23 SES 05 C, Education Policies and the Politics of Equity
Says William James (1897): ‘A live hypothesis is one which appeals as a real possibility … [W]e may call an option a genuine option when it is of … [a] living, and momentous kind’. In this paper we take James’ statement as provocation to consider—in the contexts of current historic times, and depending on positions in social power relations—what kinds of working ‘hypotheses’ about possible ‘futures’ are emergent among young people in their life-meets-school circumstances. The paper stems from research as part of a three-year project (2013-2015) funded by the Australian Research Council (DP1201014920), located in schools of ‘less advantaged’ and culturally diverse suburbs west of Melbourne, Australia. The project both researches and supports student capacities to imagine, aspire towards and pursue viable futures.
‘Aspirations’ towards futures of ‘low achieving’ students, their families and communities, have been a significant target of educational policies for school completion and widened university participation in Europe and Australia. Policy discourse, however, tends to conceptualise ‘aspirations’ as if motivational forces that academically successful students and their families embody, but less-successful others lack. These psychological-individualist and deficit-oriented tendencies were critiqued by investigators in our project, in a paper (Zipin, Sellar, Brennan & Gale 2013) written prior to the data-collection stage. We argued that future-tending aspirations towards futures do warrant attention in educational policy, but from a sociological framework; and we developed a critical-sociological theorisation of how aspirations towards futures form among young people from three key elements of social-cultural resource. These are: (1) a ‘doxic’ element—broadcast as ‘commonsense’ via mainstream policy and populist media, and channelled by parents, teachers and others, about what normative goals for futures ought to be pursued by ‘responsible citizens’ of ‘knowledge economies’; (2) an ‘habituated’ element—mediated as subconscious dispositions (habitus) towards futures, acquired in relation to family and local community embodiments of ‘what is realistically possible’; and (3) an ‘emergent’ element—arising inter-subjectively in lived-cultural peer processes by which young people ‘read’ the changing social worlds they inhabit, and where these might be verging. Our theorisations of ‘doxic’ and ‘habituated’ elements draw significantly on Pierre Bourdieu’s conceptual tools (Bourdieu 1990). Our theorisation of the ‘emergent’ element of aspirations draws on Appadurai’s essay ‘The Capacity to Aspire’ (2004), Williams’ (1977) concept of ‘emergent structures of feeling’, and ‘funds of knowledge’ approaches (Moll 2014) for understanding how ‘spontaneous concepts’ emerge in young people’s engagements within their life-worlds. We further theorised that emergent anticipations towards futures are currently contextualised in ‘dark-times’ conditions, characterised by a broad-based ‘cruelling of optimism’ (Berlant 2011) and proliferation of ‘little miseries’ (Bourdieu 1999).
Now two years into our project, we find our tripartite conception of the elements of aspiration sustained and further nuanced by the data. Moreover, with focus for this paper on one case-study school of the project, we find that the young people with whom we are researching are forming a ‘cruelled’ sense of their possibilities, curtailing optimism, in ways that bring James’ provocation to the fore. In this paper we address the question: What kind of working hypotheses about ‘the future’ are emergent among young people through reading their worldly-meets-schooled lives? We address further: In what ways are systemic features of schooling, mediated through curricular and pedagogic message systems, influencing the emergence of students’ working hypotheses of ‘the future’? And finally: How might schools need to reflect on and re-think their practices in order to further, rather than contribute to ‘cruelling’, young people’s strategic capacities, as Berlant (2011: 24) puts it, ‘to keep on living on and to look forward to being in the world’.
Alexander, R. (2008), Essays on Pedagogy. London: Routledge. Appadurai, A. (2004). ‘The capacity to aspire: Culture and the terms of recognition’. In R. Vijayendra & M. Walton (Eds.), Culture and public action (pp. 59–84). Stanford: Stanford University Press. Berlant, L. (2011). Cruel Optimism. Durham & London: Duke University Press. Bourdieu, P. (1990). The Logic of Practice. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Bourdieu, Pierre (1999). ‘The space of points of view’. In The Weight of the World: Social Suffering in Contemporary Society; Pierre Bourdieu et al., 3-5. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1999. James, W. (1897). The Will to Believe and Other Essays. London: Longmans, Green, and Co. e-book, https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/j/james/william/will/ accessed 22 November 2014. Moll, L. (2014). L.S. Vygotsky and Education. Routledge: New York. Williams, R. (1977). Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Zipin, L., Sellar, S., Brennan, M., & Gale, T. ‘Educating for futures in marginalized regions: A sociological framework for rethinking and researching aspirations’. Educational Philosophy and Theory, DOI: 10.1080/00131857.2013.839376.
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