Varied starting points and pathways

A duoethnographic exploration of ‘diverse’ students’ uneven capacities to aspire to doctoral education


  • James Burford
  • Catherine Mitchell



This article argues that the language of ‘diversity’ does multidirectional work – highlighting issues of social justice, as well as obscuring the varied experiences of those gathered underneath its umbrella (Ahmed, 2012). It builds on existing debates about widening participation in higher education, arguing that nuanced accounts of ‘diversity’ and doctoral aspiration are required. We present a duoethnographic text about two doctoral students’ pathways to study. While both students may be positioned as ‘diverse’ within their institution’s equity policy – as a sexuality minority student, and a working-class woman of Māori and European heritage – they reveal dissimilar expectations of what university study was, or could be. These histories of imagining the university shaped their trajectories into and through doctoral study. Drawing on Appadurai’s (2004) work, we argue that aspiration can be a transformative force for ‘diverse’ doctoral students, even if the map that informs aspiration is unevenly distributed. We then investigate why the idea of the ‘academic good life’ might have such aspirational pull for politically-engaged practitioners of minority discourse (Chuh, 2013). The article makes two primary contributions. First, we call for more multifaceted understandings of doctoral ‘diversity’, and for further reflection about the ways that social difference continues to shape academic aspiration. And second, we demonstrate the potential for duothenography to provide insights into the experiences of ourselves and an-Other through a shared examination of university imaginings.


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How to Cite

Burford, J., & Mitchell, C. (2019). Varied starting points and pathways: A duoethnographic exploration of ‘diverse’ students’ uneven capacities to aspire to doctoral education. Reconceptualizing Educational Research Methodology, 10(1), 28–44.




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