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MATTOS, E. and CHAVES, A.M Graduate Program in Psychology, Universidade Federal da Bahia
Summary The present paper reports on partial results of a longitudinal qualitative study that investigates the experiences of transition to adulthood from the perspective of disadvantaged youth living in a large city in the Northeast of Brazil. Research on transitions to adulthood among Brazilian youth is scarce. This study seeks to identify and describe “critical moments” in the transition process and to analyze how they shape youth trajectories. Interrelationships among different life dimensions (i.e. work, family and education) are emphasized. Participants were 10 youths who joined a social program during adolescence, aged 17-18 years old at the beginning of the study and 20-21 in a 2-year follow up in-depth interview. Results discuss how “critical moments” help shape different life trajectories and how young people position themselves and negotiate their identities as well as present and future goals, in a scenario were adversities prevail. Introduction Transition to adulthood is considered a critical developmental passage for a significant number of Brazilian adolescents who enter the labor force to help support themselves and their families before the age of 18. Research on the transition to adulthood is essential to understand how young people become able to produce and reproduce social and cultural life (Nurmi, 2004), and also to explore how they construct and negotiate their identities in the process (Zittoun, 2007). To date, however, research on transitions to adulthood among Brazilian youth has been scarce. Several authors indicate that developmental transitions are becoming less linear and predictable, and suggest that their study should take a more dynamic perspective on the processes using qualitative methods (Valsiner, 2007; Young et al, 2007; 2008; Zittoun, 2007). Studies on transition to adulthood usually focus on the outcomes of youth transitions (instead of on the transition processes), use quantitative models, and neglect young people’s perceptions and meanings about their experiences. The present study adopts a systemic approach to transitions. The idea is to emphasize the processes that are at play while youth experience transitions, focusing on their own perspectives about these experiences (Zittoun, 2007; Handerson et al, 2007). A key aspect to be considered by
2008). (with family members and work mentor). Methods With the theoretical framework outlined above. 2007). with ages ranging from 15 and 21 years old. The main difference is in the pattern of transition. The self is conceived of as a complex system of relations in a process of continuous change and movement towards the future. While George’s transition process is characterized by selforientation. They were followed in two rounds of in-depth interviews: the 1st round with 18 years old. joint-actions. Cultural meanings shape people’s perceptions and values associated with becoming an adult in a certain context and historical time. Branco & Madureira. As the person moves into a different context. Relevant cultural meanings for becoming an adult in Brazil are autonomy and responsibility. Results Partial results will be discussed focusing two cases: George and Jane. as well as exploring the ways young people cope with these moments. The process involves an active construction of meanings. In the process of transition to adulthood several changes were observed in self configurations of both youth. Jane’s process is characterized by shared decision-making. 2001. are mutually constitutive. Simultaneously. self and context are mutually re-configured and re-defined (Branco & Madureira. Study participants were ten youths (5 males and 5 females). his/her selfconfiguration is constantly moving and altering its patterns of stability (Valsiner. the present research used a longitudinal case study design to investigate the process of transition to adulthood among adolescents who participated in a social program. Brazilian context for youth transitions is characterized by a low quality educational system and fragmented youth policies. living in poor communities of a large city in Brazil. and trial-and-error responsibility. or with the person and the culture in which he/she is immersed. As the person moves along the life course. They act as major values that youth should internalize to become productive adults in our society. identifying critical moments emerging in the process of transition. The inter-relations between person and context. the self is configured in negotiation with canalized values and meanings emphasized by a specific social milieu. and increased responsibility. and the meanings they construct about themselves and their world over time. and the 2nd round with 21 years old. early autonomy. 2008). 2 . An excluding labor market. with high youth unemployment and underemployment rates also contributes to a scenario of scarce opportunities and social inequity. and establishes new sets of relationships.this study is the concept of self-configurations (Hermans.
I got it.. [. But I started to run after work to do. I am going to ask. He felt as an “extra element” there and tried a strategy of initiative and personal effort to conquer the recognition of his work colleagues. They thought that I wasn’t going to succeed. they didn’t trust me.] This experience made me grow professionally and personally.] and take the initiative.. and adapting to the team that was already working there. developing new abilities. And I won their trust. because the team was already made. I can chart my own course now. I thought I need to do something. I am not going to be just looking.. shows marked differences from George’s. Her autonomy emerges much later 3 . in which choices are made interdependently with other significant adults (family members and work mentors). I had to go after what I wanted. I came from something primary to some place advanced. It shows that I conquered their trust.. About this critical moment George reports: My greatest challenge was to find my place there [at work]. [. he began to find a place for himself and to negotiate new challenges. Jane’s transition process. they never gave me work to do. a critical moment emerged when he faced the new work environment and tied to adapt to it. a new position emerges in the landscape of George’s self-system: I-as-Apprentice.. oriented by joint decision making. In the beginning. and felt more recognized by others in his workplace. They trusted me! They gave me a lot of responsibility. As he describes: That was really a defining moment in my professional career. In the process of facing these challenges. I am going to demand [work to do]. a new meaning is constructed around the self. With effort and initiative. And then.] I passed an exam to work in the public sector and I am studying at a Vocational School. George positions himself as a responsible apprentice.] I started to see me as a professional. I feel I have evolved. he develops a new meaning for himself: I-as-Professional. and this new position will restructure his view about himself and the future.. He feels he gained control over his life and can chart his own pathway towards the future. This new emerging meaning is related to future aspirations and helps George guide his actions towards the achievement of present and future goals.. however.. Hers is a shared pathway.As George entered the world of work. I think my life will take off now [. As time passes and George feels more confident about being an apprentice. [. From an initial selfconfiguration around submission or dependence to norms set by other people in his environment. I just had to wait and watch the others doing their jobs...
4 . with time.] I think I can take charge of my own life now. it is possible to see that. Therefore.’ They didn’t consider me an employee. My father was sick and couldn’t work. I paid off all my debts. When someone from outside asked who I was. and began to trust her new abilities. I had to manage everything. Jane faced a critical moment as she felt discriminated by her co-workers. There was a contradiction between her Self-asResponsible-Worker and her Self-as-Dependent-Daughter. and trial-and-error attempts characterize her capacity to assume responsibilities. her responsibilities at work did not transfer to her home. I cut up all my credit cards. I am not only responsible for myself. and this was a lot of work! And the debts started to pop-up. and Jane felt anxious because she could not integrate both positions. it was through her relationship with Elena that Jane was able to build a new self-position: I-as-Responsible-Worker. After some time. they said that I was ‘young apprentice. I thought I wouldn’t be able to do all the work I had to do. however. with time. she starts to develop strategies to overcome these challenges. because everything I earned I gave to support my family. And she didn’t trust her capacity to take on her job responsibilities. who acted as her mentor. Therefore. In the beginning. [. another critical moment happened to Jane when she tried to manage money in her home.. who encouraged her and gave her support to overcome her challenges. Later on. she could not assume these tasks as satisfactorily as her mother used to do. She thought that being an “apprentice” was not a valued position. or when she was afraid of making a mistake. after some changes happen in her family context. And. however. when she entered the work environment. I tried to manage the money in my family. Jane develops a new selfconfiguration that integrates her self-positions at work and in the home. She says: Now my father is working again and I am learning to manage my money. Then. As for me. Jane felt that Elena trusted her more then she trusted herself. she started to take on more responsibilities. As she reveals in her own report: I started to have money problems. I had a lot of debt in my credit card. Therefore. They didn’t treat me as a real.. Jane went to talk to Elena. As Jane says: I think that people [co-workers] made a distinction because I was an apprentice. I am responsible for others too. Every time she had a problem or a doubt. Jane searched for adult support in an older employee. However. Although she was the main contributor to family expenses.in her development.
F. and reflection.. selection. L. Handbook of Adolescent Development. Domene. but the processes were experienced and resolved differently by Jane and George. Meaningful actions and motivated projects in the transition to adulthood: two case 5 . J.. & Valach. (2008). Culture in Minds and Societies. (Orgs). F. M. Cultural Psychology. A. Graham. Valsiner. References Branco. (2004) Socialization and self-development – Chanelling. Ny: Wyley (pp. McGrellis. 7(3). & Madureira. critical moments (times of intensification of uncertainties) act as catalysts of change and serve to trigger new selfconfigurations. L. J. Therefore. (2007) Inventing adulthoods: A biographical approach to youth transitions. J. A.. Henderson. During their transition process.. S. S. Nurmi. 2007). Final Considerations In transition to adulthood. R. Her new self-positions emerged after some time of shared decision making at work and in the family environment. (2007).K. Logan. In Lerner. 319-332. new self-positions assumed an organizing role early on. & Steinberg.. J. and integration was achieved with the dominance of new positions over old ones (Branco & Madureira. J-E. S. The process is characterized by integration and empowerment of certain self-configurations that achieve dynamic stability. Mrshall. Sharpe. There was an intensification of negotiation and search for integration in both cases. R. 85-124). 2nd Edition. L. Zeidman-Zeit.with the support of significant adults. adjustment. C. S. learning to become a productive adult involves confrontation and negotiation. Templeton. London: Sage. Hermans. in interrelation with other significant adults. New Delhi: Sage. The dialogical self: toward a theory of personal and cultural positioning. and designing ones’ own path. M. Young. H.. (2007). Jane and George developed new coping strategies. Through Jane’s and George’s cases. R. It also implies taking responsibility for one’s own self and for others. we may see that new meanings emerge from processes related to confrontations with changes in the context and to ambivalent feelings towards self and others (Valsiner. however. integration was achieved by joint-processes. In Jane’s case. In George’s case. (2001). 29(3). & Thomson.A. Estudios de Psicología. 2008). leading to re-configuration and re-positioning. Holland.. A.. M. 243-281. Dialogical Self in action: The mergence of Self-Positions among complex and cultural dimensions.. She learned how to manage family money and feels more responsible both for herself and for others.
Symbolic resources and responsibility in transitions. 6 . T. Young. 215-223. (2007). Zittoun.illustrations. 193-211. 52. 15. International Journal of Education Vocational Guidence.