdieu’s conceptual triad made up of capital, field and habitus. Crucially, it is argued that social reproduction should be grasped through ‘double reading’ analysis, which requires grasping objective and mental structures separately, so as to understand the interplay between them. Adopting methodological eclecticism, this thesis shows first, drawing on a Multiple Correspondence Analysis, the state of relationships between higher education institutions and the main stakes and struggles orienting the field of institutions of higher education; then, it examines, through the analysis of forty-six qualitative interviews with secondary school students from different social classes, the process of formation, shaping and reinforcing of subjective aspirations towards higher education; and finally the homology – and instances of mismatch – between both dimensions is assessed and the action of different agents that help to reinforce this correspondence is investigated. Overall, this thesis concludes that there is a clear homology between the structure of the field, students’ positions in social space and pupils’ subjective aspirations, but there are also instances of mismatch which trigger both self-blame and system critique among students.
Date of Award23 Mar 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorWill Atkinson (Supervisor) & Paula Surridge (Supervisor)


  • Social reproduction
  • Higher education
  • Social inequalities
  • Aspirations
  • Transitions
  • Chile

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