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Approaching and Attending College: Anthropological and Ethnographic Accounts

by Jill Peterson Koyama - 2007


This review article draws on the growing body of literature at the interfaces of anthropology and education, as well as other educational studies outside anthropology that have relevance to social and cultural frames.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study:

Drawing together and analyzing anthropological and ethnographic studies, conducted during the last two decades, this review highlights the theoretical, methodological, and analytical patterns that have defined anthropological approaches to studying education.


The studies, in the aggregate, tell us a great deal about how students negotiate schooling to create academic identifications, find and construct networks rich in social and cultural capital, and experience a sense of belonging. Conversely, students who are marginalized, constrained, or have limited access to school contexts—through institutionalized practices, policies, and ideologies—are far more likely to disengage academically, to exert their agency, to “resist” school, and to forgo college attendance. What also becomes increasingly clear in regards to college preparation and access is that the experiences of students and their families vary greatly, depending on the social, cultural, political, and historical contexts within which youth’s college choices are shaped. As well, the studies reveal that the factors that impact college persistence and completion parallel those found to influence pre-college schooling.


This review of anthropological studies tell us much less about the actual college experiences of racial/ethnic minority and poor students and the author calls for further scholarship in this area.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 109 Number 10, 2007, p. 2301-2323
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12568, Date Accessed: 9/19/2021 10:47:46 PM

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About the Author
  • Jill Koyama
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    JILL PETERSON KOYAMA is a doctoral candidate in Anthropology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. In her recent work, she focused on language policy appropriation across multiple educational contexts, in particular, in American high schools with “English language learners.” Her dissertation research explores the ways in which, culturally, failure is made to matter.
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