The reproduction of deficit thinking in times of contestation: the case of higher education

Jelle Mampaey*, Jeroen Huisman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In the sociology of education, opponents of deficit thinking would be seen as important change agents, potentially inspiring radical policy change aimed at reducing systemic discrimination of specific sociodemographic groups. That is, contestation of deficit thinking can in theory lead to its destruction. In this paper, we argue that contestation can be overruled or downplayed via public discourses. From a discourse-historical approach, we illustrate how contestation was attenuated in the context of ethnicity in Flemish higher education in the period 1985–2020. We show how a variety of discursive processes eventually marginalize anti-deficit narratives in mass media texts, even though these stances were dominant at certain moments. The major contribution of our study is that it highlights important discursive mechanisms underlying the reproduction of deficit thinking in times of contestation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1233-1249
Number of pages17
JournalBritish Journal of Sociology of Education
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • deficit thinking
  • Discourse analysis
  • discrimination
  • higher education
  • mass media


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