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Department of Social Anthropology


Dr Rachel Spronk (University of Amsterdam)

Enacting aspiration

We can safely say that the majority of people around the globe aspire to have a good life. How these aspirations come into fruition, or not, is subject to many scholarly work focusing on youth and education, poverty alleviation or, more recently, on the global middle classes. Aspiration circulates as an important descriptive concept yet it remains elusive in the variety of ways it is made to use by scholars; it appears to be a slippery concept. In this paper I  wish to engage with the concept of aspiration and, particularly, how it is enacted. If we say that the majority of people aspire to have a good life it is also obvious that not everyone has the opportunities and abilities to enact their ambition. In other words, the capacity to aspire is unequally distributed. By focusing on social mobility in the twentieth century in Ghana it becomes clear that a) processes of social mobility are enabled by historical and cultural conditions of possibility but in order to make these productive, b) ambition and skills are also necessary. So the capacity to aspire is not readily available for everyone, and to make aspiration work, labour is required; in other words, the capacity to aspire needs to be nurtured so as to become productive. I will thus explore the enactment of material and cultural relations that produce or underlie the exercise of aspiration. 

Friday, 18 May, 2018 - 16:15 to 18:00
Event location: 
Edmund Leach Room Department of Social Anthropology Free School Lane, Cambridge