The Affront of the Aspiration Agenda: White Working-Class Male Narratives of ‘Ordinariness’ in Neoliberal Times

Garth Stahl


This article draws on accounts of white working-class boys (age 14-16) from South London in order to explore how they reconstitute their learner-identities within the ‘raising aspirations’ rhetoric. The current dominant neoliberal discourse in education, which prioritises a view of aspiration that is competitive, qualification-focused, and economic, shapes the subjectivities of these young males though there exist nuanced strategies of resistance. In an era of high modernity where youth feel increasing risk, the identities of young people are subject to tremendous change where traditional class and gendered boundaries are being subverted, reimagined, and reconstituted. Focusing on academic engagement as an identity negotiation, this research critically considers where young men enact strategies to construct themselves as ‘having value’ in spaces of devaluing where they reconcile competing and contrasting conceptions of aspiration.


aspiration; reconstitution; habitus; identity work; Bourdieu; social class

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