Class Strategies and the Education Market: The Middle Classes and Social Advantage

By Stephen J. Ball | Go to book overview
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6

Values and principles

Social justice in the head

This is not, on the whole, a pretty story, but one marred by prejudice, delusion, and even, at a deeper level, self-loathing.

(Ehrenreich 1989:11)

Overwhelmingly, the existing literature on parents and school choice either excludes consideration of values altogether, or relegates values 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 and Gewirtz 1994) it seeks to explain. Both advocates of choice and choice theories tend to rely on narrow rational and utilitarian conceptualizations of the chooser. There is an emphasis on the functional role of self-interest. As noted in Chapter 2, Goldthorpe's work is one example where pre-eminence is given to calculation, and Hatcher's (1998) critique of this was quoted. 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 like the market within social research - Johnathan (1989), Bottery (1992), Halstead (1994), Grace (1995 and 2002) being notable exceptions. It is worth reiterating Morgan's (1989:29) point that an over-emphasis on rational calculation can lead to a 'diminishment of our moral understanding of human agency': it is sociologically inadequate. As Jordan, Redley and James (1994:4) suggest: the 'denizen of the marketplace - homo economicus is somewhat emaciated'. Attention to the role of values and principles in decision-making disturbs the neat simplicities of homo economicus.

The personal aims, interests and desires of individuals are, as Nagel (1991:14) puts it, 'the raw material from which ethics begins'. This chapter works with some of that raw material and is about the ethics of the education marketplace as enacted through the principles and practices of middle-class families as they attempt to realize their desires for their children in the immediate and for the future within various social and ethical contexts. In previous work I began to explore how the education market calls up and legitimates a certain sort of ethics in the practices and perspectives of education providers (Ball 1997; Ball, Maguire and Macrae

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