La Lenin Transnational: Schooling and the Reproduction of Elites in Socialist Cuba

This pilot study investigates the role of schools in reproducing privilege in socialist Cuba and within its diaspora. In particular it focuses on the academically selective VI Lenin Secondary School (‘La Lenin’) founded in Havana in 1972, as it has a significant role in the reproduction of privilege.

Today La Lenin remains a prestigious leadership-training boarding school for 11-18-year-olds, specialising in science and technology. Previous research on the Cuban diaspora in Spain indicated that some alumni of La Lenin and similar schools in Cuba maintain networks which enable them to maintain their relative class position transnationally.

This raises interesting questions about the transferability of social and cultural capital between socialist Cuba and capitalist countries in the North, and about the importance of transnational networks in reproducing elite status.

What kinds of connections are forged while boarding at La Lenin and how are these mobilised transnationally? What does being a leninista (alumnus of La Lenin) mean, pragmatically (e.g. ‘it enabled me to study at the University of Havana/Moscow/Prague’), subjectively (e.g. ‘I identify with the school’) and materially (e.g. ‘it was through former school friends that I got my current job’)? 

Objectives

The project will address the following questions:

1) To what degree are schools like La Lenin a continuation, or conversely a break, with the pre-revolutionary education system, where private, Catholic schools (such as the Jesuit Colegio de Dolores where Fidel Castro was educated) educated Cuba’s ruling class?

2) How does La Lenin maintain status in a context of social and economic change in Cuba?

3) To what degree and how are leninistas able to reproduce the social and cultural capital accrued through their schooling in a transnational context?

The project will offer a window into changes in Cuban society and education from the 1970s through to the new millennium from the perspective of those who have lived through them.

It will also trace the changing meaning of the schooling experience over time for different generations of Cubans, from Cuba’s ‘push for communism’ in the  1970s to late socialism in the early 21st century, as well as in individual lives, from adolescence to old age. 

Methods

The project combines a focus on the virtual sociality engendered by lalenin.com, real-life networking and alumni meetings in diaspora, the schooling experiences of young Cubans at the school in Havana, and their connections with alumni on and off the island.

It will also involved three research trips to Madrid and New York to interview diasporic Cubans and alumni, and Havana to interview existing pupils and their parents as well as Cuba-based alumni.

Timetable

This is a 14 month project starting in April 2011 with a literature review. Fieldwork will be conducted in from July 2011 to April 2012 and writing phase will start in spring 2012.

Researcher

Mette Louise Berg, Departmental Lecturer, Anthropology of Migration and MPhil Course Convenor