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Education, Childhood and Social Mobility in India

Our project aims to carry out research on education, childhood and social mobility in central India, which culminates in the publication of a monograph and several articles. This project draws on a total of 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork in central India (carried out during three separate field trips) on the relationship between school education, local conceptions of childhood and social mobility.

Dominant perspectives of formal education within anthropology are underpinned by the assumption that schooling is an inherent ‘social good’ that provides crucial opportunities for social mobility to (especially) marginalized children. What is missing from this discourse is an ethnographic examination of:

  1. how school education is actually experienced by school children (and their parents);
  2. the different ways in which education is valued by children and adults, on the one hand, and by the state, development agencies, and political activists, on the other; and
  3. how people’s engagement with school education, and associated aspirations and avenues for social mobility, are mediated by broader external constraints.

The monograph explores how the discourse behind the ‘transformative potential’ of school education actually squares with the everyday experiences and realities of marginalized people in India. It draws on alternative discourses that view education as a ‘contradictory resource’, conferring advantages and bringing about social mobility for some whilst reinforcing social separation and positions of inequality.

Funding for this project was provided by the Economic and Social Research Council (postdoctoral project entitled "Regionalism, nationalism and globalization in India"), the Leverhulme (project entitled "Culture and the Mind") and Brunel University.


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Project last modified 05/07/2021