Francis Xavier Naab

Research themes
  • Land use and food security
  • Environmental and climate change
  • Social and Cultural Change and Adaptation
  • Economic change and vulnerability
  • Decentralization & Reforms
  • Gender
  • Migration, mobility and urbanization
Research countries
  • Ghana
Research projects


While aspirations remains a prominent concept in youth studies and the development field, the notion that impoverished and disadvantaged youth have low aspirations has persisted for some time now. Based on this view, efforts to eliminate inequities or improve the plight of rural youth frequently focus on "raising aspirations", especially in the psychological and behavioural economics discourses. Qualitative data gathered from youth (n=46) and parents (n=12) of smallholder farm-families in rural Nandom in the Upper West region of Ghana suggest that raising aspiration which is largely a cognitive activity, appears less nuanced and deleterious to these youth who face complex webs of structural hurdles to the good life. According to our analysis, rural youth neither have low aspirations nor lack dreams contrary to the extant notion of aspiration deficits of rural youth.  Although some of them could not articulate or clearly state what they wanted in life, we did not find sufficient evidence linking such isolated cases with low aspirations. Adopting Bourdieus’ notion of “symbolic violence” and Berlants’ “cruel optimism”, we discuss how extant narratives continue to blame these victims of structural disadvantage for failing to overcome the barriers they face when the actual possibilities to achieve them are not provided. With the rapid socio-cultural and economic changes brought by information technology and globalisation, the findings suggest the necessity for academics and policymaker to re-interpret the narratives about rural aspirations in order to better support the life trajectories of young people which is under precarity. Consequently, the data suggest strengthening rural youths’ capacity to aspire and ability to achieve—an anthropological approach which recasts aspirations as navigational capacity and essentializes access to the rich repertoire of valuable information, experiences and negotiating relationships about pathways towards desired future selves.

Keywords: Rural youth Aspirations, Symbolic violence, Aspiration raising, Capacity to aspire, Cruel Optimism 

Professional experience

Member, Ghana Institute of Planners (MGIP)

Member, Ghana Association of University Administrators (GAUA)


MSc. Development Policy & Planning, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (2013-2015). Ghana

BA. Development Studies, University for Development Studies, (2007-2011). Ghana


Development Studies and Development Policy Planning

Funding institutions


Thesis title

Changing Youth Aspirations in Agriculture Towards Rural Transformation in the Wa West District, Ghana

Supervisors of
doctoral work

Prof. Dr Jorg Blasius 

Advisor at ZEF

Dr Wolfram Laube 


Derbile, E.K., D. Chirawurah and F.X. Naab.  2021.  Vulnerability of smallholder agriculture to environmental change in North-Western Ghana and implications for development planning.  Climate and Development, : 1-14   .

Additionals, Curriculum Vitae
and Downloads

Francis Xavier Naab

Junior Researcher

Cultural and Political Change


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