28 SES 03 B, Social Inequality, Elite Schools, and Meritocratic Ideals
Often considered and categorized as a provider of egalitarianism, welfare and equal opportunities rather than elitism, Sweden do have a long tradition of selective elite schools. However, in contrast to other countries, these schools are mostly situated in the proximity of urban areas. In fact, focussing on the capital of Stockholm, this presentation concentrate on highly selective post-16 schools located in the prosperous inner-city. While few exceptions exist in the form of rural boarding schools, centrally located elite schools has traditionally been an important part in the historical organisation of the city as well as the recruitment of leading occupations (Florin and Johansson 1993).
In recent decades, competitional struggles for dominant positions has become fiercer due to profound educational marketization (Blomqvist and Rothstein 2008), especially in Stockholm (Bunar 2008; Forsberg 2015). Free-choice based on merits (grades), decentralization and the formation of publicly founded, but privately owned ‘free-schools’ is officially assumed to challenge the contemporary hierarchical status que and provide better education. Consequently, while zoning originally restricted the possibilities to choose public elite schools in the city of Stockholm, free-schools have provided an option since 1992 – regardless of students site of residence. In 2011, a county-wide agreement increased the possibilities further as all zoning-restrictions in the greater Stockholm region became abolished and school choice strictly based on grades were initiated. This process of educational marketization has meant an increasing number of post-16 schools and a large movement of commuting students. In 1992 there were 13 free-schools in the Stockholm region (57 in the whole of Sweden) and by 2016 the number had increased to 123. The total number of schools (public and free-schools) grew from 51 to 183. In the comparatively small inner-city has seen the largest expansion of schools, increasing from 16 to 55.
The continuous move towards choice by merits has long been regarded as an opportunity for disadvantaged groups to achieve educational mobility e.g. to break with the impact of residential segregation (Söderström and Uusitalo 2005). Similarly, it has been a political assumption that the social composition of the inner-city elite schools would become more diverse due to competition – since all students formally now had similar opportunities (Broady and Börjesson 2006). Nevertheless, increasing competition and altered rules for school choice has only implied small changes for elite schools (Forsberg 2015). Instead it has resulted in increasingly more socially and educationally selective student groups. However, little research has been written about Swedish elite schools and most of it is done by statistical (Börjesson, Broady Dahlberg and Lidegran 2015; Forsberg 2015) or historical analysis (Sandgren 2015). This presentation intends to shed some light on the ‘inner life’ of these institutions. Hence, by combining an analysis of student’s educational strategies and the day to day culture in three different post-16 elite schools, it aims to show how these schools come to withhold their dominant positions in relation to the contemporary struggles of educational marketization.
Theoretically, the study adheres from the Bourdieusian perspective of a relational sociology and follows key concepts such as field, capital and strategies. Strategies, or educational strategies, are used analytically as the unintentional and intentional, social actions practiced by agents from their position in a certain field of struggle (Bourdieu 1996). Or in other words, the relation between the agent’s habitus, dispositions of capital (cultural, economic and social), social trajectory and the rules structuring the field. Fundamentally is the continuous struggles for recognition and the ability to define what constitutes preferable educational path-ways – something that relates both to students and schools, e.g. accretion of symbolic capital which follows a dominant elite institution.
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