Research article

The Risks of Social Reproduction: the middle class and education markets

  • Stephen J. Ball


We live, as some theorists put it, in a 'risk society'. Risks are diverse and new forms are constantly arising. There is an 'over-production' of risk. We face the brittle uncertainties of individual self-management, as Beck sees it, alone and 'fragmented across (life) phases, space and time' (1997, p. 26). This is a bleak and elemental social world. This paper takes a rather different view of risk, as having both collective and divisive dynamics and effects. It offers not so much an alternative view as one that is re-socialised. Focusing on middle class families and the 'risks' of school choice some key features of the 'prudentialist' risk management regime extant in the UK are examined. That is, those 'definite social exertions' that middle class families must make on their own part or face the very real prospect of generational decline are considered. Risks are perceived to arise from the engagements between the family and the education marketplace, and are embedded in the paradox wherein society becomes structurally more meritocratic but processually less so, as the middle class work harder to maintain their advantages in the new conditions of choice and competition in education. The paper is peppered with extracts from interviews with middle-class parents. These serve for illustration and discussion.

How to Cite:

Ball, S., (2003) “The Risks of Social Reproduction: the middle class and education markets”, London Review of Education 1(3), 163–175. doi:




Published on
31 Oct 2003
Peer Reviewed