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Walther, Andreas (ed.) 1996: Junge Erwachsene in Europa - jenseits der Normalbiographie? (Young Adults in Europe - beyond "normal biography"?). Leske+Budrich: Opladen.


More about the topic of "Young adults". List of EGRIS publications.

Andreas Walther's introduction starts from the empirical evidence that there is an increasing share of young people up to 35 years (or even more) participating in institutional measures and programmes conceptualized as youth programmes (up to 25 years of age). The history of the last decades of German and European youth research and youth policies shows that the age limits of youth have been postponed more and more and that this postponement increasingly has been subject of scientific debates. Behind these strategies of extension of youth structural changes and problems of social integration affecting the European societies do appear: integration into the labour market gets more and more difficult and insecure, periods of education and training are prolonged, gender relations are irritated by the coincidence of a dissolution and restructuration of former inequality and life styles stand for coping strategies between security and experimental life forms. Obviously previous youth research was stuck to the so-called "normal life course" presupposing the individual solution of these tasks in the youth stage. In order not to hide the ongoing changes and challenges of social integration and social exclusion behind the construction of a new social group "Young Adults", the author suggests to use the concept first of all as an analytical concept to open new perspectives on growing up and social integration.

Lynne Chisholm takes up the basic question concerning the relation between the phenomenon "Young Adults" and its social reality. Does the concept "Young Adults" refer to the extension of the life course by a new life stage as a response to the increased complexity of planning one's life? Do "Young Adults" stand for a fundamental change in social integration and adulthood itself? In order to prove the plausibility of the second hypothesis Chisholm asks why so little attention is paid to the adult life stage ­ by both research and policy. The contingency of individual biographies is confronted with the linear structure of institutionalized life courses. Thus, social integration in general and the life stage of adulthood in particular are affected. "Young Adults" are considered to be "sociologically more female" as the competence to cope with contingent life perspectives is developed rather in female than in male transitions into the adult society.

Sven Morch considers "Young Adults" to be a conceptual instrument by which social reality is constructed. In this course, he analyses young adults in the sense of a grown historical phenomenon, which began to develop end of the 18th century. Since end of the Second World War a popularization and widening of "youth time" has taken place. Nowadays individuals ,become very early young, very late adult, however". On the one hand everybody has access to youth, which means that everybody is given the same starting conditions mainly with regard to education. Modern youth is acting as a decisive individual and social transformator. On the other hand, young adults increasingly are under pressure, since only they are made responsible for the results of their life arrangements. A crucial problem is the so-called Container youth": This is the group of young adults excluded from the educational society through a system of special projects ­ "containers" ­ which keep them apart from the labour market and from social integration. In the future, the concept "Young Adults" should be analysed with regard to social change on the one hand, but also as transformation period between childhood and adulthood on the other hand.

José Machado Pais points to the increased reversibility of transitions from youth to adulthood. This consideration is based on empirical data on juvenile life conditions and generational relations raised in Portugal. The reversibility of becoming adult ­ mainly caused by the difficulties of entering and staying in the labour market ­ creates new values and life forms invading the centre of society from its margins. Using Turner's concept of dramaturgy of rites this process produces rites of conversion as well as diversion, social inventions as well as social exclusion. An important support of young people in this situation is the "welfare family" providing them with social and financial capital. The reversibility of transitions and the coincidence of rites of separation without passage (to complete adulthood) with rites of passage without separation lead to the picture of the "yo-yo-generation".

Els Peters and Manuela du Bois-Reymond develop the same model of "yo-yo-trajectories" from a Dutch perspective based on empirical data putting the focus on changed gender relations. The process of social modernization and its effects of individualization lead to contradictions between the life perspectives of different generations of women (mothers and daughters) as well as between the life perspectives of young women and young men. Strategies of transitions are structured by the dichotomies risks/opportunities and choice/pressure which mainly depend on gender and education. This "yo-yo-model" is applied to the orientations of young women with regard to their perceptions and strategies with regard to the combination of work and family. The authors consider young women to be advantaged in gaining a reflexive biographical position in comparison to young men as they have to cope with restricted opportunities on the one side and receive encouraging support from their mothers on the other side.

Olivier Galland directs his attention to the observation that the relation between young adults and society is one of mutual exclusion and disapproval. However, empirical data concerning the situation of education and the labour-market especially in France lead Galland to a profound modification of this assertion. Thus, due to an extended and widely used period of education, only a small part of young adults is concerned by unemployment. Moreover, the majority of educated young adults have good opportunities in the job market. With regard to the attitude of youth towards their society, Galland points out that young Europeans feel more integrated and content today than ten years ago. It is only a minority of young adults for whom both their attitude and their employment situation have deteriorated at a high degree. Galland draws the conclusion that society neither is marginalizing young adults nor is being refused by them. Nevertheless, social polarization has increased: Whereas the majority of young adults have good opportunities of improving its/their situation, a minority is more and more confronted with social disintegration.

Hans-Ulrich Müller describes "Young Adults" in the context of the process of modern individualization as a new life stage which cannot be interpreted as prolonged youth" in the traditional sense. This life stage is characterized by discontinuities, since it implies diverse, disparate experiments of coping with life and realization of interests. This process of trial and error leads to fragile, risky identities mainly where young adults in big cities are concerned. However, social institutions do not have adequate instruments by which they can support young adults in coping with life and actualizing their interests. That is why young adults find themselves in a structural socio-political vacuum". Therefore, they have to rely on informal networks of support and on the family of origin. Moreover, they are dependent on communication and co-operation milieux. This situation requires the development of policies as part of local social policy being orientated especially to the demands of young adults. These policies should refer to the general conditions of life and scopes of action. Moreover, they should take up and include the historically new constitutive elements of young adulthood.

Andreas Schröer describes the specific life stage of young adults living in Eastern Germany with regard to the social process of transformation. Young adults encounter the demands of individualized life courses with a modern form of collectivity. Social networks are functional inasmuch as they replace missing or inadequate institutional support. They offer temporal and material security. Moreover, they constitute a normative frame that provides role models for the construction of identities. Therefore, the social networks are not only "emergency organizations" but also relevant elements for the development of life styles. These life styles are characterized by a high degree of reproductive activities, which are indispensable for the stabilization and expansion of collective everyday life.

Enzo Morgagni and Luigi Guerra describe the specific forms that the general structural changes of transition take in Italy, especially in the region Emilia-Romagna. Referring to empirical data on increasing overlaps of education, training and work within individual life cycles and on the "long family" caring for young people until they set up an own family they show the evident plausibility of the concept. Regarding the prolongation of transitions and the overlap of different life phases it is important to consider differences according to social class or gender. The empirical evidence is confirmed by youth and educational facilities which are confronted by a change of their target group by age and quality of demands. However, the authors suggest that young adults in Emilia Romagna should be characterized as a "silent group". Due to the "long family" functioning as a resource network young adults don't appear as a visible (or audible) group in public, they don't create specific life forms, nor do they participate in youth rebellions. This contradiction between invisibility and social demands is reproduced within the institutions concerned: Though taking notice of the changing age structure they don't adapt the perceptive concepts of their target group with regard to the categories "youth" and "adulthood". The social risk of a large non-future-oriented group might only be prevented by "collaborating" with these new phenomena.

Andreu Lopez Blasco as well focusses the intra-familiar relationships of young adults. In the Spanish region Communidad Valenciana young people up to 30 years play a more important demographic role than in any other European region whereas the unemployment rate is one of the highest in Europe. Therefore the most striking finding of a recent empirical research has been the positive attitude of young women and men towards both family and society. These orientations are the presupposition for families to sustain insecure transitions and to make them continue for a longer and longer time. In consideration of the short spanish process of democratization it is the parents' generation to be sceptical about the real harmony of family relationships.

Barbara Stauber and Andreas Walther try to answer the question whether the contributions collected in this book represent a European discourse on "Young Adults". What are the conditions and perspectives of such an intercultural process? The irritations of coinciding similarities and differences comparing the phenomenon "Young Adults" in the European context are considered to be the result of one-dimensional schedules of comparison between "traditional" and "modern" societies. For an analytical separation of presumed common structures and different phenomena a concept of different "paths of modernization" might be useful. The methodological suggestion made is not to keep stuck on "mere" comparison but to initiate common processes of defining and interpreting changes in social structure for which local, regional and national perspectives reveal themselves to be too limited. Such an interpretative process may be described as a pendularious movement between the own (local or regional) and another cultural (or European) perspective. This movement ­ understood as "intercultural hermeneutics" ­ is the intercultural extension of the hermeneutic cycle and might therefore give also new impulses for ethnomethodological approaches on the local and regional level.

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