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27-31 August 2019
Poznań, Poland
Europe/Warsaw timezone
programme last update: 23 August 2019
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Contribution Paper

Poznań, Poland - Morasko Kampus, room: 2.19

Cruel Optimism in German Schools. Youthful Hopes at the End of the Future


  • Dr. Stefan WELLGRAF

Primary authors


The future in the classic sense of a stable income and secure social conditions is in crisis. Many students from lower class schools face unemployment and social hardship. But under these neoliberal conditions dreams of a secure life blossom. I follow associated forms of ""cruel optimism"" in German Secondary Schools by looking at dreams for normalcy at the one hand and normalized precarity at the other. The first part, is based on dream-workshops with ""Hauptschüler"" in the Berlin district of Neukölln. Postfordist dreams for normalcy have an immediate or utopian temporal horizon, what is missing is the middle-path of realistic carreer plans. The Dreams are marked by the iconic figure of the home - with all its associations of safety and stability but also with the heterosexual family. In Escapist fantasies some dream of a life-situations without the burden of having to care for the future. Hopeful dreaming thus reflects the social situation the students are in. In the second part, I follow the same students in the years after leaving school, in which they struggle to secure a living. Their lifecourses and their outlook on life are marked by a recurrent sense of crisis. Continuing economic precarity lead to feelings of being stuck, of not being able to take the next steps in life (a family, a car or an own apartment). This goes along with moves into private settings and into the shadow economy. But their sense of hopefulness is still alive at the end of the future.