Longing for the Future. Practices and Imaginations of Young Graduates

Young woman photographed by Michelle Engeler (Guinean borderland, 2010)

In times of economic uncertainties, precarious career trajectories and widely publicised youth protests, the present project ‘Longing for the Future’ asks how those who are considered to be “society’s future” – hence today’s youths – work on and imagine their very own future lives.

The project draws on scientific results originating from two different studies, both funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. Findings from ‘Construire son Avenir’, a socio-anthropological project located at the Centre for African Studies Basel and exploring career trajectories and self-conceptions of young graduates from Mali and Burkina Faso by a biographic approach, contribute the principal source of data. It will be complemented with results generated during the longitudinal survey TREE at the seminar of Sociology in Basel that follows transition processes of youth to adulthood in Switzerland. Hence, the project ‘Longing for the Future’ couples insights from Mali, Burkina Faso and Switzerland and argues that young people across the world share similar hopes, ideas, expectations and face comparable challenges – although living in quite different realities and localities. For most of these young men and women passages from youth to adulthood, often related to passages from educational to working worlds, have become longer and are accompanied by increasing uncertainties. Frequently, prospects for steady jobs are rare and young graduates cannot be sure to find adequate formal employment. Moreover, social relations very often count more than diplomas, and the latter constitute only one of many possible stepping-stones towards success and respect. However, young people (everywhere in the world) do not simply wait for the future yet to come but rather develop new ways and tactics to realize their very own biographical projects. The present project aims at making these practices, imaginations and dreams for the future accessible to a wider public through three communication spaces.

The first one refers to a virtual space. It speaks the global language of the World Wide Web and consists of a website with blog, news, video and information sections. This space represents an interactive platform that not only transmits research insights – e.g. the life trajectories of young graduates from West Africa and Switzerland – but turns into a vibrant communication tool articulating (young) people’s lifeworlds, future prospects and everyday activities.

The second communication space represents a visual space, with a photo exhibition at its heart. It transforms research results – often communicated only by written text – into an artistic, visual experience. Hence, through the expertise and love of experimentation of photo students from Mali and Switzerland future life plans of young graduates will be captured. They are taken as a basis to reach young people but also a wider public interested in photography, society’s future and the globality of both youthful hopes and fears.

The third space, finally, is a performative space containing a theatre production, which allows the public to get bodily and sensory immersed in culturally different lifeworlds. Speaking a playful, innovative language it presents a scenic simulation of decision-making processes and asks for an actively engaged audience.

Finally, the communication project ‘Longing for the Future’ is located at the interface between science and art and aims at stimulating a dialogue with a wider, mostly young public beyond national borders. In this sense it lays a foundation to experience globally interlinked young people by making multiple forms of peer-to-peer as well as intergenerational communication possible. Moreover, it strengthens a feeling of belonging and global awareness within connected lifeworlds across societies. For that purpose, the project team includes not only academics but also connects practitioners and artists from different backgrounds. By including experts from the realms of social science, web design, communication, museum, photography and theatre, the entire team represents a solid foundation for this creative and innovative communication project.

Duration: 2014-2017

Funding: Swiss National Science Foundation, Agora