Over the past half-century, as neoliberal governance agendas dismantle state-sponsored safety nets and emphasize individual economic responsibility, entrepreneurship has become a ubiquitous form of work. Ethnographic research shows that individuals who pursue entrepreneurship are often motivated by a neoliberal ethos of self-reliance, higher earnings, and greater autonomy. Recent research, however, has shown that motivations vary for entrepreneurs from diverse racial, ethnic, and class backgrounds. Whether or not these differences apply to college students who are seeking to become entrepreneurs has yet to be fully explored. In this article, we examine the entrepreneurial motivations of historically underrepresented students to understand whether or not they are influenced by established tropes of neoliberal agency. Using ethnographic methods with community college students enrolled in a five-week entrepreneurship-training program, we find that while students aspire to become entrepreneurs primarily to fulfill a sense of autonomy, they are simultaneously motivated for reasons of community benefit. Our research demonstrates that neoliberal, socially-progressive, and communally-oriented pursuits are entangled in ways that defy easy categorization and may provide opportunities for progressive “uses of” traditionally neoliberal practices. These findings can help educational institutions build training programs that align with students’ goals with hopes of positively impacting the greater local/global community.

This content is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.