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ERIC Number: ED551783
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2012
Pages: 251
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: N/A
ISBN: 978-1-2678-4420-0
"You Who Have Been to School, What Have You Become?": An Ethnographic Study of University Life in Benin
Hessling O'Neil, Marcy
ProQuest LLC, Ph.D. Dissertation, Michigan State University
This dissertation examines the relationship between higher education and social mobility among students and their families in Benin, West Africa. In this study I draw on ethnographic research conducted at the public University of Abomey-Calavi in Cotonou, Benin in 2010. I utilize interviews, historical documents, and participant observation to analyze the shifting relationships that students have with their families. In 1990 Benin had one of the lowest rates of enrollment at all levels--primary, secondary, and tertiary--in sub-Saharan Africa. Twenty years later, after numerous awareness campaigns and education policy adjustments, Benin's educational system is overflowing with students. Among sub-Saharan African countries Benin is projected to have the second highest number of university students per 100,000 inhabitants by the year 2015. The rapid increase in student enrollments has been accompanied by efforts to build up the infrastructure within the education system, partially funded through international aid. Donors have played a significant role in shaping Benin's education reform, in part because access to funding is often tied to Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers that must be approved by the World Bank. In this dissertation I ask: How does the process of "becoming something" affect the students' relationships with their families, many of whom have very little formal education? How do their experiences shed light on the effects of global initiatives designed to increase access to education as part of a larger strategy of poverty reduction? Using Bourdieu's theories of habitus and cultural capital, I analyze the shifting relationships that students have with their family members. University students enjoy positions of status within their families, and express aspirations for upward mobility as adults. This growing segment of society, and their families and communities, have been told that education will enable them to go forward and "become something." Yet such upward mobility is not necessarily transferred to all members of the extended family, leading to jealousy and resentment. In this dissertation I aim to present an alternative narrative to the dominant discourses on the benefits of education found throughout reports issued by the World Bank, UNICEF, USAID and other agencies, as well as to allow the reader insight into the lived experience of being a university student in Benin during a period of fantastic growth. I examine the excitement, ambiguity, and uncertainty that come with being a university student in Benin. My findings suggest that there is a disjuncture between the elite aspirations of the students, including social status, upward mobility, and ability to reciprocate with their extended families, and their perceptions of possible success upon graduation. Particularly among students with lower socioeconomic backgrounds, education as a means of "becoming something" is an empty promise. This study contributes to literature on higher education policy in contemporary Africa, as well as the expanding body of scholarship examining higher education and social inequality. [The dissertation citations contained here are published with the permission of ProQuest LLC. Further reproduction is prohibited without permission. Copies of dissertations may be obtained by Telephone (800) 1-800-521-0600. Web page:]
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Publication Type: Dissertations/Theses - Doctoral Dissertations
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Benin