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The spatial politics of aspiration

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The notion of aspiration achieves vast political work in contemporary society. It functions as a means of reducing issues of poverty, worklessness and social abandonment to the scale of the failed, abject subject. In so doing, aspiration is a concept which draws attention away from the systemic processes of power driving these issues. It thoroughly depoliticises those benefitting from such processes of power, portraying poverty as a natural outcome rather than a complex, often violent and intersectional act of abandon/ment. Furthermore, aspiration holds an ongoing role as an emergent governmentality, not only used to criticise the margins of society, but to discipline those at the centre. This paper takes issue with the frequent diagnosis of a ‘lack of aspiration’ recorded at ground-level during ethnographic fieldwork by local and national decision-makers. Instead, it draws upon testimonies of job-seekers and secondary school children living in Britain’s most deprived borough to interrogate the complex geographical formations of aspiration. It exposes the intimate linkages between the geographies of people’s everyday lives and encounters, and their hopes, desires and objectives for the future. It will conclude by considering the ways in which aspiration can be reclaimed as a concept upon which a more radical, socially just politics can be constructed.

This talk is part of the Department of Geography - Seminars in Cultural and Historical Geography series.

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