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Pathways in Agency and Alternative Futures: Projectivity, Temporality and the Capability to Aspire

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posted on 2022-09-08, 10:51 authored by Barbara Hobson, Bénédicte Zimmermann

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 in theoretical terrains. We combine concepts within the sociology of futures – projectivity, temporalities and the relational – with those of the capability approach – the capability to aspire, agency freedoms, conversion processes, all of which shape the potential for agency and the power to act. Through this cross-fertilization, we develop a multi-dimensional dynamic framework for agency and futures, operationalized in an analytical model that can be applied to empirical research. Situating agency and futures within specific institutional, organizational, societal and cultural contexts, we reveal the pathways through which aspirations are awakened and agency is enabled in which the capability to aspire is central. To illustrate our model, we use examples 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.


Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin (Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin)


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Pathways in Agency and Alternative Futures: Projectivity, Temporality and the Capability to Aspire

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310 Sociologiska institutionen | Department of Sociology