Family & Gender: Natalie Young, Ph.D. Candidate, Penn Sociology

Pathways of Influence: Families' Efforts to Transform the Rules of the Middle School Admissions Arena in China
169 McNeil Building
Friday, September 21, 2018 - 12:00pm - 1:30pm

Much empirical research within the sociology of education field portrays the conversion of socioeconomic resources into advantages at school as a relatively natural, seamless process. Largely overlooked is how social actors struggle to shape the “rules of the game” within the education field to their advantage, despite the importance Bourdieu assigned to this process when outlining the concept of field. Contexts in which privileged families face policies aimed at equalizing educational opportunities may be ideal for investigating efforts to change the “rules of the game.” In this talk, I look at one such case: the middle school admissions arena in China. I draw on nationally representative survey data to reveal that despite official restrictions on family involvement in the allocation of students to middle schools, almost a quarter of Chinese middle school students’ families used social connections, special testing, unsanctioned fees, or other strategies to influence and exert control over the middle school admission process. I then discuss the relationship between social class and these efforts to influence middle school admissions. I conclude with implications for China’s education field, as well as theories about the mechanisms through which family background shapes attainment.