This article presents ethnographic research on the aspirations of graduates from a private university in New York City, some of whom move to Los Angeles. Findings depict financial and family pressures exerting a governing force upon the graduates’ futures, often beyond their control. Focusing on the narratives of four individuals, we introduce the language of fate as a means of conceptualising the potential repercussions of aspiration and Higher Education. The premise of both is an increased determinacy over one’s future, yet in the high-stakes U.S. context here examined, this financial investment and articulation of family hope may generate fated (seemingly inescapable) and/or fateful (ominous) outcomes. The dynamic of ‘cruel optimism’ illustrates some of the paradoxical consequences of Higher Education, whereby people may be punished by their aspirations. We discuss what factors affect differing outlooks on the future and imply alternative dimensions to adversity beyond the remit of ‘inequality’.
- cruel optimism