Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Unequal Inclusion: The Production of Social Differences in Education Systems

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Abstract:  The article raises the question of whether and how education systems produce social differences internally rather than reproducing pre‐existing “external” inequalities. Linking Niklas Luhmann’s theory of inclusion/exclusion with Charles Tilly’s theory of categorical inequalities, and based on empirical data from various qualitative studies, the article identifies an “observation regime” epistemically constituting the social classification of students and legitimising organisational closure mechanisms in the school system. As an alternative to the “reproduction paradigm,” a research approach guided by differentiation theory is proposed that takes into account that educational inequality operationally arises on the “inside” of the educational system and is caused by unequal inclusion processes.

Keywords:  educational inequality; exclusion; inclusion; observation regime; social closure



© Marcus Emmerich, Ulrike Hormel. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.