Young people in Europe


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Carmen Leccardi on theoretical and research issues stemming from and connected to the situation of young people in contemporary Europe. Lecture at the M.A. EYS Short Course in February 2011.

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Young people in Europe

  1. 1. M.A. European Youth Studies Short Course Budapest, February 11, 2011 Young People in Europe. Theoretical and Research Issues Carmen Leccardi Dept. of Sociology and Social Research University of Milan-Bicocca
  2. 2. Introduction <ul><li>How the concept of youth is changing in the passage from the first to the second modernity. From the ‘old’ to the ‘new’ youth (Leccardi & Ruspini, 2006) – from ‘normal’ to ‘choice’ biography (Beck, 1992; Kohli, 1993; du Bois-Reymond 1998). </li></ul><ul><li>Structural transformations of an institutional nature, particularly in the world of work and education and training, have radically influenced the definitions of youth and the mode of being young . </li></ul>
  3. 3. <ul><li>These changes have been synthesised from a conceptual viewpoint by making reference to a passage from youth as process to youth as condition (Cavalli, 1980). </li></ul>
  4. 4. <ul><li>The process involves a conception of youth as a ‘stage’ within the life course. Here youth is a period of fixed duration characterised by foreseeable and well delineated passages. Its conclusion is constituted by the full entry into adult roles, at work and in the family. </li></ul>
  5. 5. <ul><li>The condition instead is characterised by the wait for an unpredictable outcome. Both the social options available for the definition of choices and the actions-guidance criteria are not clear; the very end point of the trajectory, adulthood, has lost its self-evidence. As a consequence, the prevalent sensation is uncertainty. </li></ul>
  6. 6. <ul><li>With this fundamental distinction in mind, the objectives of this presentation are as follows: </li></ul><ul><li>1. to clarify the essential traits of the ‘new youth’, taking into specific consideration the temporal dimension ; </li></ul><ul><li>2. to consider the role that the different social situations across Europe have in its social and cultural construction; </li></ul>
  7. 7. <ul><li>3. to indicate some of the key dimensions to understand the experience of being young today - laying down in this way the essential lines for the research agenda on youth in the decade that has just begun. </li></ul>
  8. 8. 1. The ‘new youth’ <ul><li>A comparative perspective helps us to focus on the novel aspects of being young today. </li></ul><ul><li>Useful in this context are the (old) analyses of Erikson (1968), in particular his concept of psycho-social moratorium, and those of Keninston (1968; 1971) on the militants of the American New Left. </li></ul>
  9. 9. <ul><li>In both cases, the postponement of entry into adulthood appears to be the fruit of the equilibrium reached between two types of dynamics: </li></ul><ul><li>individual dynamics, founded on the need to have available an additional space for exploring the social world before embracing adult roles; </li></ul><ul><li>societal dynamics, tied in the first place to the new levels of economic well-being in the post-war period, granting legitimacy of a time of experimentation on the part of youth. </li></ul>
  10. 10. <ul><li>This framework has undergone a profound transformation in the last few decades, in a context of accelerated social change (work, education, family). The exploration by young people of the social options at their disposal in the process of becoming adults has come into conflict with a horizon that is ever more closed in terms of actually realisable choices. </li></ul>
  11. 11. <ul><li>The weight of social inequalities is growing, made worse by the new specifically ‘risky’ conditions of contemporary Western societies (Furlong & Cartmel, 2007). The social and cultural resources that young people have available to define themselves appear extremely asymmetrical. </li></ul>
  12. 12. <ul><li>The effects of this process are even more onerous in that in the last few decades the horizon of options that is available virtually has been increasing notably, especially for young people. In fact, the dimension of the social imagination (Appadurai, 1996) is being reinforced thanks to old and new media. </li></ul>
  13. 13. <ul><li>The social construction of youth is as a consequence changing. The models of biographical transition founded on the idea of progressive ‘steps’ (in the direction of adulthood) and on linear schemes are being brought into question. Not by chance one of the new emerging social figures is that of the ‘young adult’ (Arnett, 2004) - in itself an ambivalent figure. </li></ul>
  14. 14. <ul><li>Thus the discussion is no longer just about the ‘prolongation of youth’ (Galland, 1993), ‘arrested adulthood’ (Côté, 2000) or ‘yo-yo transitions’ (Walther & Stauber, 2002) . With increasing frequency doubt is cast on the very possibility that the concept of ‘transition’ continues to have sense in contemporary society (White & Wyn, 2008; Cicchelli, 2001; Pollock, 2002). </li></ul>
  15. 15. <ul><li>In this respect, both structural and cultural approaches to the study of becoming adults (‘constraint of structures’ versus ‘choice biography’; focus on inequality versus on individualization - see references for the recent debate between Roberts and Woodman ) are challenged. </li></ul><ul><li>The dimension of time can perhaps be an useful instrument for understanding the changes in biographical constructions overcoming dichotomous approaches. </li></ul>
  16. 16. Crisis & redefinition of the future <ul><li>• Transformations of the experience of time: increasing evanescence of past and future as referents for action. </li></ul><ul><li>Difficulty of constructing the idea of continuity, which is essential to give meaning to both historical-social time and biographical time, in a social context of increasing risks and temporal acceleration (Rosa, 2003; Rosa and Scheuerman, 2008; Hassan, 2009). </li></ul><ul><li>The acceleration of change makes it increasingly difficult to plan the future. </li></ul>
  17. 17. <ul><li>The future is viewed both as an area of possible becoming and, at a same time, a space of insecurity, hesitation and anxiety. </li></ul>
  18. 18. <ul><li>The present, in its turn, is no longer the </li></ul><ul><li>dimension that ‘prepares’ the future. </li></ul><ul><li>The mechanism known as ‘delayed </li></ul><ul><li>gratification’, at the basis of modern </li></ul><ul><li>socialisation and integration processes, </li></ul><ul><li>stalls. </li></ul>
  19. 19. <ul><li>Disadvantaged young people are the ones who suffer most from the loss of modernity’s progressive future and traditional forms of project creation. </li></ul><ul><li>The future, beyond control, can only be cancelled out to make room for an (often) unappealing present. Thus a space opens up for a n individualism ‘by default’ (Castel, 2002). </li></ul>
  20. 20. <ul><li>It is possible to affirm that in general the meaning of the future is redefined: </li></ul><ul><li>Short-term future becomes more important than long-term future </li></ul><ul><li>Specific ‘futures’, related to specific life dimensions, are less and less connected by institutional times, capable of granting social continuity and integration </li></ul><ul><li>The very idea of “life plan” looses its meaning (Leccardi 2005; 2006). </li></ul><ul><li>. </li></ul>
  21. 21. <ul><li>In recent European research new strategies of coping with this ambivalent future are explored (Brannen & Nielsen 2002; 2007; Anderson et al.).The most creative among these trends is called ‘indetermination strategy’ (Lasen, 2001). </li></ul>
  22. 22. <ul><li>The term is meant to underscore the growing capacity of young people with greater social and cultural resources to read the uncertainty of the future as a moltiplication of virtual possibilities. </li></ul><ul><li>The unpredictability associated with the future </li></ul><ul><li>is reworked as an added potential instead of as a limit to action. </li></ul><ul><li>In short, a number of young people work out responses that neutralise a paralysing fear of the future. </li></ul>
  23. 23. <ul><li>In this framework, new global cultures related to speed and flexibility (as well as non-stop activities, for example in consumption) gain ground (Nilan & Feixa, 2006; Miles 2000; 2002). </li></ul>
  24. 24. <ul><li>Their principle traits are : </li></ul><ul><li>Short-term undertakings are preferred to long- term commitments; </li></ul><ul><li>Quick reactions in facing changes as opposed to long decision-making processes; </li></ul><ul><li>Flexibility in action; </li></ul><ul><li>Ability to seize opportunities; </li></ul><ul><li>Being ‘fast’ in life. </li></ul>
  25. 25. <ul><li>On the one hand, young people lose trust in a positive relationship with social institutions and their times; </li></ul><ul><li>on the other, there is a strong need to experiment and conquer new areas of freedom and control over one’s existential time. </li></ul>
  26. 26. <ul><li>To sum up: the outcome of these changes does not boil down exclusively to making the immediate present absolute, to glorifying the here-and-now. </li></ul><ul><li>Quite a few young people seem to be involved in a search for new modes of relating to the specific conditions of uncertainty in which the present and future are now experienced. The weight of social inequalities. </li></ul>
  27. 27. 2. Different youths in a variegated Europe <ul><li>Having discussed the general tendencies in the social and cultural construction of contemporary youth, it is now necessary to consider the differences between European countries (Chisholm et al., 1995; Chisholm & Kovacheva, 2002; du Bois-Reymond & Chisholm, 2006). These differences are founded on variegated social, and cultural realities, as well as different social policy traditions (Galland, 1993; Biggart & Walther, 2006; Van de Velde, 2009). </li></ul>
  28. 28. <ul><li>In a recent study (2009) Cécile Van de Velde constructs four models of becoming an adult in Europe, relating them to four different European countries - Denmark, France, Great Britain and Spain. </li></ul>
  29. 29. <ul><li>One important point needs to be underlined before entering into the heart of Van de Velde’s work. From a methodological point of view, the author chooses to integrate into her research both statistical data and qualitative data (135 interviews of young adults from 18 to 30 in the four countries considered). In other words, she analyses both the experience of becoming an adult and the structural framework that facilitates/underpins the expression of that experience. </li></ul>
  30. 30. <ul><li>The proposed typology (ideal types) which focuses on the different logics of becoming an adult that prevail in Europe, is the following: </li></ul><ul><li>1. The logic of ‘personal development’ (Denmark) </li></ul><ul><li>2. The logic of ‘individual emancipation’ (Great Britain) </li></ul><ul><li>3. The logic of ‘social integration’ (France) </li></ul><ul><li>4. The logic of ‘family membership’ (Spain) </li></ul>
  31. 31. <ul><li>Let us examine what lies behind these labels: </li></ul><ul><li>1. The first type (the logic of personal development - Denmark) involves a conception of youth as a long period of exploration (life outside the family, in a couple or alone; prolongation of the period of education). Young people’s relationship with time is characterised by the prevalence of a search for self fulfilment. A highly important role is played by the dynamic of individualisation: it is necessary to cope with the impact of different structural demands and find personal answers. </li></ul>
  32. 32. <ul><li>This period of experimentation, and of independence, is guaranteed by the state (policies to finance student life independent of the family) (universalistic welfare regime). Insertion into the labour market is in any case rapid; the education-work tie is a flexible one. </li></ul><ul><li>Key-word: de-familiarisation of youth. </li></ul>
  33. 33. <ul><li>2. The second type ( logic of individual emancipation - Great Britain) is expressed through trajectories that are short and directed principally towards employment. Youth is identified with a period of transition limited in time, characterised by independent housing at a very young age and then, soon after, by entry into the world of work and into new marital roles. </li></ul>
  34. 34. <ul><li>In this case the state, in contrast to the Scandinavian countries, implements above all a policy of financing studies (loans) (liberal welfare regime). </li></ul><ul><li>But the ever higher costs of education/training courses makes it necessary for the family to also make a financial contribution (lived negatively by young people, with a sense of guilt). </li></ul><ul><li>Key-word: search for independence. </li></ul>
  35. 35. <ul><li>3. The third type ( logic of social integration - France) conceives of a strict association between the condition of youth and the condition of being a student, accompanied by a strong investment in the direction of social fulfilment. The temporal logic that predominates is that of urgency; within it choices tend to appear irreversible. Young people live a contradictory condition, between a push towards social integration and the need for self-exploration. </li></ul>
  36. 36. <ul><li>Public policies support the right of young people (both students and unemployed) to a relatively high degree of housing independence, but they delegate the cost of education/training to the family(employment-centred welfare regime) A distinctive trait of the French situation then is a prolonged dependence on the family from an economic point of view. </li></ul><ul><li>This situation contrasts with young people’s need for autonomy. </li></ul><ul><li>• Key-word: fear of precarity </li></ul>
  37. 37. <ul><li>The fourth type ( logic of family membership - Spain) exemplifies a condition of youth that is very closely tied to the family of origin. Young people’s exit from the house of their parents goes hand in hand with the availability of stable employment, marriage and the purchase of a house. The time of youth is delineated first and foremost as a ‘time of waiting’, marked by a search for autonomy within the family. </li></ul>
  38. 38. <ul><li>The absence of state assistance in support of independence obliges individuals to prolong the phase of youth until the conditions necessary for a stable adulthood are reached. The tie between this logic and the low birth rates in Mediterranean Europe. </li></ul><ul><li>The family takes on the social costs of the long period of waiting to become an adult. The dominant (sub-protective) welfare regime legitimises this choice. </li></ul><ul><li>Key-word: pragmatism </li></ul>
  39. 39. <ul><li>According to this perspective (Van de Velde, 2009) - notwithstanding the weight of the general characteristics of the ‘new youth’ presented before - different social situations in Europe can produce socio-political and cultural configurations capable of structuring the passage to adulthood in different ways. </li></ul><ul><li>The role of the various religious cultures (Protestant and Catholic) in influencing the timing of becoming an adult. </li></ul>
  40. 40. 3. A research agenda on youth in the XXI century <ul><li>Four key themes in the definition of the new research agenda on youth in Europe: </li></ul><ul><li>1. The centrality of everyday life </li></ul><ul><li>2. The relations between the generations </li></ul><ul><li>3. The question of ambivalence </li></ul><ul><li>4. The question of responsibility </li></ul>
  41. 41. <ul><li>1. The centrality of everyday life </li></ul><ul><li>Today everyday life is more and more conceived as the very space for realising desires and expressing sociality (Leccardi & Jedlowski, 2003). </li></ul><ul><li>The impact of the acceleration of social rhythms: contradiction between the velocity of everyday life and the ‘deceleration’ of becoming an adult. The problem of the desynchronisation of everyday life (Woodman, 2010). </li></ul><ul><li>How are young people, in the face of an ever more problematic biographical time, investing in the time of everyday life ? </li></ul>
  42. 42. <ul><li>2. Relations between the generations </li></ul><ul><li>In today’s multi-generational society there is a need for a new intergenerational social pact (Bengston & Achenbaum, 1993). Asymmetries in the possession of material resources and the problems of a just redistribution. </li></ul><ul><li>The fragmentation in the process of becoming an adult constructs new forms of relations, of support, but also of potential conflict between the young and the less young. </li></ul><ul><li>• How do young people today negotiate intergenerational relations? </li></ul>
  43. 43. <ul><li>3. The question of ambivalence </li></ul><ul><li>Ambivalence - a concept with a long sociological tradition (Simmel, Elias, Merton) - consists in a situation in which the choice between two opposite positions is refused. Young people today have to actively engage in decisions marked by ambivalence, tied to the need to combine forms of personal autonomy with processes of social integration. </li></ul><ul><li>Ambivalent forms of conduct are particularly intense among young women (Touraine, 2006). </li></ul><ul><li>How is the centrality of ambivalence expressed in young people’s biographical constructions? </li></ul>
  44. 44. <ul><li>4. The question of responsibility </li></ul><ul><li>Through the exercise of responsibility (towards oneself and towards others) the social actor is able to express his own subjectivity and project his own action in time (Bauman, 1996). Responsibility and personal autonomy are inextricably linked. But neoliberal society distorts the positive significance of responsibility, loading on to the backs of every young individual responsibilities of a systemic nature. </li></ul><ul><li>• What are the biographical outcomes of this process? </li></ul>