Generation Y Confronts Precarity

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 11:30
Location: Hörsaal II (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Johanna WYN, Youth Research Centre The University of Melbourne, Australia
This paper addresses recent controversies about the uses of the concept of generation in youth studies.  As academics and policy-makers alike characterise contemporary labour markets for youth as ‘precarious’, old debates within youth studies have emerged about how to acknowledge the impact of changing structural conditions on young people’s lives, while simultaneously accounting for new subjectivities.  Critics of the concept of social generation argue that a social generations approach washes out structural dimensions, such as class, gender and political economy (see for example France & Roberts, 2015; Côté, 2014). Drawing on the longitudinal data base of the Australian Life Patterns study, this paper shows how two generations of young Australians have navigated the gradual entrenchment of precarious work, against a backdrop of policy imperatives that emphasise investment in post-secondary education as a pathway to secure and fulfilling work.  The formation of social generations (following Mannheim, 1952), occurs through the fundamental sociological process of interweaving  structure and agency through time. The analysis draws on Bourdieu’s conceptual tools of habitus and field to illuminate the formation of distinctive (generational) dispositions by young people as they read the ‘new rules of the game’ of precarious labour markets. In order to draw out the ways in which inequalities are reinscribed in changing times, this presentation focuses on the contradictory outcomes of these distinctive dispositions for both men and women as they make the transition from the field of education to the field of the labour market. The longitudinal perspective on the trajectories and decisions of men and women across the fields of education and work reveals how significant structural inequalities are ‘papered over’ through the embedding of highly individualised subjectivities that emphasise personal responsibility.