Our book of the month from Manchester University Press
10 Aug 2021
Assistant Editorial Controller Humairaa reviews this month's pick
All in the mix by Bridget Byrne, Professor of Sociology at The University of Manchester and Carla de Tona, independent researcher
"It is clear that, when the focus is all on the ‘mix’, one person’s diversity may, literally, look like another’s monoculture." (Conclusion, All in the mix)
Humairaa writes: 'All in the mix explores the rite of passage that is the transition to secondary school. Through a series of semi-structured interviews with parents* from three areas in and around Manchester – Chorlton, Whalley Range and Cheadle Hulme – this book investigates the roles played by race and class in influencing parents’ choice (or lack of) of secondary school. Written in an accessible style and peppered with extracts from the interviews throughout, the authors draw interesting comparisons and connections and ultimately bring to the fore the question on everyone’s mind: what exactly is it that constitutes the enigmatic ‘mix’ of students – and social setting – that everyone seems to be looking for?
The book starts with a framing of the parent as consumer, which segues neatly into one of the key debates of the book – the extent of choice parents feel they have, when it comes to selecting a secondary school. Bearing in mind the constraints of locality as well as ability to access private or fee-paying schooling provision, many expressed their frustrations at not having much choice at all.
But choosing schools is not only frustrating: it is a decision enveloped in fear and anxiety too. Byrne and de Tona illustrate how the concept of school choice is an ‘emotional arena’ for many parents, who see this decision – coloured by perceptions of place, and expectations of the types of people who will attend the schools in question – as instrumental in the shaping of their child. These choices are further complicated by issues of geographical mobility – some interviewees intentionally settled in a particular location with the idea that it was a good place to bring up a family, whilst others never had the agency to do so. The authors also discuss to what extent the decision-making is gendered.
All in the mix is one of my favourite MUP books not because it is one of the first I worked on (but that too) or because it looks so handsome (it is), but because the fascinating insight it offers – into how considerations around race and class, as well as religion and gender, influence choice – are debates and conversations that remain relevant and evolving now more than ever.
With the impending 1 November deadline for this year’s secondary school applications, this descriptive study is a timely read. It will appeal not only to parents, but to anyone interested in how thoughts around race and class (including the ambiguity surrounding how these concepts are understood) shape choices, expectations, and, somewhat amusingly, language – the concept of a ‘mix’ serving as both a euphemism and dysphemism for racial and class diversity in this context.'
* The term ‘parents’ is used because these are the majority of those who are legally required to choose, and the majority of the people interviewed, but the authors acknowledge that many children have other legal guardians.