Isabel M. Salovaara

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Stanford U.

Grant number

Gr. 10149

Approve Date

April 8, 2021

Project Title

Salovaara, Isabel (Stanford U.) "Markets for Aspiration: Supplementary Education and Social Mobility in India"

ISABEL SALOVAARA, then a graduate student at Stanford University, Stanford, California, was awarded a grant in April 2021 to aid research on “Markets for Aspiration: Supplementary Education and Social Mobility in India,” supervised by Dr. Thomas Blom Hansen. Through online and in-person ethnography of the ‘coaching industry’ in Bihar, a state historically marked by economic deprivation and social exclusion, this project explored how and why students and tutors from marginalized backgrounds pursue social mobility through market mechanisms. India’s coaching industry encompasses a wide range of educational enterprises, from large franchises and EdTech companies to small-scale businesses, that prepare young people for competitive examinations for higher education and government jobs. This research focused on the coaching institutes that specialize in entrance exams for lower-level, non-technical posts in the bureaucracy, public sector banks, and the police. It found that the coaching industry facilitated the circulation of two contrasting ideologies that complemented even as they contradicted each other. Together, these two ideologies — one of hard work (mehnat) and honesty (imandari), the other of quasi-magical transformation effected through exams — served to reassure aspirants of the possibility of obtaining government employment. This combination of pragmatism and fantasy crossed lines of class, geography, and online or in-person format to give a common form to the ‘aspirant’ experience in Bihar.