Social Justice, Education, and Identity

By Carol Vincent | Go to book overview

Chapter 2

Social justice in the head

Are we all libertarians now?

Stephen J. Ball


Introduction

Issues of social justice are normally conceived of and dealt with in terms of the effects of policies or institutional practices or the application of abstract principles. Individuals are typically only brought into play as the bearers or perpetrators of injustice-as racists for example-or as the victims of injustice. Here I want to position individuals somewhat differently. I want to look at middle-class parents as the bearers of principles of justice and as actors producing aggregate social effects through the playing out of the relationships between their principles and their actions. Within this I shall consider the way in which principles and actions are, for some, part of a 'liberal' social identity-a way they think about themselves and present themselves to others, that is their relation to the social world. At points my deliberations touch upon some well-worn debates around the issues of liberalism and communitarianism (Kymlicka 1989).

This chapter is drawn from a broader and more general analysis of the strategies of middle-class families in the education market place (Ball 2003). It is also a greatly attenuated version of a more extended discussion of the values, principles and actions of parents in this context. Here the emphasis is upon discussion rather than data, but some extracts from interviews and case studies of two families are deployed to ground and illustrate aspects of the discussion.

Overwhelmingly the existing literature on parents and school choice either excludes consideration of values and principles altogether, or relegates these to a subordinate role. In a sense this is one of a number of ways in which this literature is 'captured by the discourse' (Bowe, Ball et al. 1994) it seeks to explain. Both advocates of choice and choice theories tend to rely on narrow rational and utilitarian conceptualisations of the chooser and choice researchers tend to take these on board in an unreflexive way (see Hatcher's (1998) critique of Goldthorpe's work). Altogether little attention is given to values in research into choice and this is part of a more general neglect of the ethical dimensions of social arrangements such as the market within social research-Bottery (1992) being a notable exception. Morgan's (1989:29) point bears re-iteration, that an over-emphasis on rational calculation can lead to a 'diminishment of our moral understanding of

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