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Life Chances, Education and Social Movements

Life Chances, Education and Social Movements

By Lyle Munro

Key Issues in Modern Sociology

‘Life Chances, Education and Social Movements’ dwells on the necessity of education and social movements for enhancing the life chances of individuals and disadvantaged groups respectively. Ralf Dahrendorf’s work on life chances and social conflict is used to support the theoretical and empirical arguments in the book.

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July 2019

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July 2019

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About This Book

‘Life Chances, Education and Social Movements’ explains the sociology of life chances, the opportunities and experiences of different generations in Australia, the United States and the UK, and how the differential distribution of life-enhancing opportunities affects our well-being. It is now four decades since the publication of Ralf Dahrendorf’s ‘Life Chances: Approaches to Social and Political Theory’ (1979), a surprisingly neglected work that has much to offer by way of explaining some of the social and political challenges of the present era. Dahrendorf’s life-chances theory is an expanded and innovative analysis of Max Weber’s original notion of ‘Lebenschancen’ and is used to support the theoretical and empirical arguments in Lyle Munro’s book. Dahrendorf defines life chances as a function of options (provisions and entitlements) and ligatures (networks that provide a sense of solidarity and belonging). For Dahrendorf, education is arguably the most important option individuals can utilise for improving their well-being and for overcoming social and economic disadvantages. While there are countless sociological accounts of inequality, Munro’s study takes a different and novel approach based on Dahrendorf’s model according to which education and social movements and their networks function to enhance the life chances of individuals and social groups respectively.

Munro emphasises the necessity of formal education and its transformative power in the lives of individuals; he stresses the importance of an individual’s life chances of achieving satisfactory levels of literacy, numeracy and oracy during a decade or more of formal schooling. While this might seem self-evident, the evidence in Australia indicates there is a disturbingly large number of students who leave school without these basic skills, the consequences of which are often dire.

At a broader level, ‘Life Chances, Education and Social Movements’ stresses the importance of education movements in improving the lives of disadvantaged social groups. This is a topic that rarely features in the social movement literature, as a content search of the leading journals in the field reveals. Education movements, including the controversial widening participation movement and the lifelong learning movement and its several subsidiaries, such as VET and adult education, are advocated as alternatives to university, which for many students has proven to be either out of reach, beyond their means or a costly mistake. Munro is critical of the widening participation movement whenever it privileges university learning at the expense of technical and vocational education.

The last part of the book focuses on five social movements that seek to sustain the lives of human and nonhuman animals. The first movement to be analysed is the social justice movement that campaigns against racism, sexism and classism, the much-studied trinity in the discipline of sociology. Followers of Peter Singer’s ‘Animal Liberation’ regard speciesism as the missing relative in race, gender and class relations and nonhuman animals as arguably the most vulnerable members of society. For an increasing number of movement theorists, speciesism – the prejudice and practice that posits the interests of members of one’s own species against the interests of members of other species – is seen as animal abuse, a social problem on a par with elder abuse, child abuse and the like.

The second movement against risks to our collective life chances seeks to protect human and nonhuman animals from some of the most dangerous developments confronting the planet such as climate change, environmental degradation, terrorism and nuclear war. Two of the most challenging risks to both people and animals – pandemics and climate change – and the link between them are discussed in some detail, since the link between human and nonhuman animals tends to be ignored by most commentators on ‘the risk society’.

Finally, student, worker and citizen movements are engaged in a quest to improve the lives of their constituents and more broadly as part of a proposed mass mobilisation against the corporate elites who are responsible for most of the social, economic and environmental problems we face in the current era. The book is predominantly about Australia, with comparative examples and case studies from the UK, Europe and the United States.


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Author Information

Lyle Munro taught sociology at Monash University from 1990 to 2010 and is currently an honorary research fellow at Federation University Australia.


Key Issues in Modern Sociology

Table of Contents

Introduction; Part I The Sociology of Life Chances; 1. Life Chances in Theory and Practice; 2. Generations and Life Chances; 3. The Inequality Spectrum; Part II Education Institutions and Movements; 4. The Necessity of Education; 5. The Widening Participation Movement; 6. The Lifelong Learning Movement; Part III The Transformative Power of Social Movements; 7. Social Justice Movements; 8. Risk Movements against Existential Threats; 9. Student, Worker and Citizen Movements; Conclusion; Index.

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