Schooling young people’s aspirations: What kind of hypothesis is ‘the future’?

Year: 2016

Author: Zipin, Lew, Brennan, Marie, Dumenden, Iris, Sellar, Sam

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

‘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’. (William James, 1897) In this paper we take James’ statement as provocation to consider—in contexts of current times, and depending on positions in social power relations—what working hypotheses about unfolding futures are emergent among young people in their life-meets-school circumstances. The paper stems from the ARC Discovery project, Capacitating student aspirations in classrooms and communities of a high poverty region (DP1201014920), based in schools of Melbourne’s west and northwest suburbs. The project both researched and supported student capacities to imagine, aspire towards and pursue viable futures. Methodologically, we sought sustained ethnographic presence in project schools, and interaction with students in curricular processes. Central to our approach was supporting students, in small groups, to research issues they deemed to matter for their own futures and that of local communities. In one school, Fringe City College (a pseudonym; the school is in a suburb on the inner fringe of central Melbourne, with a diverse and shifting population), Year 10 students in an elective class—designed by the project and a collaborating teacher—formed research groups around issues including: racism, gentrification, Ethiopian prospects, housing affordability, and safety. Among other data, we recorded research-group conversations and plenary classroom dialogues. Our paper draws on this data, as well as focus groups with Year 9 students in the year prior to the elective class.Students contributing to this data were diverse in ethnic-cultural and social-class terms. We can therefore make analytical typologies, correlated with social-structural positioning, of students’ emergent working hypotheses about futures. As well as thematic content, our data is rich in emotive indicators of how these young people sense ‘the future as mood’. We analyse how students hypothesise futures along a ‘living’/‘dying’ continuum in James’ terms, joined to conceptual tools from other literatures. Across structural-cultural differences, our findings indicate relatively pessimistic hypotheses: a ‘cruelling of optimism’ (Berlant 2011). At the same time, students’ ideas and felt senses of verging futures are complex in both content and mood (including mood swings), with qualitative variations that we diagnose. References:Berlant, L. (2011). Cruel Optimism. Durham & London: Duke University Press.James, W. (1897). The Will to Believe and Other Essays. London: Longmans, Green, and Co. e-book, accessed 22 November 2014.