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AJS. 2012 May 1;117(6):1565-1624.

Bright Futures in Malawi's New Dawn: Educational Aspirations as Assertions of Identity.

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University of California, Berkeley.


Imagined futures, once a vital topic of theoretical inquiry within the sociology of culture, have been sidelined in recent decades. Rational choice models cannot explain the seemingly irrational optimism of youth aspirations, pointing to the need to explore other alternatives. This article incorporates insights from pragmatist theory and cognitive sociology to examine the relationship between imagined futures and present actions and experiences in rural Malawi, where future optimism appears particularly unfounded. Drawing from in-depth interviews and archival sources documenting ideological campaigns promoting schooling, the author shows that four elements are understood to jointly produce educational success: ambitious career goals, sustained effort, unflagging optimism, and resistance to temptation. Aspirations should be interpreted not as rational calculations, but instead as assertions of a virtuous identity, claims to be "one who aspires."

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