Educational strategies of immigrant students and their families: diagnosing the complexities behind ‘simple' expressions of aspiration for futures

Year: 2013

Author: Gale, Trevor, Zipin, Lew, Bok, Jessica

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In this paper we report on early-stage research from an ARC Discovery project (DP120101492) on student aspirations. We draw on data from two interviews: with an Indian-heritage school boy and parents, and an Ethiopian-heritage school boy and mother. In both cases, the families migrated to Australia, settling in Melbourne's western region. At the time of interview, the boys were both Year 9 students, attending the same school.
Our analysis of the interviews is informed by our view of aspirations - i.e. senses of hope, concern and possibility about futures - as complex social-historical phenomena. We begin with an account of the project's theorization of ‘aspirations' (presented at the 2012 AARE conference and in a paper currently under review). In brief, we conceive three modes of aspiring: (1) doxic aspirations, which express normative ideo-logics about futures, inhering in a populist meditational ground (Bourdieu); (2) habituated aspirations, which express ingrained dispositions more-or-less subconsciously acquired in biographic trajectories, inhering in habitus (Bourdieu); and (3) emergent aspirations, which inhere in live-cultural conditions wherein young people read the present and its possible verging into the future (Appadurai, Williams). We argue that emergent modes of aspiring are very hard to hear through surveys, interviews and even deep ethnographic research methods, because they are incipient, newly forming, and so difficult to vocalize, registering more as felt intimations than as consciousness cognitions.
Informed by this theorisation, our reading of the interviews with two students and their parents confirms our view that, in interviews, the most audible aspirations are typically of the doxic mode. However, in focusing our analysis on doxic expressions of aspiration and associated educational strategy, we also argue that there is much that is un(der)stated behind affirmations of doxic aspiration. That is, while on the one hand doxic modes of aspirating appear readily spoken and audible, there is nonetheless much unspoken complexity behind the simplicities in expressions of doxic logic. It is necessary to appreciate the complex contexts, revealed in the silences between the lines of the words, through which the boys and the families appear to speak in predictable 'commonsense' terms but which - if examined carefully - reveal a good deal more. We find both overlapping and divergent ethno-cultural, socio-economic and other contextual factors at work in the strategic complexities of aspirational expression that doxic discourse both conceals and, through analysis, reveals.