NW 28: Social imaginaries of the future: the making and unmaking of certainty in education

NW 28 Sociologies of Education

Social imaginaries of the future: the making and unmaking of certainty in education  

While over the last decades sociologies of education have been preoccupied with the study of space (scales of governance, mobilities, transnationalization, policy borrowing and lending), the study of time has not received as much attention, with some noticeable exceptions however (see e.g. Lingard & Thomposon, 2017, Vanden Broeck 2019, 2020 for example or the special issue co-editied by Decuypere, Hartong & Oudeweetering 2020). In this call, we invite papers that engage with temporalities in education by asking how dedicated social constructions of time and the future in particular relate to the making and unmaking of certainty in education and education research.

The Call
Concerns about future-making are central to educational practices all around the world, as they seek to transform and shape the pathways of individuals participating in education by preparing them for “the future”. Yet, future-making is not a neutral and constative process, but should rather be conceived of as a contested and political process. Similar to the making of the past (through memory and history writing) and to the making of the present (as a time of supposed ongoing synchronicity, open to change), it is imbued with imaginaries related to social, political, and moral representations.

Recent decades have seen the rise of several intersecting crisis narratives that contribute to an acceleration of the experience of time in relation to the future as a time of uncertainties. New educational technologies, digitalization, and the rhetoric of technosolutionism promise an easy fix for the concerns about uncertainty. However, sociological research suggests that educational technologies are far from predictable in practice. While these processes intersect meaningfully with the decline of grand education policy narratives (such as productivist narratives shared by state socialist and capitalist educational systems during the Cold War), they may also contribute to a sense of hopelessness and skepticism about the future-making role of education. Furthermore, while we continue to see the expansion of education to reach and include more and more people, this reach has primarily focused on individuals whose living circumstances can be improved through participating in education, rather than meaningfully constructed collectivities that should act for social transformation.

We welcome presentations addressing the following problems:

  • How does education relate to society when society loses its long-established norms and certainties? How are power relations shaped by the production of (un)certainty and how does (the lack of) power produce uncertainty? How are certainties and uncertainties produced in science and education? Can sociologies of education offer alternative ways to think about the future than approaches that seek to mold the future by enhanced predictability          (economic predictions, data science, etc.)? 
  • What is the role of digitalization, new educational technologies, and the rhetoric of techno-solutionism in producing certainties and uncertainties, order and disorder in education? How do transnational actors and the edtech industry imagine, fabricate and operate the future of education?
  • How are social inequalities reproduced or challenged through education in relation to uncertain individual and collective futures? How does the process of social reproduction intersect with global processes of inequalities (Global North/South divide, endemic racism, ableism, etc.)?
  • How does the increase in the recognition of multiple epistemologies, ontologies, and knowledge-making relate to (un)certainties about the purpose and context of education? What are these (un)certainties producing in contexts of contested politics and political violence (spaces of colonialism, armed conflicts, etc.), as well as in shifting and unstable political contexts?  
  • How do social imaginaries of the individual biographic past (memory) and collective past (history) haunt and shape the imaginaries of the present(s) and future(s) of education? How are these narratives understood and enacted in temporal contexts of shifting belonging to nation-states, certain geographic regions and/or groups of people?
  • How do researchers’ (implicit or explicit) social imaginaries of educational futures, including particular utopias and dystopias of education, shape    research questions, methodologies, and critiques in the sociology of education? How can our own utopias and dystopias open new ways of exploring certainties and uncertainties in research?
  • Can – and perhaps equally should – we speak of a social imaginary of hope in education? What is the transformative hopeful potential of uncertainties in the present context?

Contact Person(s)
Eszter Neumann: neumann.eszter(at)tk.hu


Decuypere, Mathias, Hartong, Sigrid & Karmijn van de Oudeweetering (2022). Introduction―Space-and time-making in education: Towards a topological lens. European Educational Research Journal, 21(6), 871-882. https://doi.org/10.1177/14749041221076306

Decuypere, Mathias & Maarten Simons (2020). Pasts and futures that keep the possible alive: Reflections on time, space, education and governing, Educational Philosophy and Theory, 52(6), 640-652, DOI: 10.1080/00131857.2019.1708327

Decuypere, Mathias & Pieter Vanden Broeck (2020) Time and educational (re-)forms—Inquiring the temporal dimension of education, Educational Philosophy and Theory, 52(6), 602-612, DOI: 10.1080/00131857.2020.1716449

Facer, Kerri (2023). Possibility and the temporal imagination. Possibility Studies & Society, 1(1-2), 60-66. https://doi.org/10.1177/27538699231171797

Facer, Kerri, Siebers Johan, Bradon Smith (2021) Time as method: A manifesto. In Facer K., Siebers J., Smith B. (Eds.) Working with time in qualitative research: Case studies, theory and practice. (pp. 208–209). Routledge.

Facer, Kerri & Bradon Smith (2021). Working with/in time: how university timescapes shape knowledge. In Facer K., Siebers J., Smith B. (Eds.), Working with time in qualitative research: Case studies, theory and practice. (pp.182–197). Routledge.

Lingard, Bob & Greg Thompson (2017). Doing time in the sociology of education. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 38(1), 1-12.

Macgilchrist, F., Allert, H., & Bruch, A. (2020). Students and society in the 2020s. Three future 'histories' of education and technology. Learning, Media and Technology, 45(1), 76-89. doi:10.1080/17439884.2019.1656235

Mangez, E. (2022) Life without stable grounds: educational expansion and scapegoating, ECER Keynote 2023.

Vanden Broeck, P. (2019). Beyond school. Transnational differentiation and the shifting form of education in world society. Journal of Education Policy. doi:10.1080/02680939.2019.1652769

Vanden Broeck, P. (2020). The problem of the present: On simultaneity, synchronisation and transnational education projects. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 52(6), 664.

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Interview with Link Convenor 2019