Young people navigating uncertainty in contemporary Britain.
This paper explores the emerging findings of the UrbanRural Youth Transitions Project, an 18 month ethnographic inquiry into how young people imagine and experience life immediately after finishing secondary education.
The project seeks to interrogate the temporal and spatial dimensions of how young people interpret ‘the future’ as a context for imagining and enacting social identity. Here we focus in on the theme of uncertainty as an important but complex quality of the imagined futures of young people transitioning into early adulthood in 2016, under the looming shadow of recent political, social, and economic upheaval. The project entails participant observation and interviews with young people in their final year of schooling in Oxfordshire and London, looking forward to the future, as well as with individuals that we have followed from their final months in school through to their first months in Higher Education, employment, both, or neither. A third and final cohort includes young people whose stories we join in their first term at university as they make sense of new lives and new futures in London. As their imaginings of life after school are reconciled with the rapidly shifting realities of life in early adulthood, these diverse groups of young people navigate uncertainty with a complex mix of enthusiasm, ambivalence, and profound anxiety. Drawing on theoretical perspectives of ‘the future’ and youth transitions from across the social sciences, we argue that the resulting multiplicity of future imagined selves suggests new directions for research into the spatial and temporal figuring of youth and social identity.