Consequences of agency for youth and transition policies

The final UP2YOUTH report is primarily concerned with theoretical reflections on the relationship between young people's agency, social integration and social change. These reflections hold implications for policies and practices that concern young people which we are presenting in this article.

A general insight of the report is that young people depend to a large extent on society's facilitating structure (such as access to socio-economic resources and opportunity spaces) in order to negotiate, shape and cope with uncertain transitions to family, work and citizenship. This is especially relevant to those young people with precarious transitions.

Nevertheless, the success of these facilitating measures and structures cannot in turn secure predictable trajectories. For this to occur young people need to perceive these structures as accessible, relevant and manageable and, consequently, to accept and use them.

This implies that for young people to successfully use structures such structures should facilitate the individual according to his or her own subjective needs and priorities.

UP2YOUTH builds on previous EU-funded research such as Misleading Trajectories (Walther et al. 2002) and Youth Policy and Participation (Walther et al. 2006) in which the concept of Integrated Transitions Policies (cf. López-Blasco et al. 2003) is highlighted. Integrated Transition Policies are characterised by coordinating the different policies affecting young people's lives. They tend to start from the young people's own biographical perspective. The analysis of research on young parenthood in particular has revealed that this is not yet the case for many young women and men; a lack of resources and opportunities needed to reconcile work, studies and family continues to hamper their progress.

Pais (2003) has metaphorically described youth trajectories in late modernity as a maze with youth policies mostly aiming at helping young people out of the maze.  As Pais argues however, the metaphor does not apply to youth only but also to late modern life in general whereby such policies morph into misleading trajectories. Appropriate policies, in contrast to this approach, focus on supporting life within the maze.

Supporting transitions processes rather than focussing on the potential but increasingly uncertain end point or arrival (whether this is work, family or an adult citizen status) implies a balance between security and flexibility.

On the one hand young people need income security as well as secure access to appropriate forms of social support; on the other hand these support systems need to be highly flexible in allowing young people individualised use.

This flexicurity (Stauber et al. 2003) is closest to the transition systems of the universalistic regime type wherein social rights to support are connected to citizenship status independently (in the main) of the individual's life situation.

The liberal regimes share the reference point of the individual citizen while the concept of citizenship is rather more that of a self-responsible entrepreneur than of an autonomous individual embedded in and supported by reciprocal solidarity.

In contrast the employment-centred and sub-protective transition regimes systems of social security and support are largely connected to family and employment status. This implies different levels of support as well as inflexibility; in regard to both individual cases and to social change in general.

A further characteristic of Integrated Transition Policies is the reflexivity of institutional actors in order to facilitate the differing needs and differing effects of support in differing youth biographies.

The salient fact that the otherwise positive performances of the universalistic transition regimes does not extend to the same extent to the transitions of ethnic minority and migrant youth populations suggests that other (dis-)integrative factors are at play which are not usually taken into consideration.

For example; migrant and ethnic minority youth receive contradictory messages between inclusive education and/or welfare services and paradoxical messages regarding exclusive immigration policies. These conflicting communications may well undermine the feeling of being recognised as an individual and crucially also undermine trust in the institutions offering support.

The final key principle that emerges from Integrated Transition Policies is participation as the right of choice in taking biographical decisions. This choice participation needs to be underpinned through income security and negotiation rights.

UP2YOUTH has been concerned with the obvious mismatch between institutional expectations of how young people should participate and young people's actual activities and priorities. According to Zygmunt Bauman (1995) this transpires from a lack of public space wherein individuals can communicate their needs, interest and aspirations. This public space also serves as a negotiating forum for concerned citizens, be they young or not. The inadequacy of public institutions such as education, family and welfare policy or indeed of participation programmes for such dialogic exchange is due to their institutional prerequisites in terms of specific ways of conduct, of life style and of aspiration.

Inasmuch as young people do not feel recognised as individuals policies need to be designed in a manner that allows for visibility to ensure that one's subjective needs and interest are not neglected. It also needs to be accepted that young people are already acting: more or less successfully due to unequal access to resources and more or less in line with dominant norms and models of coping in society. Discrepancies may partly result from lack of competencies and opportunities but these discrepancies also reflect that young people have to make decisions and have to act under conditions which have dramatically changed; changes that institutional actors have not yet fully realised or understood.

In the following articles, we break down the more general recommendations developed thus far into more specific recommendations and quality standards regarding the three UP2YOUTH topics:


Last Updated ( Tuesday, 27 October 2009 )