IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Schooling choice in South Africa: The limits of qualifications and the politics of race, class and symbolic power


  • Hunter, Mark


From the 1980s many school authorities across Europe and North America made efforts to enhance ‘parental choice’ over schooling. In South Africa, by contrast, it was racial desegregation in the early 1990s that unleashed the movement of thousands of children to attend non-local schools. While it was predictable that ‘black’ children would travel to attend better-resourced schools from which they were previously barred few anticipated that ‘white’ children would travel so much to attend different public schools. The paper centers on explaining a related paradox: primary school children move more than secondary schooling children from a formerly ‘black’ part of the city; while from a formerly ‘white’ part of the city, secondary school children move more than primary school children. Drawing on archival sources, life histories of guardians and pupils, and interviews with schoolteachers, the paper develops this finding to argue that the large expansion of schooling has devalued qualifications such that some schools play a greater role in providing symbolic and social capital—for example a prestigious English language accent and old boys’ networks. In an era of mass education, one that in the global South coincided with decolonization, new forms of differentiation beyond qualifications are becoming critical sites of class formation.

Suggested Citation

  • Hunter, Mark, 2015. "Schooling choice in South Africa: The limits of qualifications and the politics of race, class and symbolic power," International Journal of Educational Development, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 41-50.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:injoed:v:43:y:2015:i:c:p:41-50
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ijedudev.2015.04.004

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Mary Gilmartin, 2004. "Language, Education And The New South Africa," Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie, Royal Dutch Geographical Society KNAG, vol. 95(4), pages 405-418.
    2. Daniel Schensul & Patrick Heller, 2011. "Legacies, Change and Transformation in the Post‐Apartheid City: Towards an Urban Sociological Cartography," International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 35(1), pages 78-109, January.
    3. Mark Hunter, 2010. "Racial Desegregation and Schooling in South Africa: Contested Geographies of Class Formation," Environment and Planning A, , vol. 42(11), pages 2640-2657, November.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Gabrielle Wills, 2017. "What do you mean by ‘good’? The search for exceptional primary schools in South Africa’s no-fee school system," Working Papers 16/2017, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    2. Asmus Zoch, 2017. "The effect of neighbourhoods and school quality on education and labour market outcomes in South Africa," Working Papers 08/2017, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:injoed:v:43:y:2015:i:c:p:41-50. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Haili He). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.