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Out now: Educational Expansion, Social Class, and Choosing Latin as a Strategy of Distinction

Gerhards, Jürgen, Ulrich Kohler & Tim Sawert. 2021.

News from Dec 01, 2021

In: Educational Expansion, Social Class, and Choosing Latin as a Strategy of Distinction. Zeitschrift für Soziologie, vol. 50, no. 5, pp. 306-321. DOI


In times of educational expansion, privileged families are looking for new strategies of distinction. Referring to Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of distinction, we argue that choosing Latin at school – a language that is no longer spoken and therefore has no direct value – is one of the strategies of privileged families to set themselves apart from less privileged families. Based on two surveys we conducted at German schools, the paper analyzes the relationship between parents’ educational background and the probability that their child will learn Latin. Results indicate that historically academic families have the strongest tendency towards learning Latin, followed by new academic families, and leaving behind the non-academic families. We distinguish between four causal mechanisms that might help to explain these associations: cultural distinction, selecting a socially exclusive learning environment, beliefs in a secondary instrumental function of learning Latin, and spatial proximity between the location of humanist Gymnasiums and the residential areas of privileged families. The hypotheses are formalized by means of Directed Acyclic Graphs (DAG). Findings show that the decision to learn Latin is predominately an unintended consequence of the selection of a socially exclusive learning environment. In addition, there is evidence that especially children from historically academic families learn Latin as a strategy of cultural distinction.

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