Jacqueline Ho

Ph.D. date: May 2024 (expected)


My substantive interests are in the sociology of evaluation and the sociology of education. In my work, I ask: What happens when we try to unwind meritocracy? Rationalised evaluative practices, such as standardised tests and rankings, are the cultural machinery sustaining modern meritocracies. While they have developed in the name of fairness and neutrality, scholarship on quantification has argued that they can both generate and legitimate inequalities. My research examines recent challenges to such evaluative practices. I ask how stakeholders cope with such challenges, and with what implications for inequality. I specialise in in-depth interviews, using these to account for the broad empirical patterns that I describe using quantitative data. Informed by cultural sociology, my work calls attention to the narratives and scripts that shape how actors evaluate quality and form beliefs about their evaluation systems.

I was a 2022 National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellow.


Sociology of Education, Valuation and Evaluation, Culture and Knowledge, Qualitative Methods


Research Agenda 


Can Every School Be a Good School? Unranking and its implications for competitive school choice in Singapore

My dissertation asks whether “unranking” — the adoption of broader measures of quality — has the potential to level status hierarchies and moderate the competition that such hierarchies generate. I study this question by examining how parents choose primary schools in Singapore, where there have been active policy efforts to broaden measures of student and school success beyond academic grades. Popularly known by the slogan "Every School a Good School," these efforts aim to show parents that there is no single hierarchy of schools, and that each school is good in its own unique way. However, I find that hierarchical categories and metrics continue to shape how parents evaluate schools. I argue that these types of information continue to be meaningful because of parents' lived experiences of a hierarchical school system and the anxieties that these experiences provoke. In doing so, I offer a cultural perspective on how parents form "preferences" for schools, and show that unranking is an insufficient solution for reducing the stratifying effects of school choice.

Dissertation Committee

Kendra Bischoff (chair), Filiz Garip (co-chair; Princeton University), Malte Ziewitz (Science and Technology Studies), Fabien Accominotti (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Other Research 

Agentic Selves, Agentic Stories 

My master's thesis examined why disadvantaged individuals might paradoxically believe their system is meritocratic. Dominant theories in the stratification beliefs literature, which draw on rational actor perspectives, expect disadvantaged individuals to be skeptical of meritocracy, framing them as irrational if they believe in it. Informed by narrative identity theory, and drawing on an analysis of 41 interviews with Singaporean youth, I instead argue that meritocracy belief among the disadvantaged is pragmatic. In the absence of other forms of capital, disadvantaged youth draw on narratives of meritocracy and family responsibility to construct agentic selves, telling stories in which they achieve success by relying on the chief resource available to them — themselves. These stories implicitly carry individualistic analyses of inequality, and serve as durable lenses through which disadvantaged youth interpret the successes and failures of those around them. This paper has been accepted for publication at the American Journal of Cultural Sociology.


I have served as a teaching assistant for four semesters at Cornell, including as a section leader for three. Courses taught include Social Inequality, Sociology of Law, and Introduction to Sociology. In Spring 2019, I was part of the Active Learning Initiative teaching team for Social Inequality that worked to incorporate active learning principles into the design of lectures and sections.


Peer-Reviewed Publications 

Ho, Jacqueline. "Agentic Selves, Agentic Stories: Cultural Foundations of Beliefs about Meritocracy." Forthcoming in American Journal of Cultural Sociology