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Biographies of exclusion: poor work and poor transitions

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The usefulness of the concept of transition has been hotly contested in Anglophone youth studies over the past decade. A variety of criticisms have been ranged against it, including that it: presumes the continuing predominance of linear, obvious, mainstream pathways to adulthood; excludes wider youth questions in focusing narrowly on educational and employment encounters; prioritises normative and policy-focused assumptions and de-prioritises the actual lived experiences of young people; and is no longer a tenable concept, given the extension of youth phase and the blurring of it and 'adulthood' as distinct life-phases. Drawing upon qualitative, longitudinal studies with 'socially excluded' young adults, this paper contends with these arguments. The research participants were 186 'hard to reach' young women and men who were growing up in some of England's poorest neighbourhoods, some of whom were followed into their mid to late twenties. The studies confirmed many of the specific criticisms lodged against the idea of transition. Interviewees' lives post-school were marked by unpredictability, flux and insecurity. Engagement with post-16 education and training courses was common, despite wide-spread disaffection from school pre-16. Typically, these later learning encounters were short-lived, negatively assessed and un-related to labour market fortunes. Economic marginality and recurrent unemployment were uniform experiences. 'Hyper-conventional', class cultural orientations to employment drove post-school transitions, even when these motivations resulted only in low paid, low skill, insecure 'poor work'. In conclusion, we re-affirm the value of a broad and long view of youth transitions, situated in a panorama of socio-economic change. We argue that this sort of conceptualisation of transition is crucial to understanding the twists and turns of individual biographies and the coming together of these in socially structured patterns of inclusion, exclusion and inequality.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Teesside, UK

Publication date: 2007-09-01

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