Future-making: Youth, hope and aspirations in urban South Africa

Year of award: 2023


  • Dr Nirvana Pillay

    University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

Project summary

Drawing on theory and methods from anthropology, sociology and public health, I will examine how young people 'make' futures in urban South Africa. Through hope and aspiration - which I explore as two related but distinct concepts - young people dream about and create futures. How young people imagine and navigate daily life in relation to hope and aspiration is central to physical and mental health and wellbeing. Combining qualitative research with participatory, art-based ethnographic methods, I will explore the everyday experiences of diverse young people aged 18 to 24 in three distinct urban communities in Johannesburg. Building on my doctoral study of young mothers' navigations of unintended pregnancy, I aim to understand how young people mediate everyday life, navigate present challenges, and envision the future in a context where currently inequality, unemployment, poverty and climate crises dominate. Understanding how young people create 'independent hope' in such contexts will provide important theoretical insights on hope and aspiration and their impacts on health and wellbeing. These insights will be disseminated to policymakers tasked with addressing the concerns of youth. Findings from this research will benefit other low- and middle-income countries where young people's future imaginaries must contend with daunting structural limitations.