Invisible parenting: school choice and social class in Denmark

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Research topic and aim This paper will focus on parenting in relation to school choice. More specifically choice of and within primary and lower secondary school. In Denmark, inequality has historically been limited compared to e.g. the UK and USA. However, during the last decade inequality has been rising. The question is if parenting in Denmark follow the same trends and will develop into what Lareau (2011) has termed ‘concerted cultivation’? Or if parenting in this context, where there is still a rather even distribution of economic and cultural capital, is somehow dodging the most explicit attempts to accrue capital on behalf of one’s children? Theoretical framework Theoretically, the paper will combine a Pierre Bourdieu informed understanding of the concept ‘cultural capital’ and its transmission with concepts of parenting strategies such as Anette Lareau’s ‘concerted cultivation’ and ‘accomplishment of natural growth’. Furthermore, concepts from Basil Bernstein’s sociology of education, e.g. ‘personal’ and ‘positional’ families, ‘visible’ and ‘invisible’ pedagogy, will be used to discuss the specific ways parenting is practised in relation to school choice in Denmark. Research design The paper draws on a study on social class and new ways of organizing lower secondary school in Denmark with focus on the introduction of more choice between and within schools (Brown, 2017). The material for this paper will consist of 14 group interviews with in total 41 pupils from two newly established programmes in a lower secondary school in the Copenhagen area. Based on the pupils’ statements, we will infer and discuss what types of parenting are practiced in relation to the pupils’ choice of programme. Furthermore, we will use secondary data from other research to describe the Danish context and recent trends towards increased social segregation between and within schools. Expected findings We expect to show how academic and sociocultural differences are reproduced through school choices – in a subtle way which neither disturbs the belief in equality nor the norm of young people’s autonomy, both characteristic of the Nordic countries (Hegna & Smette, 2017). Pivotal to this is what we will describe as ‘invisible parenting’ – guiding one’s child to make the ‘right decision’ without he or she knowing it and without taking initiative away from the child. Relevance to Nordic educational research Since the making of the Danish welfare state, the vast majority of children have attended public school – the so-called Folkeskole. However, during the last decade the proportion of parents who choose a private school has increased, and as the mentioned study shows we also find social segregation within the public school as a result of choice. This trend reinvigorates ‘old’ questions of (in)equality and social justice: can Nordic education still be a means to reduce inequality and create social justice, or is education in fact a means for the opposite in today’s market-based education system? In what ways may ‘old’ knowledge from the sociology of education be used to rethink the futures of education in the Nordic countries? Can old knowledge become new lessons?
Translated title of the contributionUsynlige forældre/forældreskab: Skolevalg og social klasse i Danmark
Original languageEnglish
Publication date4 Mar 2020
Number of pages1
Publication statusUnpublished - 4 Mar 2020
EventNERA 2020: Rethinking the futures of education in the Nordic countries - Turku University, Turku, Finland
Duration: 4 Mar 20206 Mar 2020


ConferenceNERA 2020
LocationTurku University
Internet address

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