Inspired by ‘The Polish Peasant’. Autobiographies of Successful Students with an Immigrant Background

Mariagrazia Santagati


The article illustrates the method of the Su.Per. project (Success in educational pathways of students with immigrant background), based on autobiographies of successful students with an immigrant background, attending upper secondary education in Northern Italy. The methodological choice of the project is inspired by ‘The Polish Peasant’ by Thomas and Znaniecki and highlights the importance of using the biographical approach to understand unexpected and atypical situations – such as success stories of vulnerable students. Within this approach, autobiography represents a reflexive and imaginative ‘exercise’ to observe, in a non-prescriptive manner, the intertwining between actor and structure, human creativity and tradition, innovation and conservation, predestined and unexpected paths.

Finally, the fruitfulness of this method is shown presenting some results deriving from the Su.Per. project. Writing their ‘educational autobiographies’, disadvantaged students build plural narrative of success – oriented to performance, good relationships, cooperation, etc. –, in which it is possible to discover new horizons and meanings of the success, and (perhaps) a renewed role for social scientists in analysing and imagining a less unequal future.


autobiography; immigrant-origin students; unexpected pathways

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ISSN 2239-8589 | Managing Editor: Debora Viviani | Editor in Chief: Paola Di Nicola