Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

James Ainsworth

Second Advisor

Tomeka Davis

Third Advisor

Daniel Pasciuti


This dissertation addresses the role of race in school choice among French middle-class parents. It finds that institutional policies and individual practices combine to foster school segregation, which among immigrants may only be seen as racism. This qualitative study involves semi-structured interviews of 29 parents at three typical schools in the Parisian suburbs where a confluence of geographic and policy factors grants school choice impetus despite official restrictions. In building on a model from Ball (2003), the parents fall into four qualitative types in actions on school choice. Conducted amid a period of terrorist, political, and economic incidents in 2016 and 2017, the study also inquired on the effects of global risk, drawing on an alternative theory of Beck (1992; 2002). Little in parental accounts indicate that class anxiety and risk are salient in school choice, however. The racial inquiry is framed by Omi and Winant (2015), Bonilla-Silva (2013), and Lamont and Molnár (2002). The study finds that ideology and conventions weigh heavily on how race is understood. Though parents see commonalities between the United States and France on segregation, they explain it as a social class effect, keeping with Marxian stratification. These accounts correspond more with Lamont and Molnár than with the critical theories of Bonilla-Silva and Omi and Winant. Nevertheless, by paying attention to racial ideas, language, and outcomes, as Bonilla-Silva urges, what emerges from parental accounts is a “how you see it, how you don’t” view of race rather than a “now you see it, now you don’t” view as in the United States. Moreover, instead of blaming the victim, the parents point to social and economic conditions, not personal failure. The model of school choice and race that emerges shows that race becomes obscured in the school choice process. The racial coin has two faces. On one face are the parents acting in the “best” interests of society and children. On the other face are the acted-upon, immigrants with their own racial scripts. On that face is what to immigrants may be readily understood from institutional policies and individual practices as racism.