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Soc. Sci. 2018, 7(8), 131; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7080131

What Meritocracy Means to its Winners: Admissions, Race, and Inequality at Elite Universities in The United States and Britain

Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
Received: 21 June 2018 / Revised: 11 July 2018 / Accepted: 3 August 2018 / Published: 8 August 2018
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Stratification and Inequality in Access to Higher Education)
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Abstract

How do winners of processes of meritocracy make sense of those processes, especially in the face of forceful public critiques of their unequal outcomes? In this paper I analyze the meaning-making with respect to merit in university admissions of White, native-born undergraduates attending elite American and British universities. I find that United States students support the “calibration” of evaluations of merit, and emphasize evaluations of applicants’ contributions to the “collective merit” of their university cohorts. British students espouse a universalist, individualist understanding of merit. While conceptions of merit differed across national contexts, students in both reproduced the notions of merit espoused by their universities. I conclude that in spite of a long history of student protest on college campuses, rather than engagement with symbolic politics on liberal-identified campuses, self-interest in status legitimation dominates student perspectives, ultimately reproducing understandings of merit that will reproduce inequality. The paper draws upon 98 one-on-one in-depth interviews with White, native-born undergraduates attending Harvard University, Brown University, and University of Oxford. View Full-Text
Keywords: meritocracy; admissions; affirmative action; race; United States; Britain meritocracy; admissions; affirmative action; race; United States; Britain
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
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Warikoo, N. What Meritocracy Means to its Winners: Admissions, Race, and Inequality at Elite Universities in The United States and Britain. Soc. Sci. 2018, 7, 131.

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