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The Burdens of Aspiration

The Burdens of Aspiration: Schools, Youth, and Success in the Divided Social Worlds of Silicon Valley

Elsa Davidson
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 261
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  • Book Info
    The Burdens of Aspiration
    Book Description:

    During the tech boom, Silicon Valley became one of the most concentrated zones of wealth polarization and social inequality in the United States - a place with a fast-disappearing middle class, persistent pockets of poverty, and striking gaps in educational and occupational achievement along class and racial lines. Low-wage workers and their families experienced a profound sense of exclusion from the techno-entrepreneurial culture, while middle class residents, witnessing up close the seemingly overnight success of a new entrepreneurial class, negotiated both new and seemingly unattainable standards of personal success and the erosion of their own economic security. The Burdens of Aspiration explores the imprint of the region's success-driven public culture, the realities of increasing social and economic insecurity, and models of success emphasized in contemporary public schools for the region's working and middle class youth. Focused on two disparate groups of students - low-income, at-risk Latino youth attending a specialized program exposing youth to high tech industry within an under-performing public high school, and middle-income white and Asian students attending a high-performing public school with informal connections to the tech elite - Elsa Davidson offers an in-depth look at the process of forming aspirations across lines of race and class. By analyzing the successes and sometimes unanticipated effects of the schools' attempts to shape the aspirations and values of their students, she provides keen insights into the role schooling plays in social reproduction, and how dynamics of race and class inform ideas about responsible citizenship that are instilled in America's youth.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8506-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. PART I. Introduction

    • 1 Phantoms of Success: The Politics of Aspiration in Post-Boom Silicon Valley
      (pp. 3-26)

      In a photograph accompanying a 2005New York Timesarticle titled, “Wheels and Deals in Silicon Valley,” a young, goateed white man clad in the green and blue bike-racing garb of the Webcor/Alto Velo Bicycle Racing Club leans over his bike. Behind him, similarly clad men and women straddle their bicycles, preparing for one of the club’s endurance-testing, long-distance rides. The caption reads, “Let the networking begin.”

      That Silicon Valley’s information economy is founded on the practice of networking hardly constitutes news. But the hook here concerned a novel trend among Silicon Valley technology workers and entrepreneurs: the integration of...

  5. PART II. Aspirations of Youth in Silicon Valley

    • 2 Managing “At-Risk” Selves and “Giving Back”: Aspiration Management among Working-Class Youth
      (pp. 29-66)

      A few days after beginning my fieldwork in a “School-to-Career” Biotechnology Academy at Morton High School, a public school located in a predominantly low-and middle-income Mexican American and Vietnamese American neighborhood in San Jose, California, I visited “Suzanne,”¹ coordinator of the school’s Medical Magnet program, which oversees its Biotech Academy.² Suzanne was familiar with my plan to conduct ethnographic fieldwork among the Academy’s juniors and seniors—primarily low-income students from first-and second-generation immigrant families who were at the point of making at least some preliminary decisions about what path to pursue after high school—in order to gain a sense...

    • 3 Marketing the Self: Aspiration Management among Middle-Class Youth in Silicon Valley
      (pp. 67-114)

      In June 2002, on a sunny afternoon at Sanders High School in Palo Alto, California, approximately three hundred capped and gowned seniors sat on folding chairs set up on the school quad, waiting to graduate. A casually but well-dressed audience of friends and family had gathered on the lawn with teachers and school staff to watch the proceedings. Before them was a stage with a piano on it.

      A small group of graduating students—both male and female, and all white—gathered to sing the national anthem,a cappella. And then, after the student body president, a long-haired, fit, and...

  6. PART III. The Politics of Social Reproduction in Silicon Valley

    • 4 “Every Youth a Start-up”: Education and Training in Silicon Valley
      (pp. 117-156)

      Right after I arrived in Silicon Valley during the fall of 2001 I witnessed a newly minted local “tradition,” the annual “Sandhill Challenge,” a soapbox derby sponsored by local high-tech firms to raise money for programs serving at-risk youth. At this event, teams of mostly male youth of diverse ethnic and class backgrounds raced homemade, aerodynamically designed vehicles down Silicon Valley’s “Wall Street,” Sandhill Road, competing in various speed and design categories.

      In their futuristic, low-slung vehicles decorated with the logos of local high-tech firms, these young people embodied a local ethos of risk taking, competition, and creative problem solving...

    • 5 A Fear of Slipping: A Cultural Politics of Class
      (pp. 157-182)

      In January 1997, as the tech boom gained momentum, a cover story in theSan Jose Mercury Newsprofiled the region’s optimistic, polyglot newcomers. These recent migrants, the article informed its readers, had flocked to the area for a myriad of reasons: the jobs (“30,000 new ones in Santa Clara County alone in 1996”); the educational opportunities; the region’s “laid-back attitude”; the temperate climate; and, perhaps most of all, “the area’s high-tech mystique: that of a place where a single idea can spawn a new industry.” A tech professional from Ecuador featured in the piece put it this way: “Americans...

  7. PART IV. Conclusion

    • 6 A Flexible Politics of Citizenship: Old Patterns, New Burdens, and the Space of Contradiction
      (pp. 185-214)

      Although the aim of this book has not been to represent the familiar as exotic—a common effect of ethnographies of “home,” and a difficult task when the place in question is as overexposed as Silicon Valley—this exploration of young people’s aspirations and the surrounding politics of class and social reproduction in Silicon Valley calls into question now commonsensical representations of a regional “culture” and of the people that inhabit the region.

      In the case of this ethnography, the familiar involves my own personal history, an experiential backdrop to this research that has made me particularly attuned to contradictions...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 215-228)
  9. References
    (pp. 229-238)
  10. Index
    (pp. 239-248)
  11. About the Author
    (pp. 249-249)