Maike Birzle: Coping Unpredictability – Future imaginary and orientation of female Burkinabe university graduates in times of uncertainty

PhD-project in African Studies, University of Basel

“En tout cas, je suis optimiste” – Hope as a method of realizing a brighter future? This research’s point of departure refers to the unemployment rate among young Burkinabe university graduates; although remarkably high, the diplomas are regarded as multipliers of opportunities on the job market. Nevertheless, given their uncertain situation, university graduates face major difficulties in planning their life, especially because they don’t have the (financial) means to found a family and meet the demands of their relatives.

Based on extensive fieldwork in urban Burkina Faso, the analysis will show that most young people vehemently hope that their unfavorable situation will change any time soon. Hence, the aim of this work is to have a closer look at “hope” as driving force of young graduates’ strategies to manage life course uncertainties. Thereby, the recurring character of the term’s use evokes the question of which concepts are behind: Is it simply an unconsidered discursive tool? Is the future presented as mere utopia and hence the word hope is just a signifier for the absence of agency towards the planning of one’s own future? Or can hope be considered as a method of orienting towards a brighter future while navigating the current uncertain situation? Finally, my intention is to elaborate definitions and implications of hope in the Burkinabe context in order to find out about future imaginations and intended life projects of young diploma holders in Burkina Faso.

Research Questions

  • How do graduates cope with the uncertainty they are permanently faced with?
  • How do university graduates construct their life courses given their uncertain situation?
  • How does their scope of action look like?
  • How do they plan their future regarding family planning, academic career etc.?
  • What kind of future scenarios do they evolve? What kind of expectations and hopes do they have?
  • Are there divergences or conflicts between them and their families/what is socially expected from them?
  • Which strategies do they follow, which risks do they take?


  • Biographical/narrative interviews
  • Participant observation
  • Network analysis
  • Conversations
  • Expert interviews
  • Group discussions

Theoretical Input

  • Concept of horizon (Alfred Schütz)
  • Social/future imaginary (Vincent Crapanzano; Charles Taylor)
  • Social navigation (Henrik Vigh)
  • Economic, social and cultural capital (Bourdieu)
  • Familiarity, Confidence, Trust (Luhmann)
  • Concepts of time, chronicity and future
  • Life course concepts / Vital conjunctures (Johnson‐Hanks)


Maike Birzle
Centre for African Studies Basel
Petersgraben 11, office 204
4051 Basel
T. +41 61 267 13 84


Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Elisio Macamo (Centre for African Studies Basel), Prof. Dr. Gregor Dobler (Albert‐Ludwigs‐Universität Freiburg)
Research Group: Construire son avenir: Selbstverständnis und Laufbahnpraktiken von Jungdiplomierten in Mali und Burkina Faso
Funding: Swiss Science Foundation
February 2013 – February 2016