1st Edition

Structure and Agency in Young People’s Lives Theory, Methods and Agendas

Edited By Magda Nico, Ana Caetano Copyright 2021
    286 Pages 4 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    286 Pages 4 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Structure and Agency in Young People’s Lives brings together different takes on the possible combinations of agency and structure in the life course, thus rejecting the notion that young individuals are the single masters of their lives, but also the view that their social destinies are completely out of their hands.

    ‘How did I get here?’ This is a question young people have always asked themselves and is often asked by youth researchers. There is no easy and single answer. The lives that are told, on one hand, and their interpretation, on the other, may have the underlying idea of 'own doing' or the idea of 'social determinism' or, more accurately and frequently, a combination of the two.

    This collection constitutes a comprehensive map on how to make sense of youth’s biographies and trajectories, it questions and reshapes the discussion on the role and responsibility of youth studies in the understanding of how people juggle opportunities and constraints, and contributes to escaping what Furlong and Cartmel identified as the "epistemological fallacy of late modernity", in which young people find themselves responsible for collective failures or inevitabilities. It can thus interest students, researchers and professors, youth workers and all of those who work for and with young people.

    History, Biography, Endurance and Empathy: An Introductory (Thank You) Note to the Book

    Magda Nico and Ana Caetano

    Part I – Beyond the Agency-structure Divide

    1. Challenging the Structure/Agency Binary: Youthful Culture, Labour and Embodiments

    Steve Threadgold, David Farrugia and Julia Coffey

    2. Subjective Understandings of Young People’s Agency: Concepts, Methods and Lay Frames of Reference

    Sarah Irwin

    3. The Interplay of Structure and Agency in the School-to-work Transition

    Ingrid Schoon

    4. The Go-between. Young-ish Trajectories Through a Life Course Agency-structure Lens

    Magda Nico

    5. Redefining the Link Between Structure and Agency: The Place of Time

    Carmen Leccardi

    Part II – Agency and Structure in Historical and Generational Context

    6. Structure and Agency: An Old Couple in a New Era of Prolonged Education-to-work Transitions amid Rising Inequalities and Declining Life Chances

    Ken Roberts

    7. Making a Living in a Provincial Hometown: Locality as a Structuring Landscape for Agency

    Sanna Aaltonen

    8. Exploring the Connection Between Structure and Agency Within the Context of the Young

    Greek Crisis Generation

    Athanasia Chalari

    9. Fighting Adversity with Different Weapons: Youth, Structure and Agency in Portugal During the Crisis

    Nuno De Almeida Alves

    10. Certainties and Control in the Lives of Young Men: Stories from Three Research Projects

    John Goodwin, Henrietta O'connor and Laurie Parsons

    11. Structure and Agency in Life Stories: How to Become a Gang Member

    Carles Feixa

    Part III – Structured Agency, Reflexivity and Action

    12. Reflexivity in Late Modernity: Understanding Young Lives in the Context of Social Change

    Daniel Woodman and Amy Vanderharst

    13. What are the Chances? Coping with Contingent Events in Youth

    Ana Caetano

    14. Youth Pathways as Process: How Factor Configuration, Time Dynamics and Reflexivity Combine Together

    María Eugenia Longo

    15. There’s Always Tomorrow: Strengthening Agency and Challenging Structure Through Youth Work and Youth Policy

    Howard Williamson


    Magda Nico is a Sociologist. She is a Researcher at the Centre for Research and Studies in Sociology (CIES-Iscte) and Assistant Professor at the Department of Social Research Methods at Iscte-University Institute of Lisbon. She is interested in life course theory and methods, and in the social mobility and trajectories of (young) people.

    Ana Caetano
    is a Researcher at the Centre for Research and Studies in Sociology (CIES-Iscte) and Assistant Professor at the Department of Social Research Methods at Iscte-University Institute of Lisbon. She has been studying for several years the relationship between structure and agency, namely through the analysis of personal reflexivity, the experience of biographical crises and the use of triangulation in biographical research.

    "How does the world change, and what does it feel to be caught up in it? Using methods that range from ethnography, archives, interviews and surveys, the very best scholars in youth studies share the concepts and methods needed to make sense of being young in unsettling times."

    Rachel Thomson, University of Sussex, UK

    "This is a book about transitions. By studying youth in different contexts and countries, it shows at once the social changes of the last decade that affect the transition from school to work and the theoretical changes necessary to conceptually and empirically investigate the agency of youth under changed economic and social conditions. Having studied culture (in the 1980’s), structure (in the 1990’s) and agency (in the 2000’s) the field of youth studies has now reached enough maturity to investigate their interchange in qualitative research on the life course in times of transition."

    Frédéric Vandenberghe, Institute of Philosophy and Social Sciences, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

    "Departing from a restless knowledge, attentive to the recent pandemic transformations, here is a publication that tackles youth transitions in the agency-structure limbo, without succumbing to the fatalist determinism or the popular post-modern and liberal idea of a limitless free will. In fact, this book illustrates the analytical gains of complex thought, that articulates instead of excluding: it articulates windows of observation, analytical objects, disciplinary knowledge, social inequality dimensions, origins, trajectories and pathways, methodologies. Hence, youth life courses gain new contours with the multiplication of perspectives, shedding light to what was hidden by the persistence of unidimensional and limited approaches. Moreover, the book responds to one of the eternal issues in sociology: will those who are under the sociological lens be able to reflexively understand the research results that take them as objects? In this case, I believe so. Here is a hope for the future: research and publications that, without resigning their scientific autonomy and their own ways of questioning, involve subjects as reflexive (and transformative) recipients, thus broadening the frontiers of citizenship."

    João Teixeira Lopes, President of the Portuguese Sociological Association; University of Porto, Portugal

    "The book offers a highly innovative perspective to a very traditional dilemma in sociological thought – structure and agency. An impressive panel of authors examine the interplay of the two concepts applying it to the youth life phase which serves as an ideal laboratory for testing research outcomes and developing new theories...The book makes an original contribution to youth studies and wider academic scholarship."

    Siyka Kovacheva, University of Plovdiv, Bulgaria