Household strategies, schooling regimes and social exclusion in western Uttar Pradesh, India



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Papers and


Project Background

We came to this topic from slightly different directions. Roger Jeffery and Patricia Jeffery have conducted extended field research in Bijnor District on two previous occasions (1982-83 and 1990-1991). Their earlier work in Bijnor focused on the health sector and social demography and highlighted links between parental reproductive strategies and local state practices in health and education. Their work also raised questions regarding the effect of education on women’s ‘autonomy’ and their capacity to limit their fertility. In 1996-1997 Craig Jeffrey conducted doctoral research in Meerut District, western UP that focused on the social strategies of rich Jat farmers. Craig identified a shift within the rural elite from a direct mode of social reproduction, where advantage was passed down to the next generation through the transfer of property, to mediated reproduction, whereby privilege is simultaneously reproduced through the transmission of schooling credentials and social networking skills. This partial transition was bound up with the growth of non-state schooling in Meerut District.

We spent two extended periods in Bijnor District (September 2000 to April 2001 and a similar period in 2001-02). Supplementary data were collected from Meerut district, where more large, well-funded (and expensive) English-medium schools have been established than in the poorer district of Bijnor. Put together, these data provide fascinating insights into the recent proliferation of non-state schooling and its connection to parental strategies and political action. Western UP is often associated with the commercialisation of agriculture (mainly sugar cane and wheat) and an attendant rise in some forms of service-based industry. But at the same time, by no means unique to western UP, population has grown rapidly, leading to sub-division of agricultural holdings. Rates of non-farm employment generation have not kept up with the demand for non-agricultural jobs, and there is a shortage of institutional credit. These factors are intensifying competition for public-sector jobs, at a time when such jobs are increasingly rare, and encouraging competition for economically advantageous marriage alliances. Some households are encouraging their sons to migrate to Delhi or further afield, in attempts to escape potential or actual livelihood crises. Within these changes, the search for educational qualifications is increasingly competitive, and credentials for male and female children are becoming central to processes of class and gender differentiation.

Popular disillusionment with state schooling in western U.P. is reflected in a rise in non-state educational facilities. These include: Islamic madrasahs, schools set up by politicians, religious bodies and local associations; profit-making (often English-medium) schools, coaching institutions and tutorial classes; and small schools in private homes. Recent state interventions in western U.P have served to further politicise schooling and its relationship to social mobility: for example through the extension of educational reservations for OBCs and attempts to alter the curriculum within madrasahs.

We are looking at the intersection of social, economic and cultural forms of dominance and exclusion within a broad political economy framework. Our research population is highly diverse in terms of class, caste, community and gender. This allows us to understand how forms of dominance and exclusion intersect in relation to different schooling regimes. We are exploring how these diverse actors (within and outwith schools) accumulate, store and deploy different assets. Economic assets are central to our research. But we are also concerned with understanding the role of social resources and cultural capital in the reproduction of inequality.

Two theoretical concepts that we have found useful in thinking about inter-related inequalities are notions of ‘social capital’ and ‘habitus.’ We have employed Bourdieu’s use of social capital,

‘the total of actual and potential resources connected with the possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalised relations of mutual recognition’.
This definition anticipates a number of recent critiques of social capital. It avoids putting a positive or negative valuation on an individual’s ‘possession’ of social capital. It has also directed our attention to how social connections are established and reaffirmed through symbolic and material practices.

We have also used Bourdieu’s notion of habitus: internalised dispositions that generate practices and perceptions. ‘Habitus’ directs our attention to the key role of dispositions - for example manners, tastes, modes of speech or dress - in the reproduction of social difference. As Bourdieu’s work might suggest, we have found the schools in western UP to be important institutions shaping people’s habitus. In some respects, a person’s habitus reflects their structural location. But habitus is also a source of improvisation, and we have explored how similar structural positions have generated a variety of ambitions , attitudes and strategies (or refusals to strategise). Our focus on habitus does not preclude an appreciation of forms of resistance at the local level. People may occasionally raise their habitus into consciousness to produce critical discourses, or, as some have pointed out, critique may inhabit pre-reflective modes of thought as an unconscious interpretive schema.

We are seeking to establish connections between household level strategies and economic and political processes operating at broader scales. So while our research bears passing resemblance to a set of ‘village studies’ we are actually trying to locate ‘the village,’ and people’s ambitions and strategies, with relation to much wider social, political and cultural processes. Our research therefore provides insights into the following overlapping issues:

  • Individual schooling, employment and marriage strategies and their relationship to processes of social differentiation.
  • The relationship between schooling, employment and marriage strategies and social mobilisation (from ‘civil society’ organisations to corrupt networks).
  • Non-state schools and the institutional landscape (including the relationship between state and non-state schools).
  • Secondary schools as sites of social and cultural reproduction.

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