Hope as a generative force : a form of hope to be nurtured by academic institutions to foster proactive engagement among university students

University essay from Lunds universitet/LUCSUS

Abstract: Understanding hope and its motivational generative force in the face of climate change is an imperative, especially in the contemporary context of climate anxiety, doom-and-gloom communication, and spread of hopelessness among the younger generations. Concomitantly, academic research has bloomed this last decade when it comes to demonstrating the potential of hope to draw on negative emotions to nurture engagement towards pro-environmental behaviours. However, a gap remains concerning the nature, the characteristics, and the transmission modalities of this form of constructive hope. In this thesis, I study the case of proactive students enrolled in university programmes related to global environmental challenges, how they reflect upon hope in the face of climate change, and what form of constructive hope they embody through proactive engagement. To that end, I collect qualitative empirical material through interviews among a sample of outstandingly engaged students, who are preliminarily selected based on the results of a purposive survey. Then, I run a content analysis, driven by Webb’s theoretical framework of the various modes of hoping, and Snyder’s theory of hope and its four components (i.e. goal, pathway thinking, agency thinking, emotional reinforcement). The results of the analysis shed light on the twofold benefit of constructive hope: its contribution to enforce sustainable emotional regulation in the face of climate change and its role in promoting pro- environmental behaviours at an individual and collective level among students. The study emphasises the importance of discussing visions of desirable, yet possible, futures, balancing critical and utopian hope (goal). It suggests that constructive hope requires the reinforcement of trust in collective potential and external actors (pathway thinking), as well as students’ increased confidence in their own contribution and the articulation of their learning with practical and professional applications (agency thinking). The study further advocates for the acknowledgment of both negative and positive emotions raised by knowledge acquisition, and for the explicit teaching of the different coping strategies and their consequences on students’ well-being (emotional reinforcement). Finally, the implications of these outcomes for the academic context are discussed and made applicable through practical recommendations for educational methods and communication at multiple levels of university education (i.e. university, programme, teaching methods, students’ interactions). In turn, academic institutions should be empowered to better exploit the so-far- neglected potential of hope as generative force fostering proactive engagement and increasing emotional stability among students, and thus develop their long-term ability to respond constructively to any major challenge they encounter.

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