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The (Re-)Production of Elites in Private and Public Boarding Schools: Comparative Perspectives on Elite Education in Germany

Elites and People: Challenges to Democracy

ISBN: 978-1-83867-916-3, eISBN: 978-1-83867-915-6

ISSN: 0195-6310

Publication date: 7 October 2019


Recently, the public and academic discussion on elite education and the selection of top performers in Germany has led to a renewed controversy about social exclusion and inequality. Consequently, the use of terms such as ‘elite’, ‘excellence’ and ‘intellectual giftedness’ have provoked a debate about the necessity, opportunities, and rejection of educational distinctions. This chapter takes a comparative perspective to examine a private boarding school with a rich tradition, and a relatively new state-run public boarding school, examining their status as exclusive educational institutions, including their selection processes, elite aspirations and educational philosophies. The analysis focusses on how the schools construe themselves as elite and how exclusive membership is created and negotiated within the boarding school context. Using a multilevel qualitative approach and empirical data, this chapter offers findings on mechanisms of elite formation in boarding schools between two poles: the reproduction of an existing elite status and the production of elites from scratch. The analyses show the establishment of a distinct composition of students – either selected by milieu affiliation or by cognitive abilities – resulting in specific processes of coherence and distinction within the school communities. Thus, this chapter makes a contribution to a differentiated observation of new educational hierarchies in Germany.



Gibson, A. (2019), "The (Re-)Production of Elites in Private and Public Boarding Schools: Comparative Perspectives on Elite Education in Germany", Engelstad, F., Gulbrandsen, T., Mangset, M. and Teigen, M. (Ed.) Elites and People: Challenges to Democracy (Comparative Social Research, Vol. 34), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 115-135.



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