Researching aspirations through the cultural knowledge embedded in students' homes and community lives: A visual ethnographic approach

Year: 2012

Author: Woodley-Baker, Rochelle, Lucas, Bill

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


The form and character of the modern state is underpinned by a focus on the creation and development of aspirational citizens, particularly in low SES communities. Policies and processes are built on the premise that the unlocking of individual aspirations in depressed regions will significantly enhance community wellbeing in ways that a more interventionist state could not achieve. This line of policy development has found expression in Australian education policy. Higher education policy has become focused on equity issues and aspirations of young people in low SES groups and neighbourhoods.  Such a focus leads in many instances to a deficit view of young people and their families rather than an understanding that aspirations arise from and within social context. Aspirations are a 'cultural capacity' requiring tools and resources for gaining new knowledge in order to exercise the right of informed citizenship and strengthen participation in a democratic society.  Aspirations are formed in interaction and in the thick of social life thriving and surviving on exploration, and shaped by social, cultural and economic experiences.  The work of Moll and colleagues provides instructive examples of researching aspirations through the cultural knowledge embedded in students' homes and community lives, and as a resource for curriculum design and classroom conversation.

The paper reports on a visual ethnographic curriculum study, conducted as part of the School of Education Aspirations Project (SEAP), in a school site located in a 'rustbelt' region.   A class of year 7 students participated in a cross-generational dialogue through the use of video cameras.  They interviewed their teacher, each other and their families about aspirations and what the future might hold.  Workshops were held to discuss interview techniques, use of videos, and to discuss findings. Based on our study, we argue, that the influence of family, friends and networks, as part of the social and cultural experience, is very important, but varies according to the broader context the family operates in, the structural features of the family, and the family processes.  Parental expectations and encouragement have significant impact on young people's educational aspirations, achievements and post-school choices.

Our conceptual framework combines Appadurai's conception of aspiration as a 'cultural capacity', and Moll, Gonzalez and associates funds of knowledge approach to households and classroom practices.