Forging Careers in the Field of Architecture: The Salience and Silencing of Class

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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In response to political concern about rising inequalities, professions are expected to play a leading role in solving the problem of low levels of social mobility. The profession of architecture is a puzzling case. Although the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) centres issues of diversity and inclusion, architecture’s professional workforce remains highly, and stubbornly, socially exclusive. Only one in ten practising architects is estimated to come from a working-class background.
Rather than theorising architecture as a coherent, singular profession, I employ the construct of a Bourdieusian field to show how individuals compete for different forms of capital - creative, public service and commercial – in order to accumulate material and status rewards. Thus theorised, I argue that architecture’s social exclusion, clearly evident in its historical emergence as a ‘gentlemanly’ profession, continues to be integral to its contemporary professional dynamics.
By analysing the career histories of 55 individuals employed across architecture, I outline the ways in which class plays an important structuring role in relation to both access to and progression through the field. However, for the most part, this passes unnoticed. Individuals tell modest career narratives of luck and agency, which downplay structural enablers and constraints. While class is highly salient, it remains frequently silenced.
Further, I contend that two nominally progressive policy arenas developed largely outside the field of architecture, Equalities Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and ‘social mobility’, are unlikely to carry substantial positive effect. Arguing from a critical standpoint, I suggest instead that the neo-liberal formulation of these agendas runs the risk of obfuscating or even exacerbating social exclusion within architecture. However, progressive potential is also embedded in the field, in ways which point towards the possibility of more radical change.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Ashley, Louise, Supervisor
  • Grey, Christopher, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Feb 2022
Publication statusUnpublished - 2022


  • Class
  • Architecture
  • Professions
  • Bourdieu
  • careers

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