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INAUGURAL LECTURE by Professor David Karen

Inaugural lecture by Professor David Karen: "From Harvard to the Olympics: Engaging and overcoming meritocracy in the pursuit of fairness in education and sport"


28.05.2019 kl. 14.30 - 16.00


From Harvard to the Olympics:  Engaging and overcoming meritocracy in  the pursuit of fairness in education and sport"

Professor David Karen
Professor of Sociology, Bryn Mawr College, USA
Adjunct Professor, Aalborg University, Department of Health Science and Technology


Though Michael Young’s The Rise of the Meritocracy was written as a satirical cautionary tale, his notion of meritocracy has come to be seen as referring to a system that objectively rewards talent.  Indeed, compared to what Turner called “sponsored mobility systems,” in which children – sons! – of the upper class were sponsored through elite educational channels into elite positions in the social structure, “contest mobility systems” were supposed to yield outcomes based on an individual’s demonstrated achievement.  Over time, these contest systems – based on meritocratic criteria -- became associated with fair outcomes and seen as an advance over the kind of aristocratic/ ascriptive social closure that had previously been in place.  In this talk, I will explore the role that meritocratic ideology plays in both education and sport.  Talcott Parsons, the father of American sociology, argued that, as we move from traditional to modern societies, we move from patterns of ascription to achievement.  Such a change was supposed to make ethnic, racial, socioeconomic, and, according to Parsons’ students (but not Parsons), gender factors irrelevant in the distribution of societal resources and, especially so, with respect to intergenerational transfer.  Examining access to Harvard College and access to elite sport, I discuss the ways that meritocracy is both a goal to be attained and a hurdle to be overcome.  After articulating four specific dimensions of fairness (Karen and Washington, 2015), I suggest that social policies can be tailored to specific societal constraints and opportunities in order to maximize the attainment of fair processes and outcomes.


David Karen received his PhD degree from Harvard University and has since 1984 been employed at Bryn Mawr College, USA. He is Professor of Sociology and he has an extensive experience in quantitative as well as qualitative sociological research.
Professor Karen conducts research and teaches within the fields of sociology and education, political sociology, sociology of sports and social stratification. Professor Karen has along with his colleague Bob Washington published several sport sociological readers, most recently the book "Sociological Perspectives on Sport - the games outside the games".  David Karen is very active in university bodies and associations at local, national and international levels. He is a member of the American Sociological Association, the Eastern Sociological Society, the Society for the Study of Social Problems, the American Educational Research Association and the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport. In addition, David Karen is editor of “Sociology of Education”. As an adjunct Professor David Karen will continue a fruitful collaboration with members of the research group Sport and Social Issues at Department of Health Science and Technology, Aalborg University.

A reception will take place after the lecture. 

Download invitation 



Department of Health Science and Technology


Faculty of Medicine, Aalborg University, Fredrik Bajers Vej 7 B3-104 (Auditorium)

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