The Power of Market Mechanism in School Choice in Three Junior Middle Schools in Nanning: a Case Study

  • Xiaoxin Wu

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education (EdD)


The practice of parent-initiated school choice in China is characterized by the involvement of substantial amounts of money, various forms of capital, the explicit government policy of banning the practice in words but accommodating it in deeds. This research investigates the school choice situation in three middle schools in Nanning, China. Drawing on Bourdieu’s theory of the forms of capital and cultural and social reproduction and Brown’s Positional Conflict Theory, this thesis argues that the use of cultural, social and economic capital is widespread in the school choice process. With more capital of various types available, middle class families are at a competitive advantage compared to their working class counterparts in the current struggle to gain a place in a good school. The resources of the former families enable their children to gain more cultural capital through extracurricular enrichment activities, exercise more social capital through existing guanxi1 networks and focus more economic capital with which to pay large sums for choice fees, all of which result in the greater chances of entering a desired school. The change of the school admission policy since the mid-1990s from universal entrance examination for junior middle schools to the present school place assignment by proximity has resulted in an unintentional shift from meritocracy to “parentocracy”2. School choice effectively closes out opportunities for quality education for working class families, because they lack the cultural, social and economic capital that is necessary to “work the system”. As a result, school choice tends to insure the intergenerational transmission of existing social classes and to decrease the possibility of upward mobility for the next generation. 1 A network of contacts which an individual may draw upon to secure resources or advantage in the course of social life (see 4.1.2 for detail). 2 See Brown (1990).
Date of Award1 Jan 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorHugh Lauder (Supervisor) & Manuel Souto-Otero (Supervisor)


  • social capital
  • cultural capital
  • positional competition
  • market mechanism
  • economic capital

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