Parents, individualism and education: three paradigms and four countries

Ralph Fevre, Isabel Guimarães, Wei Zhou

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) is an important indicator of the increased global importance of education. It defines the goal of education at the level of the child rather than the state, the community or household. The requirement that each child be treated as an individual who can expect to see their 'personality, talents and mental and physical abilities' fully developed, is an example of the individualism which features in three important theoretical paradigms for understanding the rise of education and training. We compare accounts of the global growth of education produced by functionalism, neoinstitutionalism and political economy with the help of qualitative research on children's experience of parental influences. The research is drawn from semi-structured interviews with millennial graduates in Portugal, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It reveals weaknesses in the paradigms which are related to the way each theorises individualism and the role it plays in parental influence on education. The functionalist and neoinstitutionalist conceptions of individualism limit the usefulness of these paradigms for understanding changes in the way families around the world prepare children for education. The political economy paradigm is more promising; however, an approach which identifies only one, neoliberal, version of individualism has limited purchase on international differences in parental influences and the way these influences are changing. An approach which can draw on the contrast between a cognitive individualism associated with neoliberalism, and sentimental individualism which originates in social movements, is more promising.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)693-726
Number of pages34
JournalReview of Education
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020


  • Functionalism
  • Individualism
  • International comparative
  • Neoinstitutionalism
  • Political economy


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