Inequality, Education and Social Power. Winter Academy and Conference

Inequality, Education and Social Power. Winter Academy and Conference

Forum Transregionale Studien; Max Weber Stiftung – Deutsche Geisteswissenschaftliche Institute im Ausland
Vom - Bis
17.11.2014 - 25.11.2014
Jane Frances Lobnibe, University for Development Studies, Tamale; Jana Tschurenev, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen Email

Understanding Inequality in Education in the 21th Century: A Synthetic Report

As the global economy slowly recovers from the 2008/9 recession, rising social inequality exacerbated by stagnating wages and unequal income distribution is emerging as a major concern of policy makers around the world. Education, both as a public good and ideologically charged concept, is often viewed as a means of social mobility and is set with high expectations. But education can also produce inequality and disenchantment in case some groups are denied or excluded from its benefits. The interdisciplinary Winter Academy and conference “Inequality, Education, and Social Power”, explored this ambiguity from multiple perspectives. Scholars from India, Latin America, Africa and Europe studied diverse constellations of factors causing inequalities within specific educational settings across and beyond temporal, national, cultural, and regional frames. Thereby, they contributed to our understanding of three overlapping themes: social diversity and inequality in education, cultural production of inequality in education and the global knowledge asymmetries. The seven-day event was convened by the Forum Transregionale Studien and the Max Weber Stiftung – Deutsche Geisteswissenschaftliche Institute im Ausland in Berlin in cooperation with the Max Weber Foundation’s Transnational Research Group (TRG) on “Poverty and Education”, the research network and the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung.

Social Diversity and Inequality in Education

Differential access to, and experience of, education depends on a person’s and group’s social position in a particular societal context. A number of presentations addressed inequality in education from the perspective of social diversity, asking how structural and institutional realities define peoples’ experiences. BHARAT CHANDRA ROUT (New Delhi) presented a large-scale overview on educational attainments of “scheduled castes and tribes,” India’s most disadvantaged parts of the population. CÉLINE TENEY (Bremen) emphasized that even in the seemingly homogenous societies in the Global North immigration and other social processes have serious implications for the (un)equal distribution and access to education. MEENAKSHI GAUTAM (New Delhi) discussed how the ‘intermeshing of structures of inequality’ along gender, caste, and class shape the pathways of scheduled caste (Dalit) women in an elite college in Delhi. MARWA SCHUMANN (Alexandria) examined how female students specializing in orthopedic surgery at Egyptian universities get systematically discouraged from pursuing the envisioned career. Time and again, the panel discussions raised concerns about some of the policies that were designed to address educational inequalities but tended to ignore the experiences and needs of particular groups. These policies were either too broad, one-sided, narrow in scope or ad-hoc in nature to recognize that people belong to and are defined by multiple social categories that intersect to shape their daily experiences.

Several presentations raised the question of how to assess the scope of educational inequality. In her keynote address, JUTTA ALLMENDINGER (Berlin) suggested we disentangle attainment in terms of certificates from attainment in the form of competencies in the measurement of “educational poverty ”. This distinction allowed her to demonstrate that segregated school systems produce differentiated certificates, but not necessarily higher competencies among the graduates of the higher valued streams. ROCIO RAMIREZ (substituting for MARTHA ZAPATA GALINDO, Berlin), presented the project Medidas para la inclusión social y equidad en Instituciones de Educación Superior en América Latina (MISEAL), drawing on Leslie McCall’s “Complexity of Intersectionality” [1], which aims to consider the multiple ways in which social actors can be advantaged and disadvantaged at the same time.

To deal adequately with the problem of designing educational policies in diverse and unequal modern societies, also the normative considerations underlying such policies need to be reflected. ANDREAS GESTRICH (London) reminded us that, historically, inequality could be an explicit and legitimate aim of educational policy. However, from a point of view that considers social inequality as problematic, the question arises as to how to define the aims of the politics of education. An interesting debate emerged particularly in the thematic discussion group on gender about whether we aim for “gender justice”, “gender equity” or “gender equality” in education, and in society. In his talk on education in post-apartheid South Africa, YUSUF SAYED (Cape Town) linked social justice to strong forms of recognition, redistribution, and representation. Several participants also suggested the so-called “capabilities approach” [2] as relevant for conceptualizing the social ends of education.

Cultural Production of Inequality in Education

Another set of papers explored the contradictions and conflicts that emerge from the cultural projects which modern educational institutions often undertake through validating and distributing “cultural capital”, meaning “the kind of symbolic credit which one acquires through learning to embody and enact signs of social standing”.[3] Through exams, rewards and other disciplinary procedures, schools ensure success for those who possess particular competencies and skills often associated with elite groups in society. Following Bourdieu [4], Levinson showed how “cultural capital” is a social resource that is intertwined with economic capital and according to which certain competencies and character traits in various societies are valued over others. STEFAN WELLGRAF’s (Frankfurt an der Oder) discussed the German idea of “Bildung,” which, he proposed, captured the theoretical basis of this concept as a means by which the acquisition of skills and certificates serve as a promise to economic benefits. Building on Gopal Guru [5], SUNANDAN K.N. (New Delhi) raised the question of which – and whose – knowledge counted as authoritative in schools in India. The disregard of experiential, practical knowledge assumed particular political relevance against the background of the caste-based division of labor.

Analyzing educational inequality through the lens of cultural production lends a perspective for the potential role schools play in establishing new forms of symbolic capital while displacing old ones.[6] National policies and institutions that focus exclusively on formalized standards can deepen the exclusion of students from marginalized backgrounds who lack the cultural capital necessary to meet those standards. JANE-FRANCES LOBNIBE (Tamale) explored this dynamic in Ghana, using admission requirements to the University for Development Studies (UDS), which attempts to correct regional inequalities in higher education between northern and southern Ghana caused by British colonial and post-colonial development policies but ends up denying secondary schools students from deprived regions entrance into highly sought after programs. In such contexts, she argued, educational equality could not be achieved without engaging and confronting the very mechanisms and structures that created the division. MALINI GHOSE (Göttingen) also focused on institutional governance, asking how new opportunities in higher education in India allowed for new subjectivities to evolve for a ‘target population’ as both subjects and objects of the policies. She analyzed how marginalized groups refashion their aspirations and strategic choices, discourses, policies and programs in their own ways to fit their own expectations and understandings of politics in the face of exclusion from educational opportunities.

Whether in Ghana, India or in Colombia, analyzing education from the perspective of cultural production not only allows for the exploration of the effects of schooling and inequality across historical and cultural contexts but also furthers our understanding of an alternative pedagogic cultural capital. Such an effort was introduced by DEBARATI BAGCHI’s (New Delhi) analysis of the promoters of the Sylheti-Bengali script in India and their diaspora in the UK, which aimed to make literacy more accessible for ‘the masses’, by providing a simpler alphabet. MAYA BUSER DE (Seoul), who studied government secondary schools in Indian Kolkata and ANDREA CUENCA (Berlin), who spoke about the Colombian education system, pointed out that access to quality secondary education is of particular relevance for the distribution of cultural capital, emphasizing its potential to break the existing link between family origin and professional destination.

Global Knowledge Asymmetries and Inequality in Education

The contested nature of knowledge production and the question about who defines and determines what education is, were key theoretical issues that were raised and discussed to contextualize the local and global asymmetries in education. The effect of the unequal international world order in producing and validating Euro-centric knowledge was problematized by a number of project and conference presentations. They emphasized that global knowledge asymmetries, also caused by colonialism, remain a crucial issue in the discussions on inequality in education.

This points, firstly, to the continued relevance of studying the impact of colonialism on education. SAKARIYAU ALABI ALIYU (Leiden/Kano) traced the history of Islamic education in Nigerian Ilorin since the advent of colonialism, highlighting the interaction and tensions between Islamic and western style forms of education. He showed that although western style education holds better prospects for its beneficiaries, Islamic education has continued to adapt to changes brought about by its competitor. The unequal power relations between the two systems were marked firstly by a period of resistance, then acquiescence through post-colonial accommodation and later to islamicization of knowledge from the late twentieth century.

But historical structures of domination, i.e. (post-)colonial relations between “the west and the rest” [7] seem also to frame the expansion of neoliberal international economic policies that have contributed to the marginalization of the Global South in knowledge production, but also in students’ access to quality education. Within this framework, SARAH HARTMANN (Berlin) examined the deficiencies of an underfunded and overburdened public education system in Egypt, which has compelled teachers to resort to extra tutoring as a strategy to supplement their meager salaries. In Peru, Carmela Chavez showed that university students and investors have become part of a new social middle class culture that values higher education as a private good for social mobility. This development has given rise to an increased participation of the private sector in higher education, including international actors. Guided by the neoliberal economic philosophy, the operations of these private universities led to more inequality in Peru, as well as in the Middle East (DANIELE CANTINI, Halle-Wittenberg), and other places. Privatization and internationalization completely altered previous ways of university operations, creating novel models of organization-administration, and mechanisms for student participation within the university community, the effects if which on inequality and education we will need to observe carefully.


The current report provides a partial glimpse into the rich seven-day discussions on the structures of educational inequality and the educational experience of marginalized groups in the Global South and Europe. A general conclusion suggests that educational governance, policy-making and the distribution of cultural capital are set in context of conflicts and struggles among and between groups shaped by systems of class, gender, ethnicity, or moral orientation and region. While it was agreed that the promotion of educational equity and social justice can only be dealt with contextually, multiple perspectives presented a general conclusion. Thus, it was highlighted that educational differentiation is not the answer when dealing with culturally diverse and socially stratified populations, even when the underlying consideration is the recognition of difference. This was very germane in all the discussions about the German differentiated school system (Jutta Allmendinger, Stefan Wellgraf, Anja Schillhaneck), but also in the studies on the emergence of “private schools for the poor” in India (Geetha Nambissan), as well as post-apartheid South Africa (Yusuf Sayed). Inclusive and comprehensive education is of utmost importance, particularly in the context of diversity.[8]

Conference overview:

Welcoming Addresses
Andreas Eckert, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin/Forum Transregionale Studien
Heinz Duchhardt, Max Weber Stiftung – Deutsche Geisteswissenschaftliche Institute im Ausland

Panel 1: Education, Inequality and Social Power: General Discussion
Chair: Andreas Eckert, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin/Forum Transregionale Studien

Sarada Balagopalan, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Dehli
Klaus Hurrelmann, Hertie School of Governance, Berlin
Carlos Costa Ribeiro, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro

Panel 2: Global Knowledge Asymmetries and Education
Chair: Barbara Göbel, Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut, Berlin

Neeladri Bhattacharya, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Peter Kallaway, University of Cape Town
David MacDonald, University of Guelph
Hebe Vessuri, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Morelia

Panel 3: Social Diversity and Education
Chair: Jana Tschurenev, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

Yusuf Sayed, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Cape Town
Céline Teney, Universität Bremen
Martha Zapata Galindo, Freie Universität Berlin

Keynote Address
Jutta Allmendinger, Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung
Introduction: Marianne Braig, Freie Universität Berlin/Forum Transregionale Studien

Panel 4: Private Actors in the Education System
Chair: Andreas Gestrich, German Historical Institute London

Geetha Nambissan, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Hania Sobhy, Orient-Institut Beirut
Silke Strickrodt, German Historical Institute London

Panel 5: Inequality, Education and the Labor Market
Chair: Ravi Ahuja, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

Augustin Emane, Institut d’Etudes Avancées de Nantes
Patricio Solís, El Colegio de México, Mexico City
Anja Weiß, Universität Duisburg-Essen

Overview Winter Academy “Inequality, Education and Social Power”:


Marianne Braig, Melanie Hanif (Forum)
Andreas Gestrich, Indra Sengupta (TRG)

Workshop Session

Key moments of education policy towards the poor in the long 20th century
Ravi Ahuja (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen) and Andreas Gestrich (German Historical Institute London)
Social stratification and intergenerational class mobility in Latin America
Patricio Solís (El Colegio de México) and Marianne Braig (Freie Universität Berlin)

Project Presentations

Teachers’ Struggle for Income in the Congo (DRC). Between Education and Remuneration
Cyril Owen Brandt (Universiteit van Amsterdam)
Discussant: Alva Bonaker
The Politics of Higher Education and the Everyday Life of Students in Jordan and Egypt
Daniele Cantini (Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg)
Discussant: Malini Ghose
The Informal Education Sector in Egypt: Between State, Market, and Civil Society
Sarah Hartmann (Freie Universität Berlin)
Discussant: Saikat Maitra
Primed to Labour: ‘Education’ in Industrial and Artisan Schools of Colonial India (1860s-1940s)
Arun Kumar (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen)
Discussant: Divya Kannan
Working Class Youths and Education in Post-Industrial Mumbai
Sumeet Mhaskar (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen)
Discussant: V. Kalyan Shankar
Youth Experiences in Secondary School: Massification, Dynamics of Inequality and Figures of Citizenship in Argentina
Pedro Núñez (Universidad de Buenos Aires)
Discussant: Maya Buser De
Gender Inequalities in Medical Education: Accessibility of Orthopedic Training for Female Interns in Egypt
Marwa Schumann (Alexandria University)
Discussant: Preeti
Social Origin and Inequality of Opportunities in Colombia: Analysis of Educational Achievement and Occupational Attainment among University Graduates
Andrea Cuenca Hernández (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
Discussant: Nicolás Brunet

Discussion with Anja Schillhaneck, MdA
Introduction: Georges Khalil (Forum Transregionale Studien)

Project Presentations

Hauptschüler. The Role of Education in Exclusion Processes in Germany
Stefan Wellgraf (Europa-Universität Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder)
Discussant: Deepika K. Singh
Educational Governance and Inequality in Higher Education: The Case of the University for Development Studies (UDS) Ghana
Jane-Frances Lobnibe (University for Development Studies, Tamale)
Discussant: Meenakshi Gautam
Higher Education and Profit Logic in the Education System. Social Consequences of the Expansion of Low-Cost-Private-Universities in Peru
Carmela Chávez (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú)
Discussant: Latika Gupta
Recasting the Self: Missionaries and the Education of the Poor in Kerala (1854-1956)
Divya Kannan (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)
Discussant: Arun Kumar
Educational & Professional Status of Scheduled Castes/Tribes: Attainment & Challenges
Bharat Chandra Rout (National University of Educational Planning and Administration, New Delhi)
Discussant: Sunandan K.N.
Marketisation, Managerialism and School Reforms: A Study of Public-Private Partnerships in Elementary Education in Delhi
Vidya K.S. (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)
Discussant: Cecilia Pereda
Transmission of Learning in Ilorin: A History of Islamic Education 1897-2012
Sakariyau Alabi Aliyu (Universiteit Leiden; Bayero University Kano) Discussant: Debarati Bagchi
Refugee Settlements and the Role of Education in Post-Partition West Bengal
Kaustubh Mani Sengupta (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)
Discussant: Saikat Maitra
Who Studies What, Where and Why? Systemic Inequalities beyond Affirmative Action Policies in Indian Higher Education
V. Kalyan Shankar (University of Pune)
Discussant: Sumeet Mhaskar

Thematic Discussions

Gender, Inequality and Education
Jana Tschurenev (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen), Marwa Schumann
Chair: Andrea Cuenca Hernández (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
Socio-cultural Diversity, Inequality and Education
Cornelia Gresch (Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung), Latika Gupta (University of Delhi)
Chair: Stefan Wellgraf (Europa-Universität Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder)
Inequality and Education in the Political Process
Lena Ulbricht (Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung), Pedro Núñez (Universidad de Buenos Aires)
Chair: Melanie Hanif (Forum Transregionale Studien)

Panel Discussion

Inequality and Education: Economic Perspectives
Chair: Sumeet Mhaskar
Cyril Owen Brandt
Cultural and political economy perspectives on the (re)production and functioning of global agendas
Nicolás Brunet
Cumulative advantage mechanism and inequality across temporal processes
Daniele Cantini
The role of non-state actors in education
Sarah Hartmann
Privatization, marketization and commodification of education

Humboldt Ferngespräch
Global Knowledge Disparities: The North-South Divide

Project Presentations

Inequalities and Production of New Cultural Forms at Government Secondary Schools in Kolkata, India
Maya Buser De (Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Seoul)
Discussant: Pedro Núñez
Schooling Women: Debates on Education in the United Provinces (1854-1930)
Preeti (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)
Discussant: Marwa Schumann
State and Non-State Actors in Current Secondary Education Policy in Uruguay: A Complex Configuration
Cecilia Pereda (Universidad Nacional de General Sarmiento)
Discussant: Vidya K.S
Poverty, Hunger and State Welfare—The Example of the Indian Mid-Day Meal Scheme
Alva Bonaker (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen)
Discussant: Cyril Owen Brandt
Critical Mind and Labouring Body: Caste and Education Reforms in Kerala
Sunandan K.N. (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies Delhi)
Discussant: Bharat Chandra Rout
Education as a Fundamental Right: Deconstructing Socio-historical Discourses and Challenges
Latika Gupta (University of Delhi)
Discussant: Carmela Chávez
A Script for the Masses? Pedagogic Practices and Didactic Traditions among Sylhetis
Debarati Bagchi (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)
Discussant: Sakariyau Alabi Aliyu
Gender, Caste and Higher Education: Pathways and Experiences of Dalit Women in an Elite College in Delhi
Meenakshi Gautam (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)
Discussant: Jane-Frances Lobnibe
Transforming Work: Training Programs and Retail Worker-Identity in Contemporary Kolkata
Saikat Maitra (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen)
Discussant: Sarah Hartmann
Social Inclusion in Schools. Experiences and Role of Teachers, Students, Management and Parents
Deepika K. Singh (Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai)
Discussant: Stefan Wellgraf
What Exclusion Leaves Out: The “Life-Worlds” of Educational Policy Making in Contemporary India
Malini Ghose (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen)
Discussant: Daniele Cantini
Inequality Generating Process in Longitudinal Perspective: Educational Transitions and Occupational Trajectories in Three Mexican Cohorts (1950-2011)
Nicolás Brunet (El Colegio de México)
Discussant: Andrea Cuenca Hernández

Thematic Discussions

Chair: Indra Sengupta
Affirmative Action in Higher Education
Bharat Chandra Rout, V. Kalyan Shankar
Chair: Jane-Frances Lobnibe
Cultural Production of Inequalities in Education
Maya Buser De, Sunandan K.N.

Wrap Up Session

Editorial Note: This report contains a few minor changes that were made after publication.

[1] L. McCall, Complexity of Intersectionality, in: Signs, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Spring) (2005), pp. 1771-1800.
[2]A. Sen, Development as Freedom, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2000.
[3] B. Levinson, School groups and the culture of equality at a Mexican Secundaria, Working paper series of the Duke-UNC program in Latin American Studies, 1993, p. 7.
[4] P. Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, Cambridge University Press, 1977.
[5] G. Guru, “Dalit Movement in Mainstream Sociology”, in: Economic and Political Weekly, No. 14 (1993).
[6] B. Levinson, School groups and the culture of equality at a Mexican Secundaria, Working paper series of the Duke-UNC program in Latin American Studies, 1993, p. 7.
[7] S. Hall, Notes on Deconstructing the ‘Popular’, in: R. Samuel (ed.), People’s History and Socialist Theory, London: Routledge, 1981, pp 227-239.
[8] For further information please visit the blog <> (02.04.2015).

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