Class Cultures, Market Forces and the Desegregation of Indian Schools

Dr Amanda Gilbertson1, Ms Joyeeta Dey1

1University Of Melbourne, Australia

We know that market forces lead to segregation in education systems, but we know little about their interaction with efforts to desegregate schools. This paper explores implementation of a desegregation policy in India that requires private schools to give free education to socially and economically disadvantaged children. In a context of policy implementation characterised by private school resistance and lack of political will, we draw on ethnographic research in three schools that are ostensibly committed to implementing the policy well. Class cultures and market forces intersect in the desegregation efforts of these schools, each of which is differently positioned in terms of hierarchies of reputation, economic accessibility and social composition. Each adopts a different approach to balancing the demands of integration and potential reputational costs in a middle-class market – taking a few students, expecting them to assimilate and taking pride in a benevolent invisibilization of differences, versus adapting the school culture to meet the needs of disadvantaged students but consequently losing status among middle-class families. Regardless of the approach of the schools, the very presence of disadvantaged students in these schools unsettles the commercialization of school spaces, language practices, ideals of the responsible parent-as-educator, and the commodification of education.


Amanda Gilbertson is an anthropologist with research interests in class, gender and education in India. She was a McKenzie Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Melbourne and is now exploring implementation of India’s Right to Education Act (ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award).

Joyeeta Dey is currently a research associate on a University of Melbourne project on the Right to Education in India. She previously worked as a researcher on a DFID funded research project RAISE on accountability relationship in the education system. She has a masters in Sociology of Education from UCL, IOE.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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