Buying into the Meritocracy: Taiwanese Students and the Market for College Admissions Services

Posted on 24.11.2021 - 01:06

The meritocratic ideal prescribes that universities should admit students based on academic ability and individual effort. Yet as competition for scarce slots has increased, markets for services to improve the odds of admission have expanded. We use the case of a popular online forum for elite Taiwanese students seeking graduate study in the United States to argue that the moral values assigned to such markets provide useful information about the status of the meritocratic ideal. Using digital ethnography and interviews with forum participants, we find that individuals moralize markets for admissions services in ways that align with their social position. They valorize participation in markets that compensate for their “unfair” disadvantage around English while rejecting the legitimacy of adjacent markets that compensate for lack of cultural capital (which they possess). More generally, we argue that although individuals who benefit from meritocracy will tend to stigmatize associated markets, the positive moralization of such markets can reflect local contests over how meritocracy should be defined—yet not necessarily undermine the meritocratic ideal.

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Chen, Kenneth Han; Berman, Elizabeth Popp (2021): Buying into the Meritocracy: Taiwanese Students and the Market for College Admissions Services. SAGE Journals. Collection. https://doi.org/10.25384/SAGE.c.5721165.v1
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