Imagining a future after schooling: 21st century youth transitions in London and Oxfordshire schools

This seminar will consider the emerging findings of an 18 month comparative study exploring imaginings of the future among Year 11-13 students in London and Oxfordshire. Following the narratives of approximately 20 individuals, the research begins with conversations about the aspirations imaginings of the future held by students while still in the final stages of secondary education. We then move on to explore data from interviews with these same individuals several months after leaving school, following their trajectories into Further and Higher Education, training and apprenticeships, gap years, work, unemployment, and so on. In considering the overlaps and contradictions between imagined and lived futures immediately after schooling, we consider how young people give meaning to everyday concepts like ‘success’, ‘failure’, ‘hard work’, ‘happiness’, ‘hopes and dreams’ and, of course, ‘aspiration’. The research also considers commonalities and distinctions in how the future is imagined, and how aspirations are achieved or challenged, by young people living in urban and ‘rural’ contexts. The research adopts a critical perspective of the concept of ‘aspiration’ and its deployment in political and popular discourse as a short-hand for particular neoliberal framings of temporality and meaning in the lives of young people.