Race and legitimacy: historical formations of academically selective schooling in Australia

Helen Proctor*, Arathi Sriprakash

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


A growing body of research has examined the academic success of ‘Asian’ diaspora students in North America, the UK, and Australia, much of it positioning ‘culture’ as a central analytic concern. Taking the category ‘Asian’ as a concept formed through the imagination and reduction of geopolitical and cultural histories, this article addresses the phenomenon of Asian educational success as it is constituted historically and politically rather than culturally. The article examines a series of twenty-first-century newspaper debates about the apparently disproportionate success of Asian students in qualifying for entry to a prestigious academically selective public high school in Sydney, Australia, locating these debates in a longer historical struggle over elite forms of secondary schooling. We find that race and racism were made hyper-visible in media representations of Asian success as a ‘problem’, stirring up and reframing historically longstanding anxieties about masculinity, whiteness, entitlement, and Australia’s complex postcolonial relations with Britain and Asia. The debates are considered as a case study of a racialised struggle over social and educational legitimacy, and the analysis is used to reflect on the contributions of a grounded, historical approach to research on recent and contemporary migrant educational participation and experience, both in Australia and internationally.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2378-2392
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Issue number14
Early online date10 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2017


  • academically selective schooling
  • elite schooling
  • history
  • Racism and schooling
  • Sydney Boys High School
  • whiteness


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