Youth (Key Concepts)

Jones, Gill
Polity Press, Cambridge
9780745640952 (pb)

Order this book?

Cover of book Sociology professor Gill Jones stresses to build a new conceptual framework from the ashes of the old ones to understand youth and engage in recent debates about the young people. This is because past grand narratives appear to have 'less and less relevance' in the present age. 'Though youth can be characterized as a process of transition to adulthood, its context shifts from private to public worlds, and it is therefore important to consider these worlds, and the part played by young people's families and peers, and institutions, rather than focusing exclusively on young people' alone [p. 164]. Chapter 1 sheds light on conceptual themes like what is youth, followed by Chapters 2-4 on how their actions could be best understood, issues concerning youth identity and the evolution from childhood to adulthood. The final three chapters discuss challenges faced by youth namely, inequality, dependence and interaction with the society.

We need not just describing how the youth act but explaining why they do so. Jones refers to approaches that expect young people influenced by economic theory of rational choice to act as rational, instrumental motivated by money and with access to the knowledge and intellectual capacity to undertake a cost-benefit assessment before deciding what to do. Another image 'seems to be building of young people as chameleon-like, lacking selfhood and capable of changing to fit their changing context and circumstances' [p. 73]. Though young people may have more choice, it is often imposed and defined by others. Jones observes that young people have to experiment with risk because they are constantly facing situations not encountered by them before [p. 101]. Jones examines the social connectedness of young people in late modernity. Youth in the modern age can be seen as a transition from private to public spheres, and from ascription to achievement in terms of identity, values and social status. She argues that youth in later modernity is characterized by a tension between forced dependence and 'forced emancipation' and tension individualizes young people during their youth and makes them vulnerable [p. 165].

The author acknowledges and reflects upon the lack of both certainty and stability in conditions facing the youth since 'with the increasing instability of many certainties and social structures in late modernity, this new pluralist construction of youth itself becomes increasingly unstable, being based on unsteady foundations' [p. 166].

Jones notes that the capacity of parents to prepare their children for adult lives was becoming increasingly restricted. An option is no longer there to follow the traditional family preferences as habitual or traditional action has become 'less significant in modern societies and adults are less likely to act in ways which merely repeat family or cultural traditions, thus making it more possible to escape their 'fate'. Another noteworthy observation is that 'although education is seen as a route to upward social mobility it is a route which remains inaccessible to many, and the alternative work route has more or less collapsed with the demise of the youth labour market' [p. 178].

Jones recalls that in the UK, 'there was a strong working class pattern of early entry into employment at the minimum school leaving age, and the wage was once seen as the key to adulthood.' The youth market has now been marginalised. Referring to barriers between work and non-work, Jones argues that it is government employment policies which result in the preponderance of insecure and low grade jobs, adding that 'the real need is therefore for policies designed to help vulnerable young people gain the competitive edge which might help them get better jobs' [p. 91]. As in the case of unemployment, when looking for a cause of changing transition it may be advisable to look first at the structures involved rather than individual psychopathology [p. 94]. Nevertheless, there is a tendency to blame young people for what they do, rather than the system which creates the ideology or structures the choices. Jones concludes that understanding the concept of youth means comprehending the relationship between young people and society since young people act in a social context which helps shape even the most apparently autonomous of action.

Najam Abbas
Institute of Ismaili Studies