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This paper is based on research conducted in the mid-noughties when we examined the impact of rapid and substantial demographic change in students studying sociology on our teaching. Our aim was to enable an informed critique of our own practice by identifying what changes had occurred in student cohorts and how these compared with staff perceptions of them and the implications for teaching and learning.

The research revealed fascinating data on the (in)accuracy of our perceptions of the changes, how our perceptions of students were based on comparisons with our own experience as students and recognition of significant changes in the academic context. Critiques of student instrumentalism and the increasing bureaucratisation of HE influenced our perceptions of students and a potential epistemological clash between student cultures and that of sociology. Our view of sociology as an emancipatory pedagogy was crucial in informing our sense of the future direction of our degree. Without an understanding of lecturers' perceptions, any strategies for more critical engagement with our students are a shot in the dark.