Integrated Research on "Young Adults"

The initial event for presenting the network as a relevant address concerning European research on "young adults" was in 1995 when EGRIS co-organized an international conference in Tutzing (near Munich, Germany) together with the Evangelic Academy of Tutzing and the Research Group "Youth and Europe", Munich. This conference, titled "Young Adults in Europe: Purchasing Power - Unemployment - Self-Confidence?" was a first outline of the phenomenon which was observed in different European regions - the autonomy of transitional life situations between youth and adulthood.

Young adults may be conceived as a strategic social group concerning the integrational perspectives of late modern societies. To an increasing extent transitions to adulthood traditionally conceived as the coping of institutional status passages concerning work and family lose their linear order; adulthood as the status of complete and established social integration seems to lose its function as institutional framework. The life situation of young women and men on the one side is structured by extended periods of education and difficulties of entry into the labour market, on the other side the increased self-responsibility for the own biography can be characterized by contemporaneity of challenges, traditionally ascribed to youth or adulthood.

Empirical and phenomenological reports from 9 different countries or regions showed parallelities and differences in both the social structure and the way of scientific observation and interpretation of changing transitions. However, it was difficult to separate the differences in constructing the concept of "young adults" from the data on which these constructions were built on. So the major question which repeatedly was posed during the conference concerned indicators by which this phenomenon could be fixed in a generalized way: Who are the young adults?". As a compromise the age-related formula "18+" helped a bit to continue in the discussions but the desire for closer definitions was permanently present.

Beside leading to a first EGRIS-publication the conference in Tutzing had an initial effect on EGRIS in two regards: it showed possible perspectives for a common research process from the phenomenon to a concept "Young Adults" and it helped to develop working structures for the network.

With regard to the concept "Young Adults" three major objectives revealed to be important:

First, the empirical data - in all their differences - had to be connected to theoretical concepts valid for all the research perspectives involved in order to reach new levels of interpretation. To achieve this, the members had the task to make their theoretical backgrounds and research perspectives "explicit" and link them to the concept of "Young Adults" according to common guiding questions. Secondly, a compromise solution - as a sort of working hypothesis - concerning the definition of "Young Adults" was to use it as a heuristic instrument for the analysis of de-standardized trajectories from youth to adulthood. Thirdly, it revealed the necessity to develop intercultural methods of research appropriate for the European dimension of the phenomenon as well as for the deconstruction and extension of regional and national interpretation patterns regarding the transition between youth and adulthood. 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 first steps of this process are documented in a common article (see publications) which really can be described as a "puzzle of integration". It outlines some perspectives of a generalized concept "Young Adults" taking into account regional, gender and ethnic differences.

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