Precarious Aspirations: Hopes and Dreams in an Age of Individualized Risk
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Over the past several decades, neoliberal political-economic shifts have significantly expanded the extent of economic insecurity in the United States. Today's young adults making the transition from college to the labor force face unique challenges stemming from these changes. In this project I investigate these new forms of insecurity from the viewpoint of those who experience them. In particular, I examine how class background shapes the individual responses insecurity. Previous research has demonstrated how the aspirations and expectations of the working class becomes "leveled", preparing them to accept their lower position in the class hierarchy. However, the neoliberal transformations of risk, uncertainty, and precarity increasingly threaten the previously safe aspirations of the middle class as well. How do the aspirations and expectations of middle- and working-class college students fare in this era of widespread insecurity? To answer this question I conducted 20 semi-structured qualitative interviews with college seniors and graduates from different class backgrounds. My findings indicate that class-based individual aspirations and expectations play a key role in shaping the individual emotional responses to insecurity, speaking to the enormous importance of class in organizing private, interior experiences.