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Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Curriculum and Instruction

First Advisor

Ronald E. Hallett

First Committee Member

Delores E. McNair

Second Committee Member

Marcia D. Hernandez


Bourdieu, the French sociologist, proposed some significant concepts (e.g., habitus, capital and field) to help to explain how social agents play roles in social occurrences. Among his theories, Bourdieu’s trilogy of economic capital, social capital and cultural capital has now been used as a powerful theoretical framework to explain class reproduction and education equity. Over the past decades, his theories have begun to be introduced and recognized in Chinese academic world. And this research attempts to see whether this western theory works in the Chinese educational context.

Shanghai, one of the biggest cities in China, has a huge migrant population. Limited by the unique Chinese hukou system, the migrant population in Chinese big cities mostly faces a challenging situation to ensure their children’s local educational opportunities, especially during the compulsory education levels. However, the past research only focused on its disadvantaged subgroup, i. e. the migrant worker population while ignoring the vast diversity in their economic, social and cultural capitals among this general population. Therefore, this research, by means of a comparative multiple case study, aims to see how parents’ economic, social and cultural capitals help to win their children’s educational opportunities at elementary education level.

Studying three typical migrant families with distinguishable strong, medium and weak capitals, the research finds the specific paths how the parents respectively use their economic, social and cultural capitals to obtain more educational opportunities for their children, and eventually produce the divide in educational outcomes, school segregation and social stratification. The research extends its discussion with characteristics of parent capitals, redefinitions of educational opportunities, and an unexpected minor theme about full-time mother.

At the end of the dissertation, it can be concluded that Bourdieu’s trilogy of economic, social and cultural capital does work in Chinese educational context. And it indeed helps us to see more clearly what is happening in present China at a transitional age and calls for service and help to the disadvantaged migrant families in Chinese cities.



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