The history of EGRIS

Early debatesEGRIS is a small European research network existing since 1993 when it was founded under the name of "Europäische Gesellschaft für Regionale und Internationale Sozialforschung" (European Society for Regional and International Social Research). From the beginning there was a double objective to develop a European concept "Young Adults" as well as a structure integrating a European dimension into social research. Two fundamental observations shared by the involved persons and research organizations were the starting point of the network: On the one side, in different regional contexts in Europe young people's trajectories towards adulthood and social integration seem to be not only increasingly prolonged but at the same time de-standardized. On the other side, the analysis of these structural changes transcends the horizons of regionally and nationally organized research and requires an integrated European process of research and interpretation.

The discourse on the prolongation of youth in the early nineties had been conceptualized in national frameworks of social structure as well as in national research systems. European exchanges and comparisons were based on these national concepts. This was possible as long as the concept of "youth" had a fixed place in national cultures and institutional contexts to refer to. Enormous differences between the various research approaches were covered by a presumed self-evidence of mutual understanding within the international scientific community. But the more a further prolongation of youth seems to touch age limits which used to be in the core of the conventional adult status the more the analysis of social integration and life courses requires a broader perspective able to deconstruct and to extend gender specific and regional codes of "normality" concerning transitions to adulthood at the same time. This means that a European integration of research has to start right at the beginning of concept development and that intercultural research methods going beyond additive comparison have to be developed and integrated in the national research structures. An integrated European research process can be imagined as a "pendulous" or "spiral" movement between the regional contexts of research and processes of "intercultural hermeneutics" in which interpretations and concepts are exchanged and developed.

The network is also a child of the European "euphoria" that has "infected" scientists and research organizations all over Europe since the early nineties. But instead of reproducing the sometimes superficial hectic of European activities the initiators of EGRIS opted for a smooth and slow development instead of a rapid growth. Main principle of organizational development was to make possible an organic group process, personal relationships between the members and effective informal communication structures. At the beginning of 1997 EGRIS consisted of partners working in ten different research organizations spread in eight regions in six European (member state) countries. Until today EGRIS does not have a juridical form. When ever necessary one of the member organizations uses its own structures for the co-ordination of project proposals or the organization of conferences. Till now this task has been fulfilled by IRIS (Institute for Regional Innovation and Social Research), a private research organization in Tübingen/Hechingen, Germany.

With regard to the working structure of the network the organization of internal meetings in combination with conferences or other types of workshops on topics related to the concept of young adults for an extended public revealed to be a viable strategy to compensate the lack of funding for a network infrastructure. In this way it is possible to raise funding from other sources for the development of the network. Additionally, relations to a scientific public can be developed and the network itself has concrete objectives for the development of the own research and discourse which is extended and enriched by the contributions and questions of external participants. One of the "fruitful" subjects which have been "opened" by this way is the concept of "Lifelong Learning" which seems to be in the core of the life situations of young men and women - for the latter especially in the situation of re-entry into the labour market. On the one side research on young adults' strategies to cope with the openness of their biographical situation creates necessary knowledge on the prerequisites of new learning concepts. On the other side the analysis of policies for lifelong learning reveals characteristics of changing trajectory structures between youth and adulthood.

In the meantime, some publications are available in which first results of the network process on the subjects "Young Adults" and "Lifelong Learning" are outlined.

Starting from december 1997 EGRIS is funded by the European Commission as a Thematic Network under the research programme for "Targeted Socio-economic Research" (TSER) of DG XII. Under the short title "Misleading Trajectories?" public employment policies for young adults will be evaluated in a common European perspective regarding non-intended effects of social exclusion.

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