‘Together but not scrambled’: Family negotiations of social differences in socioeconomically diverse schools

Drawing on a global context of tension between national ideologies driven by democratic values and the challenges posed by increasing levels of social diversity, the paper reflects on the ways social diversity in schools may promote conviviality and negotiated togetherness (Wise & Noble, 2016), that is, a third space for the articulation of cultural differences (Bhabha, 1994) and for shaping inclusive subjective dispositions (Bourdieu, 1990) to otherness. As the literature suggests, school mix (the school’s social diversity) and school mixing (the interactions between students/parents from different backgrounds) may contribute to the development of inclusive dispositions. However, exclusionary dispositions may also emerge (e.g., internal segregation and strengthening of prejudices) (e.g., Neal & Vincent, 2013; Reay et al., 2011; Wilson, 2011).

This discussion is illustrated by a study conducted in Chile, a key case to observe exceptional socioeconomic segregation, as well as an unusual process of recent educational reforms (i.e., ‘Inclusion Law’) attempting to promote inclusion and diversity of school populations. I carried out a qualitative case study in two schools with above-average levels of socioeconomic diversity prior to the implementation of the Law, to understand existing processes of school mix/mixing and the potentialities of the reforms. I conducted observations, informal conversations, and in-depth semi-structured interviews (38) with members of the staff and parents from different social classes. Here I focus on the latter.

The findings suggest the intertwined workings of mixophilia and homophily. Engaging with different people is perceived as encouraging the expansion of the children’s horizons and the potential development of what I interpret as ‘egalitarian dispositions’, i.e., values towards social class difference and mixing based on the commitment to equality across human beings. The parents also express clear preferences for certain ‘others’ and closure to ‘other others’ based on two kinds of fears: physical/psychological threats (e.g., bullying) and the contagion of unwanted attitudes. Despite the parents’ avoidance of making associations between undesirable attitudes and particular social classes, the ‘quintessential other’ embodying their fears is the ‘flaite’, which they position at the bottom of the social structure. I discuss the differences between the working- and middle-class parents’ narratives and conclude with a discussion of the extent to which these exceptionally heterogeneous schools and the subjectivities they shape might contribute to challenging segregation and exclusion.