MacDonald, Paul Mason, Tracy Shildrick, Colin Webster,
Les Johnston and Louise Ridley (2001) 'Snakes & Ladders: In Defence of
Studies of Youth Transition'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 5, no. 4, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/5/4/macdonald.html>
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Received: 21/11/2000 Accepted: 9/2/2001 Published: 28/2/2001
'...the value of decoding the stylistic appearances of particular tribes during a period in which young adults are the prime victims of a state policy of manufactured unemployment...the time has come to turn our eyes away from the stylistic art of a few...' (Clarke, 1982: 1).
'youth's new condition led to a boom in youth research, mostly policy- oriented research, which was weak on theory but strong in counting and profiling those experiencing education, training, jobs and unemployment, then charting their next steps' (Roberts, 1997: 62).
'...the field of study has produced little of substance and certainly nothing fresh or original for nearly two decades. It has become more inward-looking. As a sub-discipline it is unlikely to disappear (although perhaps it should) as too many have invested too much in it...[but] it is likely to become increasingly irrelevant. Exhausted, reduced to picking over the minutiae of young people's lives and reworking its own tired models [of transition] it will stagger on...' (Jeff and Smith, 1998: 59, our additions in square brackets).
'The tendency...to adopt a structural perspective on transitions has been counter-productive, primarily because of its failure to prioritize the actual views, experiences, interests and perspectives of young people as they see them, in favour of bland discussions, most commonly of trends in employment and education patterns...[T]he most damaging problem with the 'transitions debate' is that it has tended to take young people out of the youth equation...treat[ing] young people as troubled victims of economic and social restructuring without enough recourse to the active ways in which young people negotiate such circumstances in the course of their every day lives...(Miles, 2000:10).
'...it is often immensely difficult to identify a coherent, unitary or linear trajectory from the mess and jumble of individual's biographies. Life is not as simple as the step-by- step model implied in this approach' (MacDonald and Coffield, 1991: 92).
2 None of these studies were primarily about youth sub-cultural style in the sense developed by the CCCS. They were all attempts to explore the cultures of young people in relationship to two of the institutional domains identified, but then largely overlooked, by the CCCS as being centrally important for sociological analysis of youth culture: work and education (Clarke et al, 1976).
3 This paper is based upon a project funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. We thank them and the University of Teesside for their support. We are particularly indebted to the young people in the study for their participation. In order to protect their anonymity all real names have been changed. Les Johnston, Robert MacDonald, Paul Mason, Louise Ridley and Colin Webster undertook the study. Tracy Shildrick contributed here to the discussion of its findings in relation to debates about youth transitions. We are grateful to Jane Marsh and Mark Cieslik for their comments on earlier drafts of the paper.
4 Certainly, some researchers do still work with rather narrow, positivistic notions of 'school-to-work' transitions and employ normative models of 'good/ successful' and 'bad/ failed' transitions. Equally certainly, it would be incorrect to portray such an approach as being dominant within the study of youth transitions.
5Roberts (2000) has argued that the basis for youth studies should remain the study of school-to-work, family and housing transitions. His conclusion is similar to that reached here:
'...it is in the course of making [these] transitions that social class, gender and ethnic divisions among young people widen, deepen and are consolidated. These divisions are then reproduced in other areas of young people's lives. This is just one respect in which it is impossible to explain what is occurring elsewhere until the sub-structure of young people's lives (their school-work and family/ housing transitions) has been analysed properly' (Roberts, 2000: 6).
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