Glitches in the Aspirational Discourse: Between Enterprise and Compromise1

Sari R. Alfi-Nissan, Michal Pagis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In recent years, the sociology of culture has turned its gaze to future aspirations. This gaze is in line with contemporary future-oriented culture, which encourages young people to aspire to fulfill their dreams. A leading carrier of future orientation is the aspirational discourse, which has become prominent in the educational field and among youth. Sociological inquiry is conflicted regarding the outcomes of this discourse. While it is criticized for increasing inequality, it has also been shown that aspirations are means for higher achievements. In this article, we shift from a focus on outcomes to a focus on interpretation and ask: How do social actors make sense of aspiring selves despite social limitations and inequality? Based on a qualitative study that tracks the aspirational discourse among school educators and recent high school graduates in Israel, we introduce the concept of “glitches” as articulated detours that rise in response to a mismatch between the discourse and lived experience. We identify three main glitches: deviating from the message “the sky is the limit” by lowering the aspirational sky, pausing future orientation by taking time out and limiting individual accountability by yielding to force majeure. We discuss how each glitch serves a different role in the construction of individuals' life narratives and argue that the intermittent use of glitches enables individuals to sustain the mythical aspirational discourse, even in moments of mismatch and doubt.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)708-729
Number of pages22
JournalSociological Forum
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Sociological Forum published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Eastern Sociological Society.


  • aspirations
  • culture
  • discourse
  • education
  • future-orientation
  • youth


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