In Western societies, early adolescence is typically a time when young people undergo a profound transition in their social, physical and intellectual development. It is a time of rapid change, immense uncertainty and acute self-reflection. The exhilaration and pain of growing up for many early adolescents resides in their having much less confidence in what they are moving towards than in what they have left behind.
Strangely, Western societies towards the end of the twentieth century also find themselves in the midst of changes and transitions of great turbulence and uncertainty. Economies are becoming more flexible and also more fragile. Technologies are becoming more complex. Organizations are dispensing with bureaucracy in exchange for flexibility and fluidity. Nations are worrying and sometimes warring about their identities as economies expand, borders become irrelevant and people turn in upon themselves. Gone are the old and obvious antagonisms between labor and capital; East and West. But with more pluralism, complexity and diversity, gone too are the old ideological certainties, the seemingly secure moral foundations on which learning was organized, people lived their lives, and duties and obligations were maintained.
Just when modern industrial societies seemed to be reaching maturity, when economies seemed capable of infinite expansion and welfare states of endlessly extending educational and social benefits to all, social, economic and political life have been plunged into unpredictability. It is as if societies themselves are being condemned to experience a kind of adolescence. Like adolescents, we all now live in exciting and terrifying times of transition and turmoil. The prefix post used to describe these times in terms of what Daniel Bell (1973) labelled post-industrial society, and C. Wright Mills (1959) first termed post-modern society, suggests much greater confidence about the passing of what went before, than about what lies in store ahead (A. Hargreaves, 1994).
Our future is very much an open book. It can be one of triumphant innovation; of diverse and self-fulfilling yet environmentally sustainable lifestyles; of people living and working together in communities of difference. Or it can be a future of division and despair where the successful are seduced into a technologically glitzy world of superficial consumerism and lifestyle choices, while the unsuccessful are condemned to unemployment, underemployment or