Higher Education

, Volume 67, Issue 2, pp 219–234 | Cite as

How do students’ accounts of sociology change over the course of their undergraduate degrees?

  • Paul AshwinEmail author
  • Andrea Abbas
  • Monica McLean


In this article we examine how students’ accounts of the discipline of sociology change over the course of their undergraduate degrees. Based on a phenomenographic analysis of 86 interviews with 32 sociology and criminology students over the course of their undergraduate degrees, we constituted five different ways of accounting for sociology. These ranged from describing sociology as a form of personal development focused on developing the students’ opinion to describing sociology as a partial way of studying the relations between people and society. The majority of students expressed more inclusive accounts of sociology over the course of their degrees. However, some students’ accounts suggested they had become disengaged with sociology. We argue that the differences in the ways that students were disengaged were not captured by our phenomenographic categories. In conclusion, we argue that our analysis illustrates the crucial role that students’ relations to knowledge play in understanding the transformative nature of higher education.


Conceptions Knowledge Phenomenography Sociology Students 



This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council [Grant Number: RES-062-23-1438]. Our warm thanks to the students and lecturers who took part in the study. We acknowledge the work of Ourania Fillipakou, Xin Gao, and Alison Kington, who conducted many of the interviews.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Educational Research, Centre for Higher Education Research and EvaluationLancaster UniversityLancasterUK
  2. 2.Centre for Educational Research and DevelopmentUniversity of LincolnLincolnUK
  3. 3.School of EducationUniversity of NottinghamNottinghamUK

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