RHS Presidential address by Peter Mandler ‘Educating the Nation III: Social Mobility’

27 November 2015

RHS Presidential Address, Friday 27th November, 6pm, Chadwick BO5 lecture theatre, UCL


What is social mobility, who benefits from it, how does it ebb and flow over time, and what contribution does education make to it? These thorny questions have been amply addressed by sociologists and economists, but using their own disciplinary conventions, sources of data and definitions, and rarely across multiple generations. This lecture tries to provide an historian’s overview of social mobility in Britain since the Second World War. It will be argued, somewhat paradoxically, that social mobility has been a constant feature of the second half of the 20th century, but that this has not led to greater ‘equality of opportunity’. The wider experience of social mobility has, however, implanted this aspiration firmly at the centre of public opinion and, as a result, politicians’ discourse. This has in turn raised expectations of education, which public opinion looks to as a basis for social mobility and which politicians feel they have some control over. But what if education isn’t the prime mover of social mobility at all?  Where does this leave politics and particularly the politics of education?

RHS President, Peter Mandler, is Professor of Modern Cultural History, University of Cambridge and Bailey Lecturer in History, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. His specialisms are Modern British history, especially cultural, intellectual and social; the histories of the humanities and social sciences in comparative perspective. In 2015 he was elected as a Fellow of the British Academy.