The capacity to aspire: higher education aspirations of students of low socioeconomic status

Year: 2009

Author: Bok, Jessica

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Aspiration is currently a prominent concept in higher education policy debates (Bradley, et al. 2008). However, reference to this concept is often made in terms of low SES students simply lacking aspiration, which schools and universities must work to instill. In contrast to this potentially deficit view, this paper draws on Appadurai’s (2004) notion of the ‘capacity to aspire’, which reframes aspiration as a cultural category rather than an individual trait. It discusses the proposition that low SES students do have substantive aspirations, but may have less developed capacities to realise them. Bourdieu’s (1984; 1998; 2004) theories of cultural capital, habitus and field provide a supplementary theoretical framework, which draws attention to the complex relationships between socio-cultural background and life-world experiences that inform students’ and families’ dispositions toward school and their capacities to aspire to higher education.

Keywords: aspiration; higher education; equity; disadvantaged schools; parents