Unsettling Choice

Unsettling Choice

Race, Rights, and the Partitioning of Public Education

Ujju Aggarwal

How the Great Recession revealed a system of school choice built on crisis, precarity, and exclusion

184 Pages, 6 x 9 in

  • Paperback
  • 9781517915674
  • Published: March 5, 2024
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  • eBook
  • 9781452970356
  • Published: March 5, 2024
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  • Hardcover
  • 9781517915667
  • Published: March 5, 2024
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Details

Unsettling Choice

Race, Rights, and the Partitioning of Public Education

Ujju Aggarwal

ISBN: 9781517915674

Publication date: March 5th, 2024

184 Pages

1 black and white illustration, 2 maps

8 x 5

"Brilliant in her artistry, Ujju Aggarwal carries us across narrative maps of an extraordinary set of relations. Her geographic analysis compels us into tense and complex terrains of partition and possibility: neighborhood, community, and school. Unsettling Choice exquisitely collides scale to consider vast histories and conditions of publics, choice, gentrification, abandonment, and more while simultaneously centering the profoundly intimate, local story of a group of women practicing radical care. Read this book, and be moved and transformed."—Sabina Vaught, coauthor of The School-Prison Trust

 

"Unsettling Choice combines ethnographic encounters with race theory emanating from Black studies and critical geography to present a nuanced understanding of how education and housing are structurally formed by race, class, and gender. Ujju Aggarwal's book is a must-read to understand the racialized violence inherent within one of the most fundamental aspects of education in the United States: the logic of choice."—Damien M. Sojoyner, author of First Strike: Educational Enclosures in Black Los Angeles

 


How the Great Recession revealed a system of school choice built on crisis, precarity, and exclusion

 

What do universal rights to public goods like education mean when codified as individual, private choices? Is the “problem” of school choice actually not about better choices for all but, rather, about the competition and exclusion that choice engenders—guaranteeing a system of winners and losers? Unsettling Choice addresses such questions through a compelling ethnography that illuminates how one path of neoliberal restructuring in the United States emerged in tandem with, and in response to, the Civil Rights movement.

 

Drawing on ethnographic research in one New York City school district, Unsettling Choice traces the contestations that surfaced when, in the wake of the 2007–2009 Great Recession, public schools navigated austerity by expanding choice-based programs. Ujju Aggarwal argues that this strategy, positioned as “saving public schools,” mobilized mechanisms rooted in market logics to recruit families with economic capital on their side, thereby solidifying a public sphere that increasingly resembled the private—where contingency was anticipated and rights for some were marked by intensified precarity for poor and working-class Black and Latinx families.

 

As Unsettling Choice shows, these struggles over public schools—one of the last remaining universal public goods in the United States—were entrapped within neoliberal regimes that exceeded privatization and ensured exclusion even as they were couched in language of equity, diversity, care, and rights. And yet this richly detailed and engaging book also tracks an architecture of expansive rights, care, and belonging built among poor and working-class parents at a Head Start center, whose critique of choice helps us understand how we might struggle for—and reimagine—justice, and a public that remains to be won.

 

 

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Ujju Aggarwal is assistant professor of anthropology and experiential learning at The New School. She is coeditor of What’s Race Got to Do with It? How Current School Reform Policy Maintains Racial and Economic Inequality.