In the first chapter I developed the idea that people tend to act purposefully in the sense that they know something of what they want, and can in principle be expected to compare alternative courses of action and evaluate them according to both their perceived probability of success and their preferences. Yet their actions are also shaped by external constraints which narrow down their feasible set of alternatives and, at the same time and independently of the abstract feasibility of alternatives, cognitive constraints, inertial forces, and other nonrational mechanisms can to some extent limit the purposefulness of their actions. What we need now is to articulate these ideas with respect to the educational choices of individuals and to connect them to a more manageable set of concepts less resistant to empirical testing.
Although it will not be possible to establish a perfect correspondence between the three theoretical approaches and the empirical analysis, each independent variable will be tentatively referred to these approaches. The exposition of the results will be organized in two parts, developed respectively in this and in the following chapter. The present chapter is devoted to forces which can be seen as predominantly pushing, to those forces, that is, which either constrain action directly (structuralist view) or through limiting subjects’ awareness (pushedfrom- behind view). The analysis will focus on variables such as parents’ education, family income, and father's occupation, which constitute the cultural and economic resources at the disposal of children.
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