The Art of Getting By. A comparative ethnography of young people future orientations in Italy
University of Milan, Italy
The research combines the analytical tool of intersectionality with Bourdieu’s notion of dispositions in order to explore the fluidity of "social location". Hence, the study investigates the temporal orientation towards the future of two different groups of young people with different assets in coping with contingency. I conducted a comparative ethnography and in-depth interviews from March 2017 to May 2018 spending time together with and interviewing two different groups of young adults (aged between 18 and 26) with different cultural capital, situated in two different locations in Milan, Italy (a working class neighbourhood and an artistic lab).
The research seeks to uncover the rituals, practices and mentalities produced by the two groups of participants and to understand how such emerging subjectivities and collectivities meet and collide with the existing frame of institutional power. Accordingly, the main findings show that middle class young adults oppose the aesthetics and the neo-liberal discourse of the hard work that inherit from the educational paradigm with a discourse of creativity and talent built collectively outside the scholastic institution, as a mechanism of conversion from the constraints of precariousness in opportunities for creativity and cultural innovation. Yet, this change of perspective is possible thanks to the spaces of "super-reflexivity" opened by the habitus fragmentation generated by the very same precariousness produced by the incongruences between school system and the labour market.
Comparatively, the empirical findings suggest how not only different social contexts shape the possibilities to think about the future but, more in depth, how the active management of contradictory structures (“the art of getting by”) can be driven by dispositions and their particular intersection shaping practical strategies towards the future.
Young Women’s Thoughts about the Future: Comparing across Cohorts and Historical Periods
University of Bergen, Norway
This paper compares how two birth cohorts of Norwegian women perceived and conceptualised their future when in their early twenties. Data are drawn from two different studies: interviews conducted in 1997 with the birth cohort 1970-75 and interviews from 2016 with the birth cohort 1990-1995. The theoretical framework is a life course perspective while also drawing on ideas of time and temporalities in GH Mead’s writings. Analyses demonstrate how period specific conditions are evident in the interviewees’ accounts of their ‘present’ circumstances set in Norwegian society at two different periods, and how structural dimensions become a taken-for-granted aspect of their future orientation.
Aspirations and Boundaries in the Transition to Higher Education: Self-selection and Self-exclusion in Youth
University of Bristol, United Kingdom
While the expansion of higher education in the last few decades may be considered as the widening of opportunities for young people in the process of transition from the school to a new stage, at the same time new barriers and symbolic boundaries (Lamont et al. 2015) have emerged which may limit their choices and decisions (Reay et al. 2005). In the case of Chile, a country dominated from the 1980s by neoliberal policies and a market-oriented scheme in the educational sphere, the transformation of the higher education system has entailed its institutional diversification, rapid expansion and extreme privatisation. In this context, this paper explores the subjectivities and aspirations of young people living in Chile who are in their last year of secondary school. Through qualitative interviews, aspirations and desires of 46 students from different types of schools, social class and gender are analysed. The results show that class and gender are essential categories in the formation of students’ aspirations. Furthermore, the process of institutional segmentation has brought about a field where the desires of the youth are in correspondence with the structure of the field of institutions of higher education (Bourdieu 1996). Aspirations and expectations, therefore, seem to be rooted in the objective structures of the field. Thus, social segmentation and reproduction of social inequalities in the country are highly associated with self-selection and self-exclusion, which occur as a result of internalised dispositions and aspirations of the youth.
Keywords: aspirations, transitions, social class, higher education.
Newcastle University, United Kingdom
In the UK today “traditional” working class transitions have been disrupted. Industries that historically employed the working class have sharply declined, while participation in higher education has transitioned from elite to mass provision. In a climate of rising tuition fees, employability has become the central pillar for measuring personal and educational success. Despite an oversaturated and highly competitive graduate labour market, young people are presented as empowered consumers “in charge of their own destiny”. Much of this discourse has been rightly critiqued by scholars, with a great deal of valuable research into how social and economic disadvantage continues to shape young people’s educational outcomes and “choices”. Less scholarly attention though has been given to how young people experience and pursue a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment in study and future work.
Taken from a wider PhD project which seeks to explore young people’s perspectives on apprenticeships and undergraduate degrees, this paper draws on semi-structured interviews with 40 first-generation students studying at a prestigious UK university. The paper will illustrate how a strong desire to “do something worthwhile” shaped the educational trajectories of participants in this study. Whether they sought to; develop skills to help others, pursue knowledge of a subject close to their heart, or simply to attain financial stability so they might “see the world” or provide a “better” life for their families, all participants in the study pursued education not solely for economic benefit, but because they felt it provided them with something they deemed “worthwhile”.