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'Grit', Governmentality & the Erasure of Inequality? The Curious Rise of Character Education Policy

Council Room, King’s College London
11/07/2016 (09:30-17:15)
A BSA Sociology of Education Study Group Conference in association with Culture, Media and Creative Industries, King’s College London and the School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds.

Invited speakers: Dr Janet Batsleer (Manchester Metropolitan University) and Professor Val Gillies (Goldsmiths).

Over the past five years, there has been a growing interest and investment in ‘character’ education. A growing number of policy initiatives and reports have asserted the importance of nurturing character in children and young people – with qualities such as ‘grit’, ‘optimism’, ‘resilience’, ‘zest’, and ‘bouncebackability’ located as preparing young people for the challenges of the 21st century and enabling social mobility. This includes the Department for Education’s multi-million pound package of measures to help schools ‘instil character in pupils’ and the ‘All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility’ Character and Resilience Manifesto. The positioning of character education as a panacea to social and educational inequality has coincided with policies promoting ‘resilience’ in areas as diverse as health and housing to employment and welfare. It is notable that the policy traction of these terms has emerged against a backdrop of austerity in which programmes of welfare reform and continuing economic uncertainty have seen rising poverty levels among children and young people, and in which political rhetoric has explained poverty as resulting from behavioral and moral deficiencies rather than the structural inequalities unleashed by neoliberal capitalism. This one-day conference will bring together researchers across a range of disciplines and research areas to critically discuss this policy agenda. It will attempt to unravel how and why it has emerged and at this particular moment, and consider its implications.

Registration Booking is now open. Conference fee: BSA members £15 & Non-members £30, (includes lunch and refreshments). To register please go to:

Dr Kim Allen is a University Academic Fellow in Urban Sociology (Youth and Inequality) at the University of Leeds. Her research is located at the intersections of youth studies, sociology, gender studies and the cultural studies of education. A feminist researcher, her work is informed by a commitment to social justice.

She has worked on a range of research projects, including one on ‘Celebrity Culture and Young People’s Classed and Gendered Aspirations’ (ESRC); and on young women’s transitions in austerity (British Academy). She sits on the editorial board of Sociological Research Online; British Journal of Sociology of Education; and Gender and Education. She is a member of the British Sociological Association and Gender and Education.

Dr Anna Bull is a researcher at King's College London in the Culture, Media and Creative Industries department, examining amateur creative and cultural practices in the UK. She completed her PhD, which was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, in the sociology department at Goldsmiths College, University of London, in 2015, researching class and gender among young people playing classical music in the UK. She has recently published an article based on this research on Sistema music education programmes in the UK, in the journal Action, Criticism & Theory for Music Education, as well as blog posts and an article for Discover Society.

Anna's previous career was as a pianist and cellist in New Zealand and Scotland, working with a variety of ensembles and groups as a performer and music educator, including Scottish Opera, the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the New Zealand Chamber Orchestra, and Live Music Now!.

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