The trouble with researching futures. Methodological challenges and some possible ways forward

Signe Ravn (University of Melbourne)

Discussants: Carmen Leccardi (Università di Milano Bicocca), Roberto Serpieri (Università Federico II Napoli), Valentina Cuzzocrea (Università di Cagliari)

Chair: Giuliana Mandich (Università di Cagliari)

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Meeting ID: 971 1683 4408

15th July 9.00 (CEST)  17.00 (AEST)

The future may be a “known unknown” (Uprichard 2011), yet a significant amount of research on youth is engaged in studying young people’s futures, or perhaps more accurately their orientations to the future. In this presentation I seek to take stock of existing (sociological) research on young people’s futures and to consider both the challenges identified in this research and potential ways forward. Some scholars have described the limitations of verbal or text-based approaches to studying futures, as these may generate short or relatively stereotypical responses. Others have turned to participatory and visual methods in an attempt to facilitate alternative scenarios, though not always successfully (Lyon & Carabelli 2016). After outlining these challenges, I focus in on an objects-focussed creative method and explore the potential of this for generating more affective understandings of participants’ past and futures. In memory studies and material culture studies, object elicitation is a well-known technique for producing narratives about the past, but it has not been utilised in studies of imagined futures. To this end I asked participants in my ongoing study of the everyday lives and imagined futures of young women who have left school early to ‘bring a thing that reminds you of the past and a thing that you relate to your future’. These objects were then discussed in the context of an interview and analysed within a narrative framework. As I demonstrate in the paper, the method seemed to generate narratives about tangible futures, enabled by the materiality of the objects. I discuss the benefits and potential downsides of this method and reflect on what this can tell us about researching futures more generally.