Structure, Agency, and the Life Course

The working group Structure, Agency, and the Life Course aims at contributing to current research and discussions on the closely intertwined topics of young people’s life course and the relationship between social structures and individual agency. Despite (or because of) the drastic societal changes of the last decades and the consequent rise of individualisation, there are still persistent inequalities in young people’s lives. We are interested in examining how both the positive and negative effects and consequences of these changes are distributed among the youth, thus, producing and reproducing social inequalities.

We study life course, both as a theoretical approach and a social institution, primarily to gain a better understanding of the configuration and evolution of the transitions within youth and from youth to adulthood. We place a special focus on topics and debates related to individualisation and reflexivity, time and temporality, as well as risks and social reproduction.

Concerning structure and agency, we underscore the importance of going beyond unproductive dualisms and dichotomies by using more nuanced approaches to understanding their relationship. Furthermore, we agree with those scholars who state that agency cannot be seen to include only actions resisting existing power relationships as that would lead, for example, to imposing pre-existing, normative commitments to young people for whom they might have no relevance.

Strongly related to our network’s interests, we seek to explore research questions such as:

  • How are the current macro-social changes influencing young people’s transitions to adulthood?
  • Is the life course being further de-standardised or is there a new and different re-standardisation of young people’s life courses?
  • In times of increased individuality, what are the different mechanisms through which social inequalities are produced and reproduced?
  • How do youth and young adults cope with their transitions in different contexts and in times of increased uncertainty?