Categorical Inequality: Schools as Sorting Machines

Posted: 14 Aug 2017

See all articles by Thurston Domina

Thurston Domina

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill

Andrew M. Penner

University of California, Irvine - Department of Sociology

Emily Penner

University of California, Irvine - Department of Economics

Date Written: July 2017

Abstract

Despite their egalitarian ethos, schools are social sorting machines, creating categories that serve as the foundation of later life inequalities. In this review, we apply the theory of categorical inequality to education, focusing particularly on contemporary American schools. We discuss the range of categories that schools create, adopt, and reinforce, as well as the mechanisms through which these categories contribute to production of inequalities within schools and beyond. We argue that this categorical inequality frame helps to resolve a fundamental tension in the sociology of education and inequality, shedding light on how schools can—at once—be egalitarian institutions and agents of inequality. By applying the notion of categorical inequality to schools, we provide a set of conceptual tools that can help researchers understand, measure, and evaluate the ways in which schools structure social inequality.

Suggested Citation

Domina, Thurston and Penner, Andrew and Penner, Emily, Categorical Inequality: Schools as Sorting Machines (July 2017). Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 43, pp. 311-330, 2017, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3018069 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/annurev-soc-060116-053354

Thurston Domina (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill ( email )

102 Ridge Road
Chapel Hill, NC NC 27514
United States

Andrew Penner

University of California, Irvine - Department of Sociology ( email )

2264 Social Sciences Plaza B
Irvine, CA 92697-5100
United States

Emily Penner

University of California, Irvine - Department of Economics ( email )

No Address Available

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