Using Longitudinal Qualitative Research To Understand Youth Connection To People, Place And Their Times

Year: 2015

Author: Cuervo, Hernan, Wyn, Johanna

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

For more than two decades, the Life Patterns research program has been documenting the pathways to adulthood of two generations of young people. This program consists of two panel cohort studies, one initiated in 1991 and one in 2005, with participants surveyed and interviewed almost every year to provide a rich data base on the nature and experience of Australian youth, their transitions through education and work and their wellbeing, their wider life experiences, relationships and aspirations. In this paper, however, we draw on insights gained from analysis of the qualitative longitudinal data, using individual narratives of life that span the 1990s to the present, to provide a more nuanced understanding of young Australians beyond normative youth prescriptions in a time of rapid social change.
The use of qualitative longitudinal research as a sensibility and orientation enables us to draw on individual stories to challenge normative conceptualisations of youth-as-transitions, that are commonly sustained through sophisticated quantitative approaches to the measurement of the achievement of transition markers (such as school completion, labour market engagement). We suggest, then, that in the field of youth studies, the idea of transitions as a heuristic device may need to be complemented with ideas embedded in the concept of belonging (e.g. performativity, mobility), to provide examples on how young people create places through practices in their everyday lives. Youth transitions, commonly described as ‘pathways’, ‘trajectories’ and ‘routes’ from one life event to another, depict a journey that places the emphasis on the starting and ending points (e.g. school to work) rather than on the social processes occurring between these points. While the focus on traditional transitions is appealing for its simplicity, it does little to advance our understanding of the complexity of young people’s lives.
We argue that it is between these markers that life is built and lived, and where the idea of belonging, sustained by rich qualitative longitudinal data, contributes to bringing the constellation of spheres of life together to assemble a better understanding of youth. The concept of belonging embedded in the narratives of our participants expands the youth agenda from the policy emphasis on education and employment participation into issues of social relationships, health, wellbeing, place, culture, and inter-generational relations. It enables a clearer understanding of the efforts that young people make to remain connected to people, places and issues that matter to them, as well as their relationship to the times they have to live.