The Revolt of Aspirations: Contesting Neoliberal Social Hope

  • Gavin Brown Geography Department University of Leicester
Keywords: student protests, 2010, politics of aspiration, neoliberalism, social mobility, education policy, higher education, policy interventions, rhetoric, radical activists, education system


This paper considers the English student protests of late 2010 in the context of the politics of aspiration. Aspiration is a particular form of neoliberal social hope based around promoting individualised social mobility. It has been central to British education policy since 1997, especially those policies designed to widen and increase participation in higher education. I argue that the student protests reveal both the success of these policy interventions around young people’s aspirations and the limits of the politics of aspiration. This paper examines the contradictory effects of the politics of aspiration on different groups of students and traces how this shaped the rhetoric of the protestors. The intervention concludes by considering the need for radical activists to (re)configure new forms of social hope as an alternative to aspiration, and as an integral part of exploring alternatives to a market-driven education system.
How to Cite
Brown, G. (1). The Revolt of Aspirations: Contesting Neoliberal Social Hope. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 12(3), 419-430. Retrieved from