"I Never Thought This Could be for Me": Aspirational Capital, Identities, and Political Engagement Among First-generation College Students in Sao Paulo

Published In

International Studies in Sociology of Education

Document Type


Publication Date



Today, young adults from lower-income backgrounds are pursuing educational trajectories that would have been distant dreams for their parents. In many Global South countries, this expansion has followed a neoliberal logic in which private universities purport to provide students skills and increased earning capacity, and employers the necessary human capital to compete in global markets. This article examines these processes in Brazil, where federal policies have contributed to a dramatic growth in private, for-profit higher education in recent years. Building on ethnographic research in São Paulo’s expansive peripheries, our analysis examines three inter-related themes: higher education and life aspirations; intersectional identity construction; and political/community engagements. We argue that while neoliberal ideologies and policies are a key component of Brazilian higher education, many first-generation college students actively – and critically – challenge everyday oppressions and create new life possibilities in the context of enduring inequalities.


Copyright © 2019 Informa UK Limited