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My choice was not to become a tradesman, my choice was to go to uni’: Australian working-class masculinities, widening participation and lifelong learning

Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore the first-year university experience as an agent for the (re)learning and (re)making of masculine identity as it intersects with other categories of identity. Historically, male students from working-class backgrounds have often struggled with identity issues and many leave school early for vocational employment where their masculinity is reinforced and validated. A small percentage, however, re-enrol in higher education later in life. This paper explores how ‘Deo’, a tradesperson who became a university student, reconstructed his identity during this transition. Design/methodology/approach: The primary methodology for this case study is semi-structured interviews., Findings: Deo articulated his transition in terms of ‘change’ and ‘transformation’, in which a theme of risk was central. He also drew attention to cultural practices that regulate hierarchies of masculinity as they intersect with the identities of age, sexuality, ethnicity and socio-economic status within his work and study. Research limitations/implications: This study focusses on one student’s experience in an Australian public university, so findings may not be generalisable. However, single stories are an important means of illustrating the intersection of shared socio-cultural practices. Originality/value: Within adult education literature there is limited engagement with intersecting cultural narratives that shape experiences, inequalities and barriers in learners’ lives. Deo’s story gives voice to socio-cultural narratives around masculinity, age, ethnicity, sexuality and socio-economic status, highlighting their central significance to learning, being and belonging.