George Osborne might have coined the catch­phrase ‘aspi­ra­tion nation’ in a bud­get speech ear­lier this year, but the ques­tion of young people’s ‘aspi­ra­tions’, or more broadly, their hopes, dreams, fears, ambi­tions and expec­ta­tions for the future have long been at the cen­tre of social sci­ence research projects in the field of youth stud­ies in particular.

At the forth­com­ing British Edu­ca­tional Research Asso­ci­a­tion con­fer­ence, 3–5 Sep­tem­ber 2013, there will be a sym­po­sium devoted to just this theme. The ses­sion includes pre­sen­ta­tions from three research projects which offer dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives and find­ings about how young peo­ple are nav­i­gat­ing the con­straints and oppor­tu­nites they face.

The Cele­bY­outh project focuses – as the name sug­gests — on the role of celebrity in young people’s aspi­ra­tions rec­og­niz­ing how these are shaped by both class and gen­der, and by a con­text of polit­i­cal dis­courses and pub­lic con­cerns about the neg­a­tive impact of celebrity on your people’s aspi­ra­tions, i.e. that young peo­ple just want fame rather than achieve­ment based on hard work and skill. Unsur­pris­ing the pic­ture is more com­plex than that…! This project is led by Heather Men­dick and Laura Har­vey at Brunel Uni­ver­sity and Kim Allen at Man­ches­ter Met­ro­pol­i­tan University.

The ASPIRES project, led by Louise Archer at Kings Col­lege Lon­don, is specif­i­cally about sci­ence aspi­ra­tion and how young peo­ple between the ages of 10 and 14 are mak­ing edu­ca­tional choices with impli­ca­tions for later career options. The project seeks to under­stand what fac­tors influ­ence young people’s choices, includ­ing peers, par­ents and schools, and it explores the role gen­der, class and eth­nic­ity play in shap­ing these choices.

The Liv­ing and Work­ing on Shep­pey project, which was recently the focus of a fea­ture arti­cle in The Guardian and was dis­cussed on Soci­ety Cen­tral, explored quite lit­er­ally the ways in which young peo­ple about to leave school imag­ine their futures, by get­ting them to write ‘auto­bi­ogra­phies’ as if they were towards the end of their lives look­ing back. This pro­duced fas­ci­nat­ing accounts which the project leads – myself and Gra­ham Crow, Uni­ver­sity of Edin­burgh in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Blue Town Her­itage Cen­tre on the Isle of Shep­pey – con­trasted with sim­i­lar mate­r­ial col­lected by Ray Pahl in 1978. Key find­ings include a strong shift in gen­dered expec­ta­tions includ­ing more girls envis­ag­ing fur­ther and higher edu­ca­tion lead­ing to a pro­fes­sion, and a greater con­ver­gence between boys’ and girls’ imag­ined fam­ily lives.

See the project web­sites — links embed­ded above — for more details!