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Open Access The Risks of Social Reproduction: the middle class and education markets

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We live, as some theorists put it, in a 'risk society'. Risks are diverse and new forms are constantly arising. There is an 'over-production' of risk. We face the brittle uncertainties of individual self-management, as Beck sees it, alone and 'fragmented across (life) phases, space and time' (1997, p. 26). This is a bleak and elemental social world. This paper takes a rather different view of risk, as having both collective and divisive dynamics and effects. It offers not so much an alternative view as one that is re-socialised. Focusing on middle class families and the 'risks' of school choice some key features of the 'prudentialist' risk management regime extant in the UK are examined. That is, those 'definite social exertions' that middle class families must make on their own part or face the very real prospect of generational decline are considered. Risks are perceived to arise from the engagements between the family and the education marketplace, and are embedded in the paradox wherein society becomes structurally more meritocratic but processually less so, as the middle class work harder to maintain their advantages in the new conditions of choice and competition in education. The paper is peppered with extracts from interviews with middle-class parents. These serve for illustration and discussion.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 November 2003

More about this publication?
  • Founded in 2003 by the UCL Institute of Education, the journal reflects the Institute's broad interests in all types of education in all contexts - local, national, global - and its commitment to analysis across disciplines using a variety of methodologies. It shares the Institute's aspiration to interrogate links between research, policy and practice, and its principled concern for social justice.

    Drawing on these strengths, LRE is a wide-ranging and engaging journal that features rigorous analysis and significant research across key themes in education, including: public goals and policies; pedagogy; curriculum; organization; resources and technology; and institutional effectiveness. Articles and book reviews are written by experts in education, psychology, sociology, policy studies, philosophy and other disciplines contributing to education research, and by experienced researcher-practitioners working in the field. The highest quality of reporting and presentation are ensured through an independent, anonymised peer-review process. As an entirely web-based open access journal, LRE has been able to offer innovative features and formats including: epistolary conversation; colour photos and illustrations; illustrative video clips.

    LRE welcomes relevant articles and book reviews. Please email them to [email protected]

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