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‘Talent-spotting’ or ‘social magic’? Inequality, cultural sorting and constructions of the ideal graduate in elite professions

Ingram, N and Allen, K (2018) ‘Talent-spotting’ or ‘social magic’? Inequality, cultural sorting and constructions of the ideal graduate in elite professions. Sociological Review, 67 (3). pp. 723-740. ISSN 0038-0261

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Abstract

© The Author(s) 2018. Graduate outcomes – including rates of employment and earnings – are marked by persistent inequalities related to social class, as well as gender, ethnicity and institution. Despite national policy agendas related to social mobility and ‘fair access to the professions’, high-status occupations are disproportionately composed of those from socially privileged backgrounds, and evidence suggests that in recent decades many professions have become less socially representative. This article makes an original contribution to sociological studies of inequalities in graduate transitions and elite reproduction through a distinct focus on the ‘pre-hiring’ practices of graduate employers. It does this through a critical analysis of the graduate recruitment material of two popular graduate employers. It shows how, despite espousing commitments to diversity and inclusion, constructions of the ‘ideal’ graduate privilege individuals who can mobilise and embody certain valued capitals. Using Bourdieusian concepts of ‘social magic’ and ‘institutional habitus’, the article argues that more attention must be paid to how graduate employers’ practices constitute tacit processes of social exclusion and thus militate against the achievement of more equitable graduate outcomes and fair access to the ‘top jobs’.

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