Date of Thesis

Spring 2020


This autoethnography explores the author’s first two years transitioning and acclimating to a selective college as a first-generation student from a working-class background who attended rural public schools. Grounding itself in post-structural theory, this thesis first explores how the author experienced upward social mobility in contrast with structuralist theories that suggest he would reproduce his social-class origins. Second this thesis concludes that the relative degree of legitimization the author’s agency received is itself informed by structural inequality and a world that advantages certain cultural embodiments, dispositions, actions, and ways of being over others. Agency is seldom explicitly acknowledged in literature about first-generation and working-class students’ experiences making it to, getting through, and moving on from college. Thus, the author’s choice of theoretical framework and methodology is intentional: an agency-, practice-, and structure- oriented framework paired with autoethnography as a methodology enables a close-up look at how one student, the author, participated in social mobility via the enculturated and structured institution of higher education. In presenting an individual story, this thesis seeks to provide a framework for understanding how individuals with differently intersecting positionalities navigate a world grounded in structures of domination and founded in inequalities of power.


agency, autoethnography, educational inequality, first-generation students, working-class students, habitus

Access Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Type

Master of Science in Education



Minor, Emphasis, or Concentration

Education - College Student Personnel

First Advisor

Sue Ellen Henry