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Dr Ellen Buck

Director of Learning and Teaching

Doctoral Study

Doctoral study

Locating learning within children’s perceptions of present and future selves: a phenomenological study using funds of identity. 


Since the publication of the Dearing Report (NCIHE, 1997) there have been a series of government policies and strategies to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds in accessing higher education (HE.) Under the banner of Widening Participation, increasing educational attainment has been extolled as the way to raise low aspirations among society’s disadvantaged. There is considerable research exploring impact of class, gender, ethnicity and disability, and the ability of those from “disadvantaged backgrounds” to negotiate them. There is little research which steps back from the cultural arbitrary of educational systems and cultures, or that gives voice to younger children as they establish identities as learners within these contexts. 

The aim of my research was to understand the experiences of learning for children at a life-stage of physical and social transition, when they would be expected to begin to form aspirations. 

Using a phenomenological methodology of self-portraits and informal interview I listened to seven eleven-year-old children describe their current and future worlds. Drawing on funds of identity, I identified who and what shaped their identities, now and in their envisaged futures. Through voice centred relational analysis and modalities of agency, I heard their ability to enact and articulate agency. I deliberately stood back from social categorisations of class etc. in order to develop alternative conceptualisations of learning, engagement and aspiration. 

The findings of this research can be used to understand engagement with learning through alternative lenses. The conceptualisation of good learning as relevant, active and ‘own-able’ will support ‘knowledgeable others’ in designing learning which establishes a bi-directional bridge between formal and informal learning experiences. I also hope the findings help those informing the policy and practice of widening participation to understand that aspirations may be distant not low; and are embodied as civic values rather than careers, earnings and academic achievement


If you would like to know more about Funds of Identity and Funds of Knowledge, here are some suggested readings:

Esteban-Guitart, M. (2012) ‘Towards a multimethodological approach to identification of funds of identity, small stories and master narratives’, Narrative Inquiry, 22(1), pp.173-180.

Esteban-Guitart, M. (2016) Funds of identity: Connecting meaningful learning experiences in and out of school, New York, Cambridge University Press.

Esteban-Guitart, M. & Moll, L. C. (2014a) ‘Funds of identity: A new concept based on the funds of knowledge approach’, Culture and Psychology, 20(1), pp.31-48.

Esteban-Guitart, M. & Moll, L. C. (2014b) ‘Lived experience, funds of identity and education’, Culture and Psychology, 20(1), pp.70-81.

Gonzalez, N., Moll, L. C. & Amanti, C. (2005) Funds of knowledge: Theorizing practices in households, communities, and classrooms, New York, Routledge.

Hviid, P. & Villadsen, J. W. (2014) ‘Cultural identities and their relevance to school practice’, Culture and Psychology, 20(1), pp.59-69.

Nogueira, A. L. H. (2014) ‘Emotional experience, meaning, and sense production: Interweaving concepts to dialogue with the funds of identity approach’, Culture and Psychology, 20(1), pp.49-58.