Academic journal article Hecate

Schemes and Dreams: Young Australians Imagine Their Future

Academic journal article Hecate

Schemes and Dreams: Young Australians Imagine Their Future

Article excerpt


The individualization thesis has become popular among sociologists, arguing that globalization and the risk society have produced a 'new modernity' or a 'second modernity' in which people, particularly the young and the affluent, are encouraged to construct 'do-it-yourself biographies', 'risk biographies', or 'reflexive biographies'. These biographies do not arise because we now live in a more economically equal society, quite the contrary. However, the old affiliations of class and the newer identifications of gender no longer appear relevant as people imagine themselves choosing between different lifestyles, social ties and identities.1 'Reflexive biographies' assume that chosen lives 'depend on the decisions of the actor'.2 The life goal of the 19505 and 19605 - the '"happy" family home, a new car, a good education for their children and a higher standard of living' - are displaced for the hunger for a 'fuller life'.s

Biographical projects are often seen as 'as an expression of egoism and narcissism', but the 'focus on self-enlightenment and selfliberation' includes 'the search for new social ties in family, workplace and politics'.4 Thus the new generation remains committed to the old institutions but in a different relationship. The proof of reflexive biography making will not be demonstrated by young affluent Australians refusing family, workplace and politics. It will be evidenced in the way they discuss these issues, in the gap between describing a happy home, a good education, a higher standard of living, and work, family and social involvement which are projects of self-creation through negotiated social interaction. Indeed Anne Summers found in her recent focus groups with 90 women in eastern Australia that the young women in particular said life was 'pretty good', being a woman is 'absolutely fabulous', 'it couldn't be better'.s 'As a Sydney woman in her late 2Os put it: "Women can be individuals now, which they couldn't before".' But: 'A surprising number of women used the word "hard" to describe their lives. Most of them were not talking about financial hardship. Instead, they were referring to the choices they needed to make'.6

My research indicates that the more affluent and better educated do indeed imagine biographies that are more self-reflexive, more self-cultivating, and which articulate a more negotiated interaction between the project of the self and that of others. However, and as other researchers have found,7 there is also a remarkable convergence in stated desires across class lines, so that almost all young women seek travel, education, a career and a family. My findings suggest that almost all young men seek to be materially comfortable, to be good economic providers, to be sexually attractive and to pursue the pleasures of sport and cars. The prospect before us, and a very painful one for the less affluent, is that while young people desire much the same things across class lines, the less advantaged are unlikely to realise their aspirations, producing either resentment or despair. Class differences will remain acute in outcomes if not in desires. secondly, some young men's and women's narratives overlap, and more so than they would have in the 19705. However, ongoing significant gender differences suggest flashpoints - such as forms of companionship, balancing two careers, sharing housework and childcare - which will require extensively negotiated interaction to produce compatible projects of the self in families of the future.


My research, sponsored by a large Australian Research Council grant, consists of surveying young people in years 11 or 12 in high schools in South Australia and Western Australia and clients of youth services in South Australia. The data base discussed here considers the life stories of 420 young people in SA and WA (as at November 2004), a little over half of them being female. Following consultation with the sponsoring teacher in the first participating school, the school students were asked to write the story of their lives from the perspective of being 70 or 80 years old. …

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