A Ticket to Life: Marketized Schooling, Spatial Pedagogy, and the Politics of Aspiration in Cape Town, South Africa
Amelia Herbert

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Research Development Award

Award Year



Teachers College, Columbia University

Primary Discipline

Schooling is a social project of making futures, where youth and families navigate aspirations. The "capacity to aspire" (Appadurai 2004) is unevenly distributed in contexts of disparate conditions of possibility. In Cape Town, enduring apartheid geography that continues to normalize racial and class disparity is made visible and reproduced in part through schooling patterns and outcomes. Yet, schooling is cast as cause and cure for inequalities that consistently top the globe. Post-apartheid reforms and global trends at the turn of the century accelerated processes of education marketization, including a growing sector of low-fee private schools that claim to interrupt entrenched inequality by producing upwardly mobile subjects. My dissertation explores how students, alumni, families, and faculty of a low-fee independent high school in Cape Town's oldest township perceive schooling's role in facilitating social mobility and societal transformation and tensions between these aims. Drawing on 21 months of ethnographic research, the dissertation argues that, in contexts of uneven development, aspiration is not simply a temporal striving toward futures, but also a spatial imaginary projecting youth into new spaces. It offers the concept of "spatial pedagogy" to describe school practices of challenging the city's social geography by facilitating youth transgression of locally significant boundaries. While the dissertation explores the school's earnest attempts to level uneven terrain, it also draws on theories of racial capitalism to argue that, rather than flattening inequalities related to hierarchies of difference like race, class, gender, and citizenship, marketization of schooling is enabled by, works through, and reconstitutes difference.
About Amelia Herbert
Amelia Simone Herbert is a PhD candidate in the Anthropology and Education program at Columbia University, Teachers College and a visiting instructor in the Department of Educational Studies at Colgate University. Amelia's research examines the racial and spatial politics of inequality and aspiration in marketized urban schooling landscapes, particularly in the United States and South Africa. She engages anthropology, comparative education, and African/a studies in her work. Her dissertation explores how students, alumni, staff, and families of a low-fee independent high school in Cape Town, South Africa perceive schooling's role in facilitating social mobility and broader societal transformation and tensions between these aims. Amelia taught in Newark, New Jersey for nearly a decade and has also worked in teacher education programs that serve schools in New York City and Cape Town. Her experience as a teacher fuels her commitment to research on the complex meanings of schooling in lived experiences. Amelia holds a B.A. in History from Duke University and a master's degree from Teachers College. Her research has been supported by fellowships from the Ford Foundation, the Fulbright-Hays Program, and the American Association of University Women.

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