On Becoming a Young Blue-Collar Worker: Classed Transitions in Working Life

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 09:00
Location: Hörsaal 47 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Carina ALTREITER, Department of Sociology, University of Vienna, Austria
Looking at public debates it seems to be common sense nowadays that everything is possible for the younger generation. Compared to their parents and grandparents young people in Austria are free to choose their way of life out of multiple options and are no longer bound to the limits of social class, gender or ethnicity. However, this approach does not only seem to be hegemonic in the public discourse but is also present in the social sciences. Since the 1970s socio-economic factors, like class background, are getting less and less important in theoretical and empirical works (Kraemer 2008). Ulrich Beck's (1986) declaration of the end of class society due to processes of individualisation, but also the culturalisation of social inequality research have surely contributed to this development. 

Contrary to that notion, the proposed presentation will show what can be gained by sticking to social class as analytical category in sociological analysis. This will be done by looking at a social group that has been suffering from a lack of attention in recent years: young blue-collar workers. Drawing on first results of an on-going PhD-project the paper will deal with Austrian industrial workers aged between 20 and 34 years old. Using the theoretical framework of Pierre Bourdieu (1987, 1998) it shows how social class and habitual dispositions shape their transitions from school to work, their trajectories in working life but also their perceptions, hopes and expectations. Going beyond Bourdieu, the paper will explore how societal changes might induce ambiguities and tensions in young workers lives.