Young people anticipating precarious futures: Working their funds of identity, emotion and aspiration into curriculum

Year: 2019

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

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper draws on a research that extended, in future-oriented directions, the Funds of Knowledge (FK) approach to school curriculum. Traditional FK projects researched for, and built curriculum around, ‘historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge’ (Moll et al. 1992) of meaningful use in students’ family-community lifeworlds. Emphasis here is on ‘historically accumulated’cultural resources: i.e. inheritances from the past. Yet Esteban-Guitart (2016) suggests that, as young people work FK ‘into self-conception and self-expression’, they ‘re-create particular funds of knowledge’ into future-oriented ‘funds of identity’: a process that schooling should facilitate in current times when ‘[t]he past is [less] useful for [addressing] challenges of a future that is too uncertain’.

Resonantly, our project—with Year 9/10 students in Melbourne-area schools serving power-marginalised communities—pursued curriculum activity to extend the vector of time from past-in-present to present-into-future. We premised that, laced within FK, is ‘an emergent dimension of cultural threads that carry potentials to verge away from precedents in the past, towards alternative future possibilities—that we call funds of aspiration’ (Zipin et al. 2015). Our data sources from the project include: (a) in-depth focus group dialogues with students; and (b) curriculum units in which small student groups researched issues they identified as mattering for their own and family-community futures. These activities hosted unusual school spaces for students to explore their lifeworlds in relation to emergent futures, articulating hopes, concerns, and imaginative possibilities.

Our data evokes much student sensation of ‘cruel optimism’ that, to Berlant (2011), apprehends the troubled material-historical contexts of current times. Berlant observes a ‘double-bind’ in which ‘aspirations that had gotten attached to the normative good life’—e.g. that, if you work hard and achieve in school, good life-chances will follow—no longer fulfil the promise; yet it feels ‘threatening to detach from what is already not working’. Addressing the cruelled optimism in our data, we take up William James’ (1897) inquiry into how ‘live hypotheses’—sustaining a ‘will to believe’ in futures—remain ‘living’, or undergo ‘dying’, in shifting historic contexts. We find young people in our project to apprehend ‘the future’ itself as a troubled hypothesis, arousing identity-forming emotive labours in quest of alternative ‘hypotheses’ for living on into futures. We conclude that it is vital, at this historic juncture, for school curriculum activity to elicit, work with, and capacitate young people’s future-oriented labours of identity, emotion and aspiration.