Accepted paper:

Dreams for the future: time work in a Brazilian high school classroom


Michele Wisdahl (University of St Andrews)

Paper short abstract:

This paper builds on Flaherty’s concept of time work to explore how students at an emerging middle-class private high school in Northeast Brazil cultivated powerful dreams (imagined futures) to help navigate the difficult present.

Paper long abstract:

Leão et al (2011) argue that, in planning for the future, one attempts to exercise control over uncertainty in a "modern equivalent of magical practices" (1073). Drawing on 12 months of participant observation in the classroom, I focus on the "magical practices" at work in an emerging middle-class private high school in Northeast Brazil. Throughout their final year, students were encouraged to cultivate powerful dreams (imagined futures) that would help propel them through the difficult present. Time work, both behavioural and cognitive, is not always visible to others: it involves imagining a future different to the present as well as planning and acting on that imagined future. Flaherty (2014) highlights the complexities and demands of time work: exercising "temporal agency" to project oneself through the present towards an imagined future requires confidence, discipline and perseverance. Accordingly, the school promoted self-esteem as an imperative for creating powerful dreams that would transform students. High self-esteem appeared to enable a student to construct and believe in her dreams for the future, turning that sonho (dream) into a projeto de vida (life project) towards which she could work. This type of time work also served to affirm students' "modern" middle-class statuses. In this paper, I explore the affective component of time work that was key to helping students imagine (im)possible futures.

panel P57
Im)possible lives: on futures as process