My American Dream: The Interplay Between Structure and Agency in West African Immigrants’ Educational Experiences in the United States

  • Knight M
  • Roegman R
  • Edstrom L
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Abstract

This article presents findings of a qualitative, interpretive case study of the experiences of 1.5- and 2nd-generation West African immigrants who self-identify as pursuing the American Dream, defined by them as academic attainment and career success. Employing structuration theory, the authors examine the interplay between structures and agency in participants’ educational and professional decision making. Participants’ perspectives on the American Dream are filled with references to dominant narratives of hard work, economic success, and the power of formal education. At the same time, findings illuminate a conceptual shift in understanding the nature of hard work and personal freedom experienced in pursuit of the American Dream as participants recognized that as African immigrants, they had to work harder to achieve the Dream while highlighting the role and influence of family expectations and schooling structures. Their expanded notions of the Dream include understandings of individual agency, social supports and constraints, and cultural forces.

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Authors

  • Michelle G Knight

  • Rachel Roegman

  • Lisa Edstrom

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