Parental Investment in their kids’ schooling: Resisting the ‘opportunity trap’ analysis

Year: 2016

Author: Zipin, Lew, Brennan, Marie, Dumenden, Iris

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The ARC Discovery project, Capacitating student aspirations in classrooms and communities of a high poverty region (DP120101492), began from a sociological impulse to problematise normative, or ‘doxic’, policy and populist concepts of the ‘aspirations’ that young people should hold for futures. We outlined three sources of aspiration-formation: (1) doxa; (2) habitus, i.e. dispositions inherited in families; and (3) lived-cultural emergences among young people who ‘read’ their worlds in new-generational ways (Zipin et al. 2015). This paper considers influences of parents on aspiration-formation, analysing interviews where parents expressed hopes for their children’s futures. We found evidence of ‘hysteresis’ (Bourdieu, 2000): a lag between changing social worlds—in this case, worlds of school and work—and self-conserving tendencies of habitus. Thus, says Bourdieu, has ‘critical moments when it misfires or is out of phase’ (p.162) such that ‘dispositions become dysfunctional and the efforts [agents] make to perpetuate them help to plunge them deeper into failure’ (p.161).Brown et al. (2011) analyse how the ‘opportunity bargain’—that studying longer, for higher credentials, will lead to more desirable life chances—has been undone, and proved to be an ‘opportunity trap’, by globalising shifts in capitalist labour-market strategies that deflate the value of educational credentials. Yet parents we interviewed exhibited a ‘hysteresis crisis’ of un-readiness to come to grips with failures of meritocratic promise. Across immigrant, refugee, working- and professional-class families, we found parents all-the-more invested in their kids’ school success, even when criticising schools. While a number of Year 9 students questioned the education-credential ‘promise’—citing disappointing experiences of older relatives, including parents’ encounters with downward mobility—there was little overt sign of parents’ doubt (but perhaps tacit signs in their urgencies of emphasis), who pressed doxic rationales upon their offspring. We suggest that when shifting contexts rupture habituated prospects, doxic incitements to ‘hope’ fill the gap. Young people whom parents might once have endorsed to follow in their footsteps now—as a norm of ‘good parenting’—are coaxed to ‘aim higher’.ReferencesBrown, P., Lauder, H., & Ashton, D. (2010). The global auction: The broken promises of education, jobs, and incomes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Bourdieu, P. (2000) Pascalian Meditations. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Zipin, L., Sellar, S., Brennan, M & Gale, T (2015). Educating for futures in marginalized regions: A sociological framework for rethinking and researching aspirations, Educational Philosophy and Theory, 47(3): 227-246.