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The opportunity trap: education and employment in a global economy

Brown, Phillip ORCID: 2003. The opportunity trap: education and employment in a global economy. [Working Paper]. School of Social Sciences Working Papers Series, vol. 32. Cardiff: Cardiff University. Available at:

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The opportunity to make a better life is enshrined in democratic societies. In recent decades the growth in personal freedom and the rhetoric of the knowledge economy have led many to believe that we have more opportunities than ever before. We are told that the trade-off between efficiency and justice no longer holds in a global knowledge-driven economy, as the opportunity to exploit the talents of all, at least in the developed world, is now a realistic goal. This article will challenge such accounts of education, opportunity and global labour market. It points to enduring social inequalities in the competition for a livelihood and an intensification of ‘positional’ conflict. Our ‘opportunities’ are becoming harder to cash in. The opportunity-cost is increasing because the pay-off depends on getting ahead in the competition for tough entry jobs. Middle class families in competitive hot spots are adopting increasingly desperate measures to win a positional advantage. But the opportunity trap is not only a problem for individuals or families. It exposes an inherent tension, if not contradiction, in the relationship between capitalism and democracy. It will be argued that the legitimate foundations of opportunity, based on education, jobs and rewards is unravelling. Within education, this not only represents further symptoms of the ‘diploma disease’ but a social revolution that fundamentally challenges our understanding of education, efficiency and social justice.

Item Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
L Education > L Education (General)
Publisher: Cardiff University
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 27 Oct 2022 09:57

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