NEET in disguise? Rival narratives in troubled youth transitions.

Reiter, Herwig/Schlimbach, Tabea (2015):
NEET in disguise? Rival narratives in troubled youth transitions.
In: Educational Research
Jahrg.: 57, H. 2, S. 133-150

Background: The concept of NEET (young people not in employment, education or training) was introduced to capture the varieties of youth labour market disengagement and has become a standard statistical indicator for labour market performance. However, it is criticised for simplifying the heterogeneity of young people in problematic youth transitions and for emphasising their deficiencies in terms of affiliation to key institutions in youth transitions. Purpose: The article contributes to the research on youth transitions by offering a narrative perspective on the status of NEET. Its purpose is to investigate how NEET periods are embedded and reflected within biographical action and self-perceptions. Sample: The article is based on the analysis of 21 cases from a qualitative longitudinal study about coping strategies of secondary school-leavers in school-to-work transitions in a city in the west of Germany (altogether, 180 interviews were conducted). During the first wave of interviewing in 2012, the young men and women were 16–20 years old. Design and methods: In order to reconstruct the young people’s biographical experiences of the transition as well as their interpretations of these experiences qualitative problem-centred interviews were carried out over three waves of data collection. The qualitative analysis combined case reconstructions with cross-case analysis of typical narratives, which focused on the identification of key themes organising the biographical orientation of the young people. Results: In biographical accounts, analysis revealed that NEET periods are embedded in analytically distinguishable rival narratives that establish different selective perspectives on events, choices and experiences. We identify seven main narratives related to the topics of vocational status, self-actualisation, meaningful activity, convenience, money, leisure and life problems. Young people are well aware of the problematic nature of NEET status. On the level of action, they try to avoid or exit them by accepting precarious and de-qualifying activities; on the level of biographical reflection, they use rival narratives to re-embed the NEET experience, to bypass it or avoid mentioning it altogether. We suggest calling this phenomenon ‘NEET in disguise’ (NID) referring to acts of system justification. Conclusions: This article shows how young people struggle to avoid and conceal the problematic status of NEET and thus, contribute to the institutionally suggested normalisation of biographical discontinuities.