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Keywords:

  • school choice;
  • community;
  • consumerism;
  • parenting;
  • active citizenship

Abstract

This paper draws on elements of critical discursive psychology in order to explore some of the issues and concerns raised by parents' responses to the policy and practice of school choice. Drawing on data from a group of mothers of diverse social class and racial backgrounds, this paper examines the dilemmas some mothers engage with in their role as chooser—reconciling competing rationalities for choosing or trying to manage contradictions. A central argument of this paper is that the policy and political context shaping the emergence of school choice in Britain has provisionally secured the development of certain trends in education—consumerism, individualism and competition. Alongside and coupled with this has been the veneration of a narrow utilitarian conception of parents as consumers of education services, defined as people who share the capacity and willingness to maximize the utility of their decisions in a rationally self-interested way. This paper questions the value of this approach as a framing for understanding the aspirations, motivations and fantasies informing parents' school choice and highlights instead the ways in which some mothers articulate the importance of community in their decision-making practices. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.