There have been as yet few qualitative analyses of either the lives of rural youth or their schooling in North America. While urban or suburban sociologies of education have focused heavily on the social mobility of youth, rural sociologies of education have focused on the geographic mobility of youth, typically out of rural areas. Indeed there have been a number of studies of youth migration from rural parts of North America, but these have almost exclusively focused on national or regional data sets. This study uses mixed methods in order to understand the interplay of structure and agency linking postsecondary decision making for rural youth and their families with the broader transformations at the structural level. Using semi-structured interviews and ethnographic observation, and drawing theoretically on the work of Pierre Bourdieu, this paper analyses decision-making frames employed by families in a coastal community to understand and navigate the increasing demand for formal education their children face in changing rural communities.
Identity, Educational decision making, Place, Rural, School to work transition
Received 12 December 2008 Accepted 6 March 2009
The literature on emerging adulthood has demonstrated that the transition from adolescence to adulthood, dependence to autonomy and school to work ismuch more complex and variable in contemporary capitalist societies. There has been considerable work done on how this transformation is experienced by urban youth, but much less concerning how similar life stage transitions are handled in rural places. Although rural places have often been presented as fundamentally different from urban spaces in western cultural mythology and in traditional rural sociology dating from Toinnes, contemporary rural scholarship has shown how global change forces have drawn urban and rural places together in a multitude of ways. Yet, traditional narratives of the stereotypical rural-urban distinction remain prominent in popular culture (e.g. the blue-red state division in US politics, or the distinction between rich multiethnic Canadian cities and poor monoethnic rural communities).
One side of this narrative of social change is the idea that modernity empties rural people from the countryside and deposits them in the urban world. Indeed, many rural people around the world have been caught in migrations, displacements and diasporas, which have swelled major urban centres globally (Davis, 2006). People do change places both by choice (pull), by force (push) or, more typically, by some combination of the two. Many prominent macro sociologists recognise mobility as both a central feature of contemporary life and a crucial part of high status cultural capital (Bauman, 1998, 2001; Sennett, 1998, 2006; Urry, 2000, 2007). At the same time, rural places themselves are changing rapidly as they are drawn into increasingly complex and vast networks of production and consumption of knowledge, goods and services. The capitalist success story of the Walmart chain has been built not through access to highly concentrated major urban markets, but rather in more geographically dispersed small city, town and rural markets. Walmart has become a key part of the expansion of rural service centre communities that allow many country consumers to have, for the first time, access to products and services that were formerly only available in urban places. As networked connections allow information and material goods to spill into rural places these places themselves change.
Part of this change is the emergence of forms of discourse that challenge established rural lifeways and patterns of knowledge production and resource transfer within social institutions like school and family. While compulsory secondary schooling is generally thought to have been established nationally by the 1920s (Sutherland, 1976, 1995), I have argued elsewhere that the idea that protracted formal education is a necessary feature of a 'successful' life, is a relatively new phenomenon in many parts of rural Canada (Corbett, 2001, 2005, 2007b). …