28 SES 13, Investigating the Capacity to Aspire
- How do Australian Year 9 students in a region of uncertain socio-economic prospects read their present social context and anticipate/aspire towards social futures?
- How do these young people see and negotiate schooling in relation to future possibilities?
- To learn from the young people in this study how, from their standpoint of social space and generational time, the social world appears to be verging from their present towards likely and possible futures.
- To identify substantive themes and ethical issues that, in these young people’s consciousness, constitute key parameters for evaluating their present and the futures they imagine.
- To analyse the ways and degrees in which these Year 9 students anticipate their futures optimistically and/or pessimistically, in reading the conditions of their times.
- To conceptualise curricular and pedagogical approaches for (a) working with young people’s aspirations for futures, and, in the process (b) resourcing and capacitating their agency, as social actors, to imagine and pursue viable future lives with others.
This case study takes place within a multi-school, three-year longitudinal research project funded by the Australian Research Council (DP120101492). The initial impulse from which the project arose was critical response to policy discourses in Australia (e.g. Bradley et al., 2008)—consistent with trends in UK nations (e.g. HEFCE 2009) and elsewhere—that sees young people in ‘equity target groups’ as failing to complete secondary school and enter university due to ‘low aspirations’ which therefore must be ‘raised’ through policy action. The project criticise this discourse as simplistic in its psychological-individualist and deficit assumptions. We draw on Bourdieu’s sociological concepts (capital, habitus, field and praxis; Bourdieu 1990) to argue that complex social-historical factors contextualise the processes in which young people form aspirations. This critique prompts the project to undertake close qualitative investigation of young people’s inter-subjective formation of ‘aspirations’, understood as an inter-weave of hopes, concerns, strategies and emotional-ethical imaginaries about future possibilities. Bourdieu’s concepts are joined to Appadurai’s (2004) conception of how meaningful aspirations do form among those who are power-marginalised; however, they lack powerful access to the cultural and social capital needed to ‘navigate the maps’ from formation to successful pursuit of aspirations. A further theoretical resource is Williams’ (1977) conception of how, in the consciousness of new generations becoming young-adult in their historic times and social spaces, dominant and residual ‘structures of feeling’ become interwoven with emergent feeling-structures that, because they are incipient and pre-verbal, we argue are difficult to research yet call for research attention. Additionally, the project draws upon the Funds of Knowledge approach (Moll 1992; Gonzalez et al. 2005), which seeks to engage students who do not inherit dominant cultural capital by (re)designing curriculum and pedagogy to build rigorous intellectual challenge around knowledge that inheres in their family and community life-worlds. Finally, given its findings (see below), this case study draws significantly on Berlant’s (2011) concept that we live in historical-material times of ‘cruel optimism’, as well as Brown et al.’s (2010) diagnosis of the false promises of human capital theory in mainstream educational policy, to analyse the data of the study. Findings from this Australian case study of how young people’s future-tending imaginaries are forming in conditions of downward mobility and deep insecurity offer comparison points for research and scholarly dialogue about European cases where many young people face even more challenging conditions of future possibility.
Appadurai, A. (2004). The Capacity to Aspire: Culture and the Terms of Recognition. In V. Rao & M. Walton (Eds.), Culture and Public Action (pp. 59-84). Stanford: Stanford University Press. Berlant, L. (2011). Cruel Optimism. Durham & London: Duke University Press. Bok, J. 2010. The Capacity to Aspire to Higher Education: ‘It's like making them do a play without a script’, Critical Studies in Education, 51:2, 163-178 Bourdieu, P. (1990). The Logic of Practice. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Bourdieu, P. (1999). The Space of Points of View. In P. Bourdieu et al. (pp. 3–5), The Weight of the World: Social Suffering in Contemporary Society. Oxford: Polity Press. Bradley, D., Noonan, P., Nugent, H., & Scales, B. (2008). Review of Australian Higher Education: Final Report. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. Brown, P., Lauder, H., & Ashton, D. (2010). The Global Auction: The Broken Promises of Education, Jobs and Incomes. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press. González, N., Moll, L. C., & Amanti, C. (Eds.). (2005). Funds of Knowledge: Theorizing Practices in Households, Communities, and Classrooms. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Moll, L. C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of Knowledge for Teaching: Using a Qualitative Approach to Connect Homes and Classrooms. Theory Into Practice, 31(2), 132-141. Williams, R. (1977). Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Zipin, L. (2009). Dark Funds of Knowledge, Deep Funds of Pedagogy: Exploring Boundaries between Lifeworlds and Schools. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 30, 317–331. Zipin, L., Sellar, S., & Hattam, R. (2012). Countering and Exceeding ‘Capital’: A ‘Funds of Knowledge’ Approach to Re-imagining Community. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 33, 179–192.
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