Paul Sutton


In this paper I seek to reflexively theorise the following pedagogical problem: why do so many students adopt a strategic approach to studying and value assessment for the grade awarded rather than as a learning opportunity? Firstly, I differentiate my sociological perspective from the phenomenographic perspective, and argue that the strategic approach is worthy of serious analysis. Secondly, I deploy the concepts social character and the social individual to argue that the strategic approach is a product of extrinsic rather than intrinsic forces: it emanates from within the social relations of contemporary capitalism. Thirdly, I frame the strategic approach as academic labour using concepts from Marx’s labour theory of value: use and exchange value, concrete and abstract labour. This enables me to explain how assessment has become commodified and why students have a limiting quasi-market concept of value that privileges grades over learning. Finally, I argue that Marx’s dialectical method of enquiry enables practitioners to not only deconstruct the strategic approach to studying but also to challenge it.