Turning Migration Disadvantage into Educational Advantage. Autobiographies of Successful Students with an Immigrant Background

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The article focuses on the success stories of students with an immigrant background, in order to investigate the implications of this phenomenon from a theoretical, methodological and empirical point of view. After a review of the main sociological studies investigating the role of “immigrant optimism” in achieving educational success, I will adopt a biographical approach, particularly suitable to the investigation of this issue. A on-going research project based on the collection of educational autobiographies of successful upper secondary school students of immigrant origin in Northern Italy is presented. The story of Destiny, a 16 year-old girl of Moroccan origin, is used as a case study to explore the transformative actions that lead second-generation students towards educational success and identify the social logic at work in a single case. Destiny, albeit with the support of parents and teachers, demonstrates an ability to turn the disadvantage of migration into an educational advantage, through specific strategies which help her overcome adversities and inequalities, and using education to handle social constraints. In Destiny’s autobiography, migration becomes a biographical resource and revels its important role in the achievement of excellent school outcomes among disadvantaged students. Migration appears as an experience of family sufferance and failure, but also as a source of biographical learning; it offers a chance to reflect on failure and gain awareness of disadvantage; an experience that transmits and fosters non-cognitive skills, which are strong predictors of educational success. The methodological choice of adopting an “educational autobiography” is thus considered crucial to track new narratives and discourses on ethnic inequalities in education.
Lingua originaleEnglish
pagine (da-a)315-334
Numero di pagine20
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2018


  • Immigrant optimism
  • Immigrant-origin students
  • educational autobiography
  • migration as biographical resource


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