Läs mer om Barbara Hobson, professor emerita i sociologi, här.

Abstract

How do individuals project into the future? How are aspirations activated? How do individuals and groups navigate the future in unsettled times? These questions resonate in the renewed scholarly interest in future making in the social sciences and, particularly, sociology. In this article, we argue that the processes shaping how individuals imagine alternative futures and their potential for achieving them necessitates cross-fertilization of theoretical terrains. We combine the conceptual tools within the sociology of futures (via Dewey) – projectivity, temporalities, contingencies, and the relational – with those of the capability approach – the capability to aspire, opportunity freedoms, agency freedoms and the power to act. Through this cross-fertilization, we develop a multi-dimensional framework for agency and futures, operationalized in an analytical model that can be applied to empirical and comparative research. Situating agency and futures within specific institutional, organizational, societal and cultural contexts in the model, we reveal the pathways through which aspirations are awakened and agency is enabled. These processes are intertwined with the capability to aspire, which is mirrored in a person’s perceived scope of alternatives and sense of entitlement to seize opportunities, two intersubjective dimensions in the model. To illustrate our model, we use narratives from our empirical research on the aspirations for alternative futures in two cases: transnational migrants employed in the care/domestic sector and low-skilled employees in multi-national firms. These narratives underscore how crucial the capability to aspire is for the agency of vulnerable groups to navigate the future in unsettled times