Self-esteem, dreams & indignation : lessons from an emerging middle-class private high school in Northeast Brazil
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This thesis provides an ethnography of the final year at an emerging middle-class private high school in the Northeast of Brazil. It draws on 15 months of fieldwork, including participant observation in the classroom wherein I followed students whilst they prepared for vestibular (the university entrance exam). Students’ movements through Fortaleza, one of the world’s most unequal cities, produced knowledge about the kind of person that one could and should be in the future. Private schooling appeared to provide a route for students to realise that metaphorical (and perhaps physical) movement. Vestibular served as a sort of rite of passage that could transform (emerging middle-class) youth into (middle-class) adults. Students and teachers characterised vestibular as a luta (fight) that could be won with enough training, flexibility and commitment. Good or high self-esteem was needed to overcome laziness and endure this luta and, thus, teachers and students worked on producing better self-esteem through affective work. Dreams (aspirations for the future) also played a critical role: the school encouraged students to engage in time work, to imagine appropriate future(s) into which students could channel their energies in the present. This version of individual power differed from the political and economic power structures portrayed in the classroom. Students grew indignant as, through curriculum and pedagogy, they came to understand that they were oppressed and that Brazil was underdeveloped and not quite modern. The university entrance exam served as a national meritocratic ritual that portrayed Brazil as becoming modern with governable and governing citizens. Students resisted these assertions and/but their cynicisms belied hope for better imagined futures. Using the classroom as container, this thesis presents a portrait of people and ideas in formation during a post-Lula era.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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