Date of Award

2016

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Education

First Advisor

Kathleen D. Hall

Abstract

This dissertation is an ethnography of aspirational mobilities emergent under contexts of profound material and social change. To explore the unprecedented expansion of educational aspirations in post market reform India, specifically surging parental desires for English-medium schooling, I conducted fieldwork at a low-fee private English-medium school and a neighboring state-funded Malayalam-medium school in the southern Indian state of Kerala. Further, to record state responses to non-elite educational aspirations, my fieldwork was distributed along diverse agencies that supported and regulated English learning in Kerala and across the country.

This dissertation makes two key arguments. Firstly, transitions from a previously austere socialist economy to a consumption saturated society has radically altered gendered everyday lives and unsettled entrenched social hierarchies. Negotiating these changes, non-elite mothers are reimagining possible futures for their children. Since social recognition and economic security was and continues to be entangled with higher education and English proficiencies, this has intensified desires for English-medium schooling from the earliest grades.

Secondly, intensifying non-elite desires for English learning reveals how educational systems in India are geared towards meeting the aspirations of privileged citizens. Analyzing the provision of English language learning in state-funded and private school systems, I argue that emergent emphases on conversational skills defines “knowing” English as predicated on the ability to socialize in English. While this shift benefits internationally mobile elite Indians, it marginalizes non-elite learning communities whose pedagogic resources are skewed towards literacy rather than orality skills. To conclude, aspirational mobilities in contemporary India are diverse and even oppositional, and dependent on aspirational locations as well as the resources that groups are able to mobilize.

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