Christopher Newfield (2016) The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them
Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 430 pp., ISBN 9781421421629
Christopher Newfield’s The Great Mistake is a well-documented and systematic analysis of what we might call American-style neoliberalism, which applies itself more through market pressure and managerial ideology than through direct state regulation (as in many European cases). The book focuses on what he terms the ‘devolutionary cycle’ of privatisation of U.S. public universities. While these universities have remained legally public, Newfield defines privatisation not in terms of formal legal status or ownership but in terms of practical ‘control’: who wields influence, sets expectations and creates incentives. One of the great conceptual strengths of the book is its demonstration that privatisation as process can be at once partial and paradigmatic, a totalising system that may nevertheless benefit from leaving occasional gaps that can serve it as alibis. As he observes, ‘the privatization of public universities is a complicated pastiche of mixed modes, which is why so many people can plausibly deny that it is happening’ (p. 28). Nevertheless, as he discovers first-hand, the decline of public support and financing has become an unquestionable fact (rather than a contestable policy choice) for many senior administrators. ‘State money isn’t coming back’, Newfield gets told bluntly by an assistant to the University of California’s chair of the board (p. 188).
Newfield’s analysis has two modes, one taxonomic and the other more deconstructive. On the taxonomic front, he proposes a useful series of conceptually distinct (though empirically overlapping) ‘stages’ of privatisation: (1) the decline of the ‘public good’ as an institutional ideal; (2) the chase for outside money; (3) the permanent growth of student tuition and fees; (4) the decline in public funding; (5) the calamitous rise of student debt; (6) the (partial) privatisation of educational processes themselves (e.g. via MOOCs, online course vendors); (7) the decline in student learning that corresponds to resource scarcity; (8) the sociological decline of the ‘middle class’ (including the professional-managerial workers) via wage stagnation since the 1970s. None of these processes are unfamiliar to critical scholars of higher education, but Newfield brings new clarity to a wealth of detailed economic, institutional, pedagogical and policy data.
In his more deconstructive mode, Newfield also debunks a series of standard ideologies about the privatisation process. For instance: The search for outside research grants actually costs more than it brings in, once the non-reimbursed overhead costs of institutional infrastructure are taken into account (pp. 85–93). The humanities, in spite of their small grant revenues, end up subsidising the sciences by bringing in large student fees at low instructional cost (Figure 7, 99). The private banking sector is actually less efficient than the public sector at providing student loans, but it has manipulated the national regulatory framework to capture this lucrative lending market, while undermining the public Direct Loan Program (p. 201). Student tuition increases are not always the result of cuts in public funding, but in fact often precede them; and they also teach legislators that public funding cuts can readily be offset by other revenue sources (pp. 133–138, esp. Figure 13). Finally, Newfield argues that privatisation is not the cure for university’s wasteful spending (via market or austerity ‘discipline’). Rather, privatisation is a key cause of budgetary expansion, since marketisation forces universities to spend broadly on feature parity with their peers and to ‘engage in a perpetual scramble for cash’ (p. 146).
In the optimistic part of his conclusion, Newfield proposes that each of these stages of ‘decline’ should be reversed – by restoring public funding, eliminating student tuition and debt, restoring a commitment to public goods, and so on. The aim would be to create a new ‘virtuous cycle’ of ‘democratized intelligence’ and ‘mass quality’. Yet Newfield’s conclusion also foresees the sceptical responses that his essentially social-democratic vision is apt to elicit. He is all too aware that no single reform can reverse decades of privatisation doxa. Thus the real aim of the book is to constitute an alternative common sense. Newfield’s book summons the reader to adopt the views that higher education is a public good deserving of public funds; that higher education should not be stratified by race or class; that it should not subsidise for-profit enterprises or cater to philanthropic donors; and that equality should become both the ideal and the socioeconomic reality of American society.
I must note that Newfield’s optimistic counter-doxa must now face a deeply hostile political climate. In spite of gestures ‘away from privatization’ during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign (p. 319), the new Trump administration is likely to champion privatisation and deregulation, not egalitarian public services. This context switch draws our attention to something that Newfield strategically downplays: the identity of his project’s logical opponents. These would presumably include the affluent (who would be taxed to pay for Newfield’s proposals); the private loan industry; potentially the for-profit and non-elite/non-profit private colleges (which compete with public institutions for working-class students); outside research funders, philanthropists and the educational tech sector; and the political Right, which is committed to shrinking the (non-military) public sector. Faced with this set of entrenched interests, is a renovated, non-racist social democracy even possible in the United States? And what might become of Newfield’s relatively non-partisan egalitarianism – which seeks to enlist university administrators and the general public, not just the academic left – in such partisan times?
But suppose for the sake of argument that this robust social-democratic (‘egalitarian capitalist’) society were feasible. Certain further questions about Newfield’s programme would still present themselves. Is it possible that Newfield still distantly idealises higher education, and in particular the faculty? He notes that the UNIKE (Universities in the Knowledge Economy) project in Denmark ‘helped suspend my churchy centrism toward the university’ (p. xi), but his book still ascribes to the public university a unique potential for mass intellectual emancipation. The general ascription of emancipatory possibility seems fair enough (‘universities can democratize intelligence’), but is it fair to go beyond that to claims about necessity (‘only universities can democratise intelligence’, cf. 5)? After all, as many precarious intellectuals get forced out of the privatised university, alternative intellectual spaces and institutions are becoming more salient. Does the university, even Newfield’s hypothetical ‘mass quality’ university, deserve a monopoly on intellectual virtue, in light of the forms of domination and hierarchy that, as Bourdieu showed, accompany professorial power as such? In my reading, the utopian component of Newfield’s analysis still leaves many open questions, but in any event, it is a great merit of this study to produce in one gesture a materialist analysis of our compromised present and a utopian wish-image of an egalitarian mass university. I would merely insist that all utopias are themselves social products calling out for further analysis.
William C. Smith (ed.) (2016) The Global Testing Culture: Shaping Education Policy, Perceptions, and Practice
Oxford: Symposium Books, 302 pp., ISBN 9781873927724
The Global Testing Culture is a significant contribution to scholarship about standardised and high-stakes testing in schools. It will be of interest to scholars who grapple with parallel issues around the use of metrics to evaluate performance and outcomes in higher education. Chapters examine a range of aspects and contexts through a number of methods. The real strength of the volume is the embedding of each in a thought-provoking framework that invites the reader not only to compare details but to interrogate the grounds upon which a broader culture of testing has arisen. It succeeds in joining the dots between different constituencies to highlight an overall international formation in which intensive and extensive testing has become the new educational normal. Chapters demonstrate in various ways that this has not come about randomly or as a result of a robust pre-existing evidence base. Rather, implementation and adaptation of approaches to testing has been guided by local political contingencies, economic goals, diplomatic pressures and the influence of international organisations that have done so much to promote a common testing discourse that local actors draw upon.
William C. Smith’s introduction surveys that discourse and shows how it has produced a series of assumptions that are often taken for granted. Testing, of course, is nothing new. According to Smith, however, its aims and characteristics have been subject to considerable revision over recent decades. Most obviously this has taken the form of standardisation and the increasingly high stakes attached to their results. These are the core features that have proliferated internationally but that have also been tweaked, customised and, in a few places, deliberately avoided.
Crucially, standardisation fosters comparison between all who have taken a test, but in the global testing culture, the reasoning for this is now less tied to qualification, or to diagnostic use by educators to feed back into learning. Rather, education has increasingly entered political and economic spheres because of the normative assumptions that, first, results adequately represent quality of education, performance of schools and capabilities of students, and second, that it is beneficial for ‘results data’ to be in broader social circulation among all ‘stakeholders’. The logic is that this allows actors to be held accountable for educational outcomes, and that this, in turn, creates pressure that leads to improvements in education. Much of the language surrounding the expanded testing enterprise is positivist, taking as natural the notions that the data is objective and a self-evidently good source of evidence for policy and practice. But Smith convincingly argues it is influenced by deeper political assumptions of neoliberalism that leads to modelling of education in market terms. In this sense the test result data is seen as good oil for those who demand good education – such as parents, the public, governments, business – from educators who are judged by how well they supply it. The underlying theory is also that this works – reliable data effectively informs the choices stakeholders make, which, in turn, actually improves education. At least if things are done well.
The first of three sections focuses on the international testing agenda and its uptake. Several chapters show how local testing policies have emerged in response to international testing discourses. Edwards analyses a rather extreme example in Ecuador where parent councils were allowed to hire and fire teachers based on perceived school performance. Under the influence of the neoliberal Reagan administration and backed by the World Bank for a time, it became held as a best-practice model for how to reform education in order to make educators responsive to community demands, though it led to no proven improvement in educational outcomes and obvious problems in recruitment of teachers. The key point in the section is that the way high-stakes frameworks play out is down to situational politics. Kijima and Leer show that while Chile’s achievements in tests remain low, participation in them is seen as an important signifier of state legitimacy. Liu shows that it is still uncertain whether the OECD’s PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) tests are culturally biased in favour of certain groups of students, while Barrett questions whether UN educational development goals are based on good data or just that which is testable and favoured by international economic actors to the detriment of effective and democratically controlled education on the ground. Andreasen and Ydesen show how the Danish were late and reluctant adopters of accountability-based standardised testing, but eventually ceded to international influences in line with world culture theory. Aure?n and Joshi’s chapter, however, stands out as it shows how the Finnish have built their national ‘brand’ of educational excellence in international PISA results through rejecting domestic high-stakes testing and school choice agendas in favour of professional development and the autonomy of teachers in state schools.
Articles in the second section focus on interrogating the links and tensions between accountability based testing and other rationales for testing. Given the range of factors that could be behind student performances in a given test, whether accountability tests can adequately represent school effectiveness is by no means certain (Mulvenon and Bowman). Orkodashvili’s chapter, which examines results of cross-national tests including PISA, finds strong private-tutoring cultures in countries that have recently performed well. This leads her to question whether they can be read as representations of the effectiveness of national schooling systems. Other chapters suggest that when accountability testing comes to the fore formative testing is often a casualty. Ticha and Abery propose that feedback loops from tests to educators are too distant for findings about students’ achievements to be usefully incorporated into learning, while Ashan and Smith suggest high-stakes frameworks are often simplistic and pull focus away from contextualised understanding of learning needs, replacing it with competition, cultures of coaching and narrowed curricula. Somerset suggests that results pressure in low-income countries actually functions to foster pre-existing cultures of rote learning, not innovation.
The final section highlights some particular national contexts, but continues many of the themes of the collection. Chung and Chea continue scrutiny of ‘teaching to the test’ and curriculum narrowing in a high-pressure South Korean context marked by low levels of student happiness, while Balwanz argues that the stress on the national matriculation tests in South Africa prevents educational culture that addresses the diverse needs of students. In the most theoretical chapter in the volume, with reference to Denmark, Kousholt and Hamre use Foucault to highlight how testing allows certain styles of governance that discipline subjects to achieve outcomes defined as normal statistically. In the final chapter, Burns, Blanchenay and Köster examine the lines of accountability involved in Sweden’s decentralised system held together by performance data, suggesting that the country’s declining achievement levels are tied up with the problem of how to effect capacity-building among its decentralised municipalities.
Overall, this is not an explicitly activist volume – there is little in the way of flag raising and a lot in the way of careful methodology. However, much that is presented in the chapters serves to destabilise the underlying assumptions of the global testing culture. By patiently trying to understand how testing regimes come about in context, considering the multiple contingencies, compromises and experiments involved, as well as political pressures that often motivate, several of the studies highlight the fact that scientific method and educational theory are not actually core concerns in many implementations of high-stakes, standardised testing, even if they must play some part.
Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies, University of Sydney
Michael W. Kirst and Mitchell L. Stevens (eds) (2015) Remaking College: The Changing Ecology of Higher Education
Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 323 pp., ISBN 9780804793292
A reader who flips through this book’s introduction might think it is about disruptive innovation in the traditional U.S. residential university model – about how new management and technology are changing everything. This is not what the book delivers, to its credit. The authors of this collection make a number of different, timely points about the higher education system in the United States and about the kind of research it needs. The book is strongest when seen as an effort to set a research agenda rather than to provide findings for an existing one.
I will summarise what strike me as the overall volume’s key points. First, the social purposes of higher education are undergoing a fundamental change, and yet this change is inchoate, complicated and poorly understood. We may try to give form to changes by saying the system is going from A to B – from one identifiable object like ‘post-adolescent personal formation’ to another identifiable object like ‘lifetime learning’ – but the changes are more fluid and multifarious than that. Research must be as diverse as the system itself, and then synthesised into a set of more complex portraits than we have produced so far. Institutions must conduct real research on their processes rather than assume that an incremental improvement simply came from a new programme, or that a problem can be solved by buying off-the-shelf advice from consultants.
Second, the higher education system is not Harvard and Berkeley and their ilk but an ‘ecology’ of diverse types of universities and of non-university institutions (financial consultants, online programme managers, admissions coaches and many other mostly commercial service providers). Researchers must focus on the interdependence of all of the parts of the system, take a ‘comprehensive view’ of systemic change, and explore multiple pathways to better outcomes. Above all, they will need to stay aware of how the education ‘ecology’ has joined the ecologies of the broader society. European scholars are somewhat ahead of their American counter parts on this topic: many members of the consortium, Universities in the Knowledge Economy (UNIKE), have mapped how higher learning has spilled over into a range of non-academic institutions. This trend is sure to continue.
Third, scholars have not done nearly enough research on the biggest part of the system, the relatively non-selective regional and local colleges (in the U.S. usage) that the vast majority of U.S. undergraduates attend. The volume’s key chapter may be Regina Deil-Amen’s, who argues, ‘we need to shift our thinking from a framework of hierarchy based on selectivity to a horizontal view treating access as a positive value’ (p. 136). Scholarship on higher education in democracies will distort the public understanding of the system unless the democratic principles shaping it are made clear.
Fourth, as we fan out across the land to study the grass roots of our higher education ecology, researchers must have advanced sophistication about our data. For example, we must be aware of the effect of ‘unobserved characteristics’ and not jump to causal conclusions about the efficacy of politically plausible programmes. In particular, we must separate the effects of institutions from the effects of what students bring to those institutions – are universities producing learning gain or providing experiences for people whose learning levels were set in high school? In general, we must be aware of what David Beer calls ‘the social life of methods’ – of how our procedures shape the universities to which we apply those procedures.
The book broaches a pair of substantive questions, which I put in my own terms. What specific institutional or policy changes would allow the democratisation of higher education? How could the U.S. system achieve mass quality? That would mean that learning quality would be roughly as good at Houston Community College, a chronically underfunded minority-majority urban campus with 70,000 students, as it is at Reed College, a private four-year liberal arts college with 1,400 students. On this crucial issue, the volume is inconclusive. It provides evidence that current policy and programme reforms do not do much. And yet it largely ignores the political and economic drivers whose fixing would do a great deal.
An example is the chapter by Doyle and Kirst on primary- and secondary-school policy drivers. They discuss K–12 policy in terms of theoretical frameworks like the ‘punctuated equilibrium’ policy model or the model of higher education as a ‘subgovernment’. They never mention the actual politics of K–12 education over the past several decades: widespread popular opposition to racial integration after the 1960s; well-funded national campaigns for ‘charter schools’ and vouchers that funnel public educational funds to schools controlled by churches and other private groups; the discrediting of the teaching profession; the replacement of professional judgment with elaborate teacher and student assessment regimes; the marginalising of professional teacher input into reforms as the corrupt self-interest of teachers’ unions; the tying of educational policy to the project of weakening those unions, and the like. The chapter is so burdened by methodological issues that it never gets to the politics or the political economy or the sociology of the teaching profession or to an empirical case study that would allow readers, especially in Europe, to use the chapter as a guide to U.S. changes.
Another way of putting this point is to say that education studies is a very hard field. It is its own kind of rocket science, and is in an important sense harder than disciplines like economics that can reduce complexity with stylised facts and behavioural assumptions and can produce formalised models that are more valuable for their internal coherence than for their correspondence with reality. The core questions of education scholars – for example, how does existing online technology affect the learning of highly diverse student populations? – cannot be answered with models. Higher education scholars need the confidence to go beyond models to make strong claims that can in turn create the coherent narratives that would influence both practitioners and the wider public.
With a couple of exceptions, that does not happen here. Most chapters summarise their own structure many times, which conveys to the non-specialist an indecision, or a lack of confidence, or, still worse, narrative non-progress. Several chapters sink beneath their taxonomies. There is a bias toward the anatomy, a genre descended from the Middle Ages that focuses on classification and is associated with fields that are just starting out.
Higher education desperately needs scholars of the calibre of these contributors to come up with deep solutions to the predicaments of U.S. higher education. The ecology is not just changing: a large part of it is collapsing into irreversible mediocrity, with predictable negative social effects. Urgent issues include the widespread withholding of institutional data that privatises decision-making and makes research difficult; increased state micromanagement; the declining professional stature of college teachers along the lines of their colleagues in K–12; the rise of rich advocacy foundations largely focused on improvement through process control; metrics that treat professional judgment as a problem that assessment must solve; and confusion about the public purposes of higher education.
Scholars need to tackle these issues today and not tomorrow. This volume helps get the reader in shape to get started, but more work is needed.
University of California, Santa Barbara
Zuleika Arashiro and Malba Barahona (eds) (2015) Women in Academia Crossing North–South Borders: Gender, Race and Displacement
Lanham, Boulder, New York and London: Lexington Books, 166 pp., ISBN 9781498517690
This book is an important read for everybody who is interested in the internationalisation of universities and the lived experience of academic migrants. The authors ask one central set of questions: what kind of othering mechanisms do migrants have to cope with when universities hire international academics but remain untouched by the diversity of knowledge these scholars bring? When universities are homogenised in a mainly Anglophone world, what epistemic violence do they exercise towards knowledge systems and histories other than the accepted ‘Western canon’? Are international academics either forced to forget about their academic past or to embrace being the other and becoming liminal strangers often with unstable career paths?
Displacement and discomfort lead the seven authors to interrogate the spaces of ‘epistemic disobedience’ (Walter Mignolo) and open the reader’s eyes to an experience-led exploration of migration from the southern hemisphere into the dominant world of Anglo-centric scholarship and the neoliberal university. The one uniting feature of all chapters is the slow realisation of its authors that what was/is required of such migrants is to be ‘ready to adjust, to learn, and in doing so, ready to continue forgetting’ (p. 5) As Arashiro, Demuro and Barahona point out, the global higher- education system is one of powerful suppression; the non-Anglo, non-Western migrant’s position is ‘defined always in contrast to a supposedly “universal” subjectivity (Eurocentric, Anglo centric, white, male, and heterosexual) against which our differences are often crafted as deficit, and very seldom on equal terms’ (p. x).
Although the chapters are crafted as autoethnographic or autobiographical pieces, they all address topics that are at the core of the present knowledge system. Migration for most of the authors was a way of discovering the (Anglophone) world of higher education, of gaining higher degrees and exploring more diversity in terms of their own scholarship. It was also a move into another language. They discovered that working in English meant the silencing not only of their own voice, but also of their own knowledges and their epistemologies. ‘Much like the Eurocentric transformation of the local into an abstract universal, the hegemony of English creates the fiction of the partial as totality’ (p. xiii). English language is revealed here as a neo-colonial tool that provincialises academic knowledge and facilitates epistemic violence by silencing work in all other languages than that of the Anglo-phone master voice and narrative.
Another thread in all chapters is the argument that all knowledge is situated and that awareness of the positionality of scholarship is just as important as ontological generosity. The authors argue from a standpoint that ‘the corporate universities continue to normalise the idea of a universal knowledge that can be apprehended by a subject without context, and be voiced from nowhere’ (p. xiii). Reclaiming situatedness, positionality and otherness is a decolonising political project that has the potential to bring back a diversity of knowledge systems and a respect for languages and epistemologies outside the dominant voices.
As well as arguing for a decolonisation and a de-privileging of white Western epistemologies, Women in Academia is a feminist project and its message is even stronger because it is also intersectional. Disadvantage for female academics is accelerated by being of colour and being from a non-English speaking country. Such female colleagues are immediately placed at the margins of the power structure. Their scholarship is often viewed as in need of streamlining, and their bodies are subjected to labelling process out of their control and often beyond their imagination. Chapters by Zuleika Arashiro and Rosalda Icaza make visible the process of racial labelling that renders them not only female academics of colour with accented English voices but also an ‘Other’ of previously unknown genealogy of mapping. Arashiro, who was born in Brazil of Okinawa refugee heritage, was suddenly labelled as an Asian woman as her body was read as convey ing otherness in ways that bore no connection to her life and identity. Icaza was called Latin-American and had to adjust to that all-encompassing stereotype despite having a strong Mexican identity and very little initial knowledge of the South American nations. ‘As technologies of otherness’, so Demuro writes in her chapter, ‘stereotypes serve master narratives’ of differences and hierarchies.
As a decolonising and healing strategy, the authors all reflect on the powerful techniques of unlearning belief systems, knowledge hierarchies, assembled identities and neo-colonial technologies of thinking and arguing unlearning and relearning. By choosing to be the other and make positionality visible and traceable, the seven authors contribute an emerging methodology of resistance and a powerful tool set for destabilising existing and entrenched systems of epistemic violence. This book has been awarded five stars in ‘goodreads.com’. It deserves it and comes highly recommended.
University of Wellington, New Zealand
Genine A. Hook (2016) Sole Parent Students and Higher Education: Gender, Policy and Widening Participation
London: Palgrave Macmillan, 230 pp., ISBN 9781137598868
Genine Hook’s book is a rare contribution to research on sole-parent students. It is worth recalling here that student parents, like other groups with caring responsibilities, have traditionally been absent from the literature on higher education. The 1980s and 1990s saw the emergence of a body of work establishing the basis for a sociological reflection about the relationship between the family and higher education (for example, David et al. 1993; Edwards 1993). However, it was only in the late 2000s that ‘student parents’, as a category of its own, started to emerge. Since then, the work of the likes of Brooks and Hinton-Smith in the U.K., Danna Lynch in the U.S., and Doyle and colleagues in New Zealand (Brooks 2015; Danna Lynch 2008; Doyle, Loveridge and Faamanatu-Eteuati 2015; Hinton-Smith 2012) have shed light on how student parents negotiate academic cultures that are often described as carefree and careless (Lynch 2010; Moreau 2016). While there is a growing scholarship about this group, a lack of concern for parents and other carers continues to characterise higher education policies, including in countries with decades of policymaking in the field of lifelong learning and widening participation. Students who are sole parents in particular have attracted very limited attention, with the exception of Tamsin Hinton-Smith’s excellent book, Lone Parents’ Experiences as Higher Education Students: Learning to Juggle, published in 2012.
With its focus on how students who are sole parents navigate carefree academic cultures, this book is a welcome addition to this growing scholarship. On a conceptual level, the book is informed by post-structuralist feminist theories, with specific reference to Judith Butler’s conceptualisations of performativity and gender. On an empirical level, it is sustained by a series of interviews conducted by the author with Australia-based sole-parent students, as part of her doctoral studies.
After setting up the policy and theoretical contexts for the study in Chapter 1, Chapter 2 introduces the book’s epistemological foundations. Hook does a brilliant job at bridging between the personal and the political as she reflects on her own positioning as a sole parent in academia, which has culminated in this book. Chapter 3 provides a comprehensive overview of the existing literature about parenting in academia, while Chapter 4 and Chapter 5 provide detailed information about the methodological and theoretical backgrounds to her study. Chapters 6 to 9 are more empirically oriented, with the analysis of sole-parent students’ narratives their focal point. In particular, Chapter 6 concentrates on how sole-parent postgraduates experience universities’ spatial arrangements, while Chapter 7 considers how this group is ‘being addressed’ and recognised within the institutional structures of academia, with specific reference to the role played by academic supervisors in these processes. Chapter 8 further pursues this line of investigation, focussing on social welfare policies and on how the organisation administering these policies in Australia (Centrelink) mis/recognises sole-parent students. Chapter 9 looks more specifically at how this group negotiates the prevailing discourses that constrain their lives and how they demonstrate agency in ‘self-crafting’ their identities as students who are sole parents. As well as coming back to some of the key findings, the conclusion explores avenues for social change and considers which directions university and social-welfare policies should take to facilitate the participation of students who are sole parents in higher education.
This book is exemplary is many ways. Hook’s analyses of sole-parent students’ narratives are particularly insightful and always articulated with the broader discourses within which they are positioned. Her use of post-structural feminist theories enables her to fully acknowledge the agency of students who are sole parents without ever negating the structural barriers they encounter as she highlights ‘the interrelatedness of individual capacities and their conditions of account that are not of their own making’ (p. 182). The book also illuminates the complexity of the environment in which sole-parent students negotiate their lives, giving key consideration to matters of intersectionality and to a broad range of policies and cultural patterns (including social welfare policies, higher education policies and discourses of mothering). Ultimately, the book raises awareness of the many barriers faced by this group without ever positioning them through a deficit discourse, which is no small feat considering the vilifying stereotypes to which sole parents (and sole mothers in particular) are often subjected. As well as providing an insightful discussion of a group of students who have been given limited attention in policy and in research circles, Hook’s focus on those ‘at the margins’ reveals the discourses which circulate and the norms which operate ‘in the centre’ of academia and other institutions. These discourses include what is a family, who is a (good) parent, who is a (good) student, and who is a deserving recipient of social welfare. While some sections are theoretically oriented, the book remains highly readable throughout. This and its positioning at the nexus of several fields (higher education, social welfare, gender and parenting) will make it relevant to readers with a range of interests and expertise, including postgraduates, academics and policymakers.
Reader in Sociology of Education, Roehampton University
BrooksR. (2015) ‘Social and spatial disparities in emotional responses to education: feelings of “guilt” amongst student-parents’ British Educational Research Journal 41 no. 3: 505–519.
Danna LynchK. (2008) ‘Gender roles and the American academe: a case study of graduate student mothers’ Gender & Education 20 no. 6: 585–605.
DavidM.EdwardsR.HughesM.RibbensJ. (eds) (1993) Mothers and Education: Inside Out? Exploring Family-Education Policy and ExperienceBasingstokeThe Macmillan Press.
DoyleS.LoveridgeJ. and Faamanatu-EteuatiN. (2015) ‘Counting family: making the family of international students visible in higher education policy and practice’ Higher Education Policy 29: 1–15.
MoreauM.P. (2016) ‘Regulating the student body/ies: university policies and student parents’ British Educational Research Journal 42 no. 5: 906–925.