2.2 Equality of outcome
The second approach to equality, with a focus on outcomes and what happens as a result of initiatives to enhance equality, calls for radical change. So if we take our example of university entrance, the radical approach would be to require certain proportions of student background characteristics within a particular cohort of students (e.g. to prevent top universities being entirely dominated by pupils from fee-paying schools) and allow for differential scale of entry qualifications according to this background (i.e. expecting higher grades from those from fee-paying schools). The focus shifts from the individual being conceived as ‘deficient’ to society being perceived as inhibiting to some people. Mere ‘opportunity’ is married with ‘process’ and ‘outcome’.
Within this approach there is a tension, however, between valuing the choices made by individuals and valuing the equality of outcomes – between ‘recognition’ and ‘redistribution’. Should people be allowed to make ‘bad’ choices which may limit what they are able to achieve in life? Thus, for example, should individuals be allowed to reject taking the sort of subjects for 16+ examinations that will allow them to progress to medical school at 18? The critical theorists would argue that social structures may be so powerful as to encourage what some might regard as ‘poor choices’ (i.e. choices which limit long-term achievement). The recognition of individual choice – so that individuals are held responsible for their destiny – can be favoured by governments which do not wish to engage in radical social change (which might give them a less favourable balance of power and disrupt the status quo) but which wish to appear to be promoting equality. Think about the government in the country where you live and work? How would you assess its approach to ‘equality’?