The Rise of Individual Agency in Conceptions of Society: Textbooks Worldwide, 1950-2011.

A broadly recognized sociological insight is that rising levels of individualism increasingly characterize a growing number of countries. We examine the extent to which schooling is altered by, and transmits, this core cultural shift. We analyze 476 secondary school social science textbooks from 78 countries from 1950 to 2011 to see whether they increasingly portray society as made up of agentic individual actors of all sorts (e.g., children, women, minorities). We find emphases on older social institutions remain stable, but there are striking worldwide increases in emphases on people, especially ones empowered with rights. This global peopling of social science instruction, especially strong in the recent neoliberal decades, characterizes every type of country and textbook we can distinguish, and occurs over and above other features of books and countries.

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