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Title: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and other tales : an ethnography of children in Greater London
Author: Sim, Anne-Marie
ISNI:       0000 0004 7959 9879
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2016
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Aspiration has become a political buzzword, and the rhetoric surrounding 'raising aspirations' to improve futures has filtered down to primary school level. Some researchers have critiqued the rhetoric as vacuous without material investment, and at worst, detrimental to disadvantaged groups. Whilst engaging with these ideas, this research offers a radical rethink. Firstly, rather than approaching the issue from a policy-driven perspective, it presents an emic view of children's aspirations. Instead of applying a categorisation of aspirations as 'high' or 'low' (and therefore able to be 'raised'), it examines both the content and context of aspirational statements. Secondly, and more crucially, it does not just examine children's elicited representations of their futures (or presents), but engages with children's spontaneous practices occurring in time. This kind of engagement is rare, but is one of the possibilities and benefits of ethnography. My fieldwork involved almost total immersion into children's life-worlds. Using a method of 'full participation' with children, I took part in my participants' practices for the greater part of each day over 15 to 18 months. In documenting both their everyday practices and their 'in time' narratives spontaneously embarked upon, I am able to reconcile the real-time 'flow' of life with the 'fixings' of meaning people everywhere construct in order to make meaning in and of their lives. In telling futures, my participants employed the flexibility of narrative in optimistic expressions of ideal competence, ownership and autonomy that asserted the teller's personhood in the present - as able to act; effectual; recognisable by others; and worth knowing. In their telling, aspirations were not so much individually motivational, as they were an inter-subjective action in the world with productive power that could and did have 'future' effects.
Supervisor: Daniels, Inge Sponsor: Economic and Social Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Sociology ; Social Anthropology ; Anthropology ; Ethnography ; Childhood studies ; Cultural Anthropology