Skip to main content

Education, Childhood and Social Mobility in India

Our project aims to carry out research on education, childhood and social mobility in central India, which culminates in the publication of a monograph and several articles. This project draws on a total of 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork in central India (carried out during three separate field trips) on the relationship between school education, local conceptions of childhood and social mobility.

Dominant perspectives of formal education within anthropology are underpinned by the assumption that schooling is an inherent ‘social good’ that provides crucial opportunities for social mobility to (especially) marginalized children. What is missing from this discourse is an ethnographic examination of:

  1. how school education is actually experienced by school children (and their parents);
  2. the different ways in which education is valued by children and adults, on the one hand, and by the state, development agencies, and political activists, on the other; and
  3. how people’s engagement with school education, and associated aspirations and avenues for social mobility, are mediated by broader external constraints.

The monograph explores how the discourse behind the ‘transformative potential’ of school education actually squares with the everyday experiences and realities of marginalized people in India. It draws on alternative discourses that view education as a ‘contradictory resource’, conferring advantages and bringing about social mobility for some whilst reinforcing social separation and positions of inequality.

Funding for this project was provided by the Economic and Social Research Council (postdoctoral project entitled "Regionalism, nationalism and globalization in India"), the Leverhulme (project entitled "Culture and the Mind") and Brunel University.

Meet the Principal Investigator(s) for the project

Dr Peggy Froerer
Dr Peggy Froerer - I found my way into anthropology after studying politics, completing my PhD in Social Anthropology at the London School of Economics in 2002. My doctoral research on the emergence of Hindu nationalism within adivasi communities in central India became the subject of my first book, Religious Division and Social Conflict. I joined Brunel’s Anthropology department in 2004, following postdoctoral work on the inculcation of nationalist ideologies in educational settings. Since then, I have returned regularly to India to pursue research on education, learning and schooling; childhood and youth; poverty and development; and inequality and social mobility. My second book, Futures in Flux: Education, Aspiration and Social Mobility in Rural India, considers how marginalized young people’s differentiated engagement with school education articulates with their livelihood options and aspirations for a better future. I have also been co-Investigator on a collaborative, multi-regional research project (ESRC-DfID, 2016-2018) which examines education systems, aspiration and learning outcomes in remote rural areas of India, Lesotho and Laos. I have now started a new project on educational inequalities in the UK, with a focus on the role that education plays in the (re)production of class privilege. I have directed an ethnographic film (Village Lives, Distant Powers; produced by Margaret Dickinson), which is based on my research on development, the state and corruption in central India. Qualifications: PhD Anthropology (LSE) MSc Anthropology (LSE) MA Political Science (Jawaharlal Nehru University) BA Political Science (University of Utah)

Partnering with confidence

Organisations interested in our research can partner with us with confidence backed by an external and independent benchmark: The Knowledge Exchange Framework. Read more.

Project last modified 16/11/2023