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Spyros Themelis, Social Change and Education in Greece: A Study in Class Struggle Dynamics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2013. Pp. xii + 310. 11 tables, 3 appendices, 1 figure. Cloth $110.

Spyros Themelis explores the role of education as a main mechanism for social mobility in postwar Greece from the late 1940s to the late 2000s. In particular, Themelis embarks upon a case study investigating occupational opportunities and the impact of education in their differential distribution within a specific community in Northwestern Greece. In order to capture intergenerational mobility, he chooses participants from three, adjacent generations: an older (65 years old and older), a middle (45–64 years old), and a younger one (25–44 years old). This three-generation schema has been followed [End Page 211] in several studies investigating sociocultural change in Greece, and despite the crosssectional rather than prospective nature, it captures the dynamic element of change very well. The author focuses equally on both genders, thus introducing an original element in this study, since conventional mobility inquiries are typically male-centered.

Themelis’s approach is methodologically interesting and complex. He has adopted a holistic, systemic epistemology, treating the community as embedded within a historical, social, political, and economic context and its members as related through interconnected institutions, such as education and family. Furthermore, he takes into account the interrelation of social class, gender, and ethnicity as variables pertinent to social mobility. Thus, he includes in his design dominant and marginalized groups, the latter represented by Roma residents of the community, as well as men and women, as the social mobility of women may well reveal gender inequalities both in the labor market and within the family. In addition to education, he also examines alternative pathways to social mobility, namely, emigration, marriage, and political patronage.

What makes the study design even more intriguing is that the author employs a mixed method approach in collecting both quantitative and qualitative data. The quantitative aspects of social mobility (that is, the distributional aspects and diachronic patterns of intergenerational, occupational, and educational mobility) are explored with the use of a representative survey, data drawn from archival sources, and key informants. One must note that an added challenge was the classification scheme operationalizing social class that was devised for the purposes of the present study. The qualitative component aims at including people’s voices and allowing their uniqueness to come out; Themelis thus resorts to methods of critical ethnography, such as participant observation and interviewing.

Results from the quantitative study shows that a high amount of intergenerational mobility did take place during the postwar years owing to the substantial exit from the agricultural sector and the growth of intermediate and service-class occupations. Yet the high rate of structural mobility did not go hand-in-hand with the reduction in inequalities. Peasants raised their social-class position, and new occupations were formed, but the relative advantages between social classes either remained constant or even increased.

The in-depth, qualitative study of the mobility trajectories and consequent experiences of individuals reveals their own understanding of these processes. The agricultural economic base and the belated advent of capitalist production characterize the community studied. Thus, since until the late 1950s the socioeconomic organization of production was protocapitalist and based predominantly on subsistence agriculture, education did not play a crucial role. In contrast, it was the middle generation that benefitted from the flourishing educational-based opportunities; their life chances multiplied, and their occupational and social positions improved either through the growth of the construction sector and the expansion of the service sector in state administration or through self-employment.

As regards to the differentiation between the dominant population and the ethnically deprived Roma, there was no great gap in the older generation, since poverty was an equalizing force, while in the middle generation occupational opportunities were clearly ethnically structured to the detriment of the Roma. Similarly, inequalities in regards to gender are also noted. Although women participated in education in much [End Page 212] higher rates than in the past, they lagged behind men in terms of labor market opportunities. However, despite the education-based occupational expansion, the choices and strategies pursued were to a great extent shaped by the capital that families possessed, and those who benefited from education came from privileged socioeconomic backgrounds, confirming once more Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of cultural reproduction (Bourdieu and Passeron 1977).

Things have changed dramatically for the younger generation that entered the labor market after 1980. While access to secondary and tertiary education burgeoned, educational qualifications ceased to be a means of access to labor-markets and upward social mobility. This generation possesses more advanced skills and knowledge than their parents, but the returns are incommensurate. This is as true for the community studied as for the rest of the country. During the current crisis, unemployment has risen to sky-high figures, and for the youths aged 15–24, it has exceeded 50% (Left.gr 2014). The powerful link between education and upward mobility that prevailed for 30 years has lost its thrust.

As far as participation in education and the labor market of the Roma is concerned, although Themelis does not maintain that the inequalities between Roma and non-Roma have been eliminated, he claims that their situation in the community that he studied has improved. One of his informants is quoted as saying: “Nowadays, they all go to school without exception” (165). The author himself states that “[s]ome covert forms of discrimination still might operate today. … Many male Roma in the younger age group have graduated from university … some have pursued bright careers as senior public servants … military personnel, or academicians” (165). Since he does not divulge the name of the community that he is studying and refers to it by a pseudonym, it is hard to know where in Greece such good developments as regards the Roma might exist. My own experience is much bleaker. I know of a lot of overt forms of discrimination all over the country, and I know of no community where “all children go to school without exception,” where “many” Roma have graduated from the University, nor of young Roma who pursue “bright careers as senior public servants … military personnel or academicians” (165), nor, even further, of young Roma women with a university education who have found jobs “in the civil sector or in routine non-manual jobs” (150), as Themelis claims. In introducing the community, the author describes it as markedly different from many other parts of Greece. Thus, it may also be atypical as regards to the fate of the (elsewhere severely marginalized) Roma. In any case, based on the author’s words, the community in question is a very hopeful example; yet its exceptionalism should be stressed and explained further.

Themelis’s book is a radical critique of neoliberal Europe. He argues, and rightly so, that despite the increase in education, inequalities in Greece are currently wider than before. For this he holds accountable the specific type of capitalist development that occurred throughout the postwar years: the Western, liberal capitalist values that destroyed class consciousness of the most radical forces; the ruling class and the state; and the foreign powers that played a determining role in the direction that Greece followed.

Themelis’s analysis is consistent with his theoretical premises. Yet the reader is left with no suggestions as to what strategies would play an equalizing role for the increasing inequalities. The last lines of the book put forward the wish that “this study [End Page 213] might encourage people to explore strategies to improve their lives and reorganize some aspects in their community in a more fair and equitable manner” (216). This is an exceedingly vague concluding statement. Since a revolution does not seem to be imminent and capitalism will probably be here for a long time still, the reader would expect suggestions for possible transformations challenging the current forms of capitalism from within. Furthermore, while education is embedded within the wider sociopolitical context, one would have expected the writer to discuss transformative forms of education that challenge coercive power structures operating in the educational system that have traditionally disempowered subordinated students. Questions that need to be answered are: how do we create a pedagogy of multiliteracies that promotes a culture of flexibility, creativity, innovation, and initiative? How do we ultimately create conditions of critical understanding of the discourses of work and power, a kind of knowing from which newer, more productive, and genuinely more egalitarian conditions might emerge?

Overall, this is an important book, methodologically rich and substantively useful for all those interested in social mobility and its relationship to the Greek social structure in the postwar era.

Thalia Dragonas
University of Athens
Thalia Dragonas

Thalia Dragonas is Professor of Social Psychology at the University in Athens. Her current research interests include identities, intergroup relations, minorities, and intercultural education. Her new book is entitled Education as Social Construction: Contributions to Theory, Research and Practice, edited by Thalia Dragonas, Ken Gergen, Sheila McNamee, and Eleftheria Tseliou (WorldShare Publications, 2015).


Left.gr. 2014. «58,3% η ανεργία στους νέους—Αυξήθηκε κατά 36% στα χρόνια των μνημονίων» [Youth unemployment at 58.3%—It increased by 36% during the years of the bailout memorandum]. 21 September. Accessed 28 December 2015. https://left.gr/news/583-i-anergia-stoys-neoys-ayxithike-kata-36-sta-hronia-ton-mnimonion#sthash.gZOR8yRw.dpuf.
Bourdieu, Pierre, and Passeron, Jean-Claude. 1977. Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture. Translated by Richard Nice. London: Sage.