Oslo youth between individualization and class. A study of orientations towards the future
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AbstractThis dissertation investigates the future orientations of Oslo youth as they approach their twenties. It does so against the backdrop of theoretical debates over individualization, class, and youth. Theories of individualization highlight how a host of historical developments have expanded the scope of individual choice and reinforced the cultural ideals of individualism and self-realization. In parallel, the temporal window for navigating as an individual young person has been widened, as transitions into traditionally adult roles now tend to occur later than they did for previous generations. This is particularly so in the context of Oslo, where the average young person leaves the parental home at 20 and does not enter parenthood until after the age of 30. Theories of individualization and an individualized youth stage have been met with critique from a class and inequality perspective, with the charge that they overemphasize individual agency, and overlook the persistent impact of class backgrounds on life chances. Even in Norway where educational policy has specifically aimed to counteract such effects, class background continues to influence grades and aspirations. Although there are still proponents on both flanks rejecting the opposing view, there has been a convergence towards middle ground solutions, with a proliferation of attempts at integrating individualization and class perspectives. However, hybrids take myriad forms, and often remain at the abstract level. The dissertation aims for an empirically based integration of individualization and class perspectives. The overarching research questions that guide the three empirical articles are, how do Oslo youth in the transition away from high school navigate towards the future, and to what extent do future orientations differ for youth from dissimilar social backgrounds? These questions are investigated through statistical analyses of survey data collected when most respondents were 17 years old and in their second year of high school, and qualitative analyses of interview data collected when most participants were 19 years old and in their first post high school year. Where the survey data are well suited for identifying social patterns within the orientations of interest, the interview data provide a window into how participants make sense of their situation and make plans for the future. While individualization is both an institutional/objective and a cultural/subjective phenomenon, the findings indicate a schism whereby socioeconomic differences are miniscule in the domain of cultural ideals, but substantial in the domain of concrete plans and life choices. At the subjective level, Oslo youth tend to embrace the cultural ideals of individualism and self-realization – irrespective of their socioeconomic backgrounds. They hope to find work that is intrinsically meaningful, and tend to be more motivated by selfrealization than by the pursuit of wealth or prestige. They perceive the amount of options available to them as virtually limitless, and see hard work and determination as the most important factors for achieving their goals. At the same time however, the caveat must be added that their endorsement of individualist values does not prevent them from recognizing the relevance of unequally distributed family resources. Socioeconomic background plays a bigger part in the formation of concrete plans for the future – in their movement through the education system, in their plans for international mobility, and to some extent, in their expectations for the timing of transitions into traditionally adult roles. Statistical differences within these plans and expectations are likely to materialize into different objective outcomes. The relationship between class and education is already visible in the allocation to different high school programs, as well as in high school grades and college aspirations. Moreover, expectations for the timing of adult markers depend in part on class background and educational trajectory. Finally, while a large share of Oslo youth are eager to get out and see the world, plans for international mobility are substantially less frequent among those from working class backgrounds.
List of papers
|Paper I Hjort, J. L. (2014). Individualized youth subjectivity and social background: subjective understandings of advantage and disadvantage among Oslo youth. Journal of Youth Studies, 17(6), 733-748. The paper is not available in DUO due to publisher restrictions. The published version is available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/13676261.2013.844780|
|Paper II Hjort, J. L. (2015). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Work Motivation among US and Norwegian High School Students. Young, 23(4), 293-312. The paper is not available in DUO due to publisher restrictions. The published version is available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/1103308815596885|
|Paper III Hjort, J. L. Within and outside the mainstream: Social class and emerging adulthood in a Norwegian context. To be published. The paper is not available in DUO awaiting publishing.|