Youth constructing identities and worldviews in times of uncertainty

Chair: Saija Benjamin, University of Helsinki, saija.benjamin(at)

Thursday 4.11. at 14.30-16.50 and Friday 5.11. at 12.00-14.30

Young people today are growing up in a world characterized by fluidity and uncertainty. Traditional institutional memberships and the socialization of values are often weaker than those of the older generations. Young people are growing up and constructing their identities and worldview attuned and sensitized to trends and environments that cross all traditional national, cultural, and linguistic borders.

As societies become more complex, so does the sense of self. This may generate feelings of uncertainty and anxiety in youth. Young people have different ways to cope with feelings of uncertainty. According to studies, one natural way to respond to these feelings is to draw closer to any ideology or group that is seen as capable to provide a niche of security and certainty – the fundamental structures provided by a defined ideology may be perceived as security generating in the midst of uncertainty (Hermans & Dimaggio, 2007). However, sometimes these ideologies and the communities built around them may be perceived, from the societal perspective, as threatening or compromising the societal values or the more normative and traditional ways of life. This is illustrated in, for example, in the growing number of youth who are looking for identity markers, purpose, and a sense of belonging in nationalist groups that, along with the increased human mobility, have increased in several countries across Europe, as well as in other such communities that are based on a common identity, such as a political ideology, religion, or ethnicity.

In this working group, we focus on research looking into young people’s identity and worldview construction. We are looking at the various ways the changing societies and value landscapes, and the uncertainties these developments are creating affect the sense of self and belonging of contemporary young people. We warmly invite papers from across academic fields that focus on young people’s developmental trajectories, life histories, narratives, meaning-making, identity construction or values, and worldview formation. Our particular, but not exclusive, interest is on identities and worldviews that from the outside seem “adrift” or “extremist” or in other ways deviating from the “normative” ones.


Thursday 4.11. at 14.30-16.50

Friday 5.11. at 12.00-14.30


Shifting National Identities among Finnish Youth in Vocational Education

Saija Benjamin (University of Helsinki), Visajaani Salonen, Liam Gearon, Arniika Kuusisto & Pia Koirikivi

While still far away from a deeply polarized society, there are signs of increasing segregation in Finland and the opinion climate has intensified. Exclusive outgroup attitudes are a key concern in societal cohesion and in the prevention of radicalization. However, there is little knowledge of intergroup attitudes of Finnish youth, especially the students in vocational education. Our study examined the intergroup attitudes of Finnish vocational school students through an online survey (N=383). Studies on this group are scarce, especially in the Finnish context. We first investigated the students’ social orientation (SDO) and open-mindedness with a profile analysis, where three distinct attitude profiles were found, here titled as Status quo oriented, Inclusion oriented, and Exclusion oriented. The profiles were then combined with qualitative survey responses, where the young people described their understandings of their in-group(s) and outgroup(s). While international research suggests that youth in non-academic educational tracks report less tolerant attitudes towards migrants and ethnic minorities compared to youth in more academic tracks, our study brings forth that most youth in vocational education in Finland are open-minded to different views and opinions and value equality between social groups, but that there are also youth, for whom Finnishness is a marker of borders and exclusion. Our findings provide new insights on the intergroup attitudes of an understudied youth cohort, whose ideological stances and social orientations may sometimes be misconceived in the media and public discourses. While these highlight the increase of polarization and nationalism, our study reveals dissimilar reverberations, and encourages further examination of the shifting national identities of the contemporary Finnish youth.
This study is part of a larger research project Growing up radical? The Role of Educational Institutions in Guiding Young People’s Worldview Construction (Academy of Finland, grant 315860).

Young Karelians – roots in the past, eyes on the future

Sinikka Selin (Itä-Suomen yliopisto)

The Karelian language, the closest relative of Finnish, is seriously endangered. However, there is a large group of young people, formed into an organization in autumn 2019, who are very determined to keep the language alive and who engage in activism in order to promote public awareness about Karelian language and Karelians’ history. My paper deals with these young people living in Finland for whom being Karelian is very central to their identity. They have found the base for their identity from their family’s past but have all the present ways to promote their cause, e.g. social media plays a large role both in their activism and in their interaction as they live scattered around Finland.

Only for very few Karelian is the first language. Most have discovered in their teens or later that their grandparents or the generation before them spoke Karelian as their mother tongue, and they have begun to learn Karelian mostly by themselves. In addition to being interested in the language, the young Karelians want to disseminate information about Karelianity and its traditions as separate from Finnish and/or Russian traditions. My paper looks into how they are constructing their identities in the conflicting pressures of the Finnish society.

The ongoing research is part of the research project Urban Karelianity.

Moving and connecting materials – everyday life and growing up in rural Finland

Helena Pennanen (University of Oulu) & Ville Pöysä (University of Eastern Finland)

Urban places still have a hegemonic position in the field of youth research, even though the research field has diversified in recent decades. The research gaze usually focuses on urban places and spaces in which youth is produced. Young people in sparsely populated areas, who are often both geographically and epistemologically excluded, are at the core of our presentation. We employ a new (materialist) approach to rural young people’s relationships to place and materialities: how Finnish Rural youth is re/configured in human and non-human entanglements?

This presentation draws on a forthcoming article, that combines two different qualitative longitudinal data collections from two distinct regions in Finland: rural Eastern Finland and Finnish Sámi Homeland. The data collection has been started when both groups were between the age of 14-15. These two data sets include different gendered structures, different places, and cultures. However, materiality builds up similar and simultaneously emerging possibilities and limitations of young people’s everyday life.

In this presentation, we focus on two different non-human elements, that constitute an important part of young people's lives: vehicles and digital technology. These two materialities enable us to explore how everyday life is co-constituted with these elements and places they live in. We aim to make visible alternative rural young masculinities and femininities, which do not compose from neither urban youth categories nor stereotypical countryside representations.

Whipping and Cooking – Finnish hiphop masculinities in domestic spaces

Hanna Tyvelä (Tampereen yliopisto) & Erica Åberg (Turun yliopisto)

This research paper examines audiovisual material (music videos and lyrics) of Finnish new wave hiphop artists in built environments. We see these youth agencies in built environments being yet unexplored in social sciences. We have previously focused on the hiphop youth agencies in digital platforms and suburban built environments that emphasise global and local, even hyperlocal belonging. This paper continues the same topic by focusing on domestic spheres, kitchens. Interestingly among other subjects, young racialised men, who are central figures of the so-called new wave hiphop, use kitchen terminology and visuals to emphasise their rapping skills and authenticity in the hiphop scene. The kitchen as a space for masculine agency challenges the traditional perceptions of domesticity and equity in built environments.

We employ critical analyses of text and image to delve into their artistry and highlight it as a new agency for racialised young men in Finland. At the same time as the artistry capitalises on traditional hypermasculinity but also brings new, unexpected associations to spheres and practices traditionally seen as feminine. This unexpectedness brings a delightful point of convergence to understanding domestic spaces and their gendered histories and gendered practices in the kitchen. At the same time, domestic spaces are linked to local and global aesthetics of afro diaspora hiphop culture, offering belonging and social cohesion in times of uncertainty.

This research adds knowledge on youth agencies of racialised young men and highlights their ability to renew the perceptions of possible masculinities in contemporary society. These dynamic agencies are constructed within the experience of belonging to the global afro diaspora and being Finnish. Moreover, their identities can be seen representing globality and locality simultaneously, making it an example of the fluidity of contemporary citizenship and identity that actualises in unexpected locations."

With society against us, we only have ourselves to turn to” - Perspectives on the incel phenomenon

Emilia Lounela (Helsingin yliopisto)

Incels (“involuntary celibates”) are pro-male supremacy, anti-feminist online communities of mostly young men who base their identity on not being able to form sexual relationships with women. Incels see themselves as ugly, unsuccessful and failed in their masculinity and thus worthless in the eyes of modern society. This perception of failure is based on what incels see as inescapable biological predeterminants impacting physical appearance, an idea referred to as the “blackpill”. From the outside, the incel worldview reads as a complex construction of misogyny, self-hatred and nihilism. Incels themselves consider inceldom not an ideology but a state of being, outside of their control and choosing.

Incels have received increasing attention in both academic and public discussion. As incel communities’ moments of public visibility happen mostly through mass killings by self-proclaimed incels, most of the attention has been focused on incel violence, misogyny and violent language. Underlying issues identified and discussed by incels themselves, such as mental health issues, isolation, bullying and autism, have received less attention.

A large part of the existing research uses large datasets derived from discussion forums, and the analysis of this data focuses mostly on frequency and prevalence of certain keywords and topics. Although this approach has provided important knowledge on incel online discussions, research has scarcely looked into the experiences, emotions and narratives behind this data.

In everyday online discussions, incels are often mocked and ridiculed both for misogyny and for not fulfilling the demands of normative adulthood, especially for not having sexual experience. Incels themselves often discuss the community being misrepresented by public discussion and research. This further feeds antagonism towards “normies” (non-incels), reaffirms their worldview and solidifies community identity. A key challenge in research is addressing the incel phenomenon avoiding stigmatisation and recognising true grievances, while also not pathologising the issue and downplaying the role of misogyny.

This presentation reviews current research on the incel phenomenon and raises questions about ethical research concerning a deviant group of young people with extreme ideas, who themselves feel left behind by society.

Resilience and Wellbeing as Dimensions of Worldview Construction – A Study on Finnish Youth

Pia Koirikivi & Saija Benjamin (University of Helsinki, Finland), Arniika Kuusisto (Stockholm University, Sweden), Liam Gearon (University of Oxford) & Lauri Hietajärvi (University of Helsinki)

Having a sense of wellbeing is an important aspect of young people’s identity and worldview construction. Wellbeing is supported by feelings of satisfaction with life, experiencing meaning in life as well as by having experiences of being beneficial for others. These elements – and especially the lack of them - are also central for in the developmental paths leading radicalization and extremism.

Resilience is closely related to wellbeing as it refers to one’s ability to overcome challenging situations in life and maintain a coherent sense of self during these stressful times. For its mediating role in times of hardships, resilience has also become a key dimension in policies and educational programs aiming to prevent radicalization and violent extremism among the youth. However, resilience as a concept is often used vaguely and its role especially in the prevention of extremism is controversial.

For increasing understanding about the relationship that resilience has in young people’s worldview construction, this presentation focuses on Finnish young people’s (16-to-18-year old’s) resilience-supporting resources and their attitudes towards themselves and others. The attitudinal outcomes discussed include the youth’s contentment with their life, their pro-social orientation, and their intentions for actions in terms of activism (non-violent actions) and radicalism (violent actions). The presentation is based on quantitative survey data (n=2837) gathered from Finnish youth in 2019. The data forms part of the Growing up radical? The Role of Educational Institutions in Guiding Young People’s Worldview Construction -research project (Academy of Finland, grant 315860)."

#YOUTH: Young people and their Opportunities. Understanding Transitions and How Decisions are made

Ralph Chan (University of Vienna)

The life courses of young people have changed in the last few decades. Historical changes and social developments such as globalisation, post-industrialisation or migration characterises life courses. Young people are considered "vulnerable" because they are confronted with this new character of the life phases and experience faster changes and more fragmented transitions in their life course. This development has different effects on the one hand on the life course of each individual (e.g., parenthood, housekeeping, level of education) and on the other hand on the transition (s) into adulthood (e.g., transition from school to work). Career decisions are therefore understood as turning points or critical moments that have an impact on the life course and identity. The decision for a secondary school or training is not only influenced by the individual opportunity structure, but also by the institutional structure (e.g., education system). This work (PhD project) focuses on the interface between youth-educational transition research. The focus is on the question of which aspects influence decisions and how these decisions are made by young people in the transition from school to school or from school to work. This is examined from a sociological perspective. Rather than researching young people and viewing them only as objects of research, this research aims to give young people a voice and the opportunity to express their experiences, feelings and thoughts. For this purpose, four different theoretical perspectives are used, and a three-stage research design was developed. With this research design, the researcher aims to uncover social mechanisms, new social risks and the changing lives of young people today. Interviews are carried out with young people and teachers to get a better understanding. Research in Austria on the life course of young people and their educational decisions from a sociological perspective is limited.

The Greta Thunberg Effect - At risk youth as potential ideal transformative agents

Christine Namdar (Åbo Akademi)

Though the rhetoric is about youth being our future they are seldom regarded or studied in terms of their positive potentials.

When looking at research targeted towards youth from immigrant backgrounds this emphasis on negative outcomes is all the more prominent. So often youth from immigrant backgrounds are stigmatised, discriminated against and labelled at an early age.

When exploring the topic of social education and youth it is apparent that research pertaining to immigrant youth from limited socio economic backgrounds is directed at exploring youth as a problem. We know that negative expectations will in themselves contribute to negative outcomes.

My presentation will be looking at an alternative approach, drawing on the strengths and experiences of these youth and thus regarding them as a valuable potential to be realised. In part this would mean that certain elements of these youths’ background would be re-defined and thus transformed from limiting to enabling factors.

The concept of transformative agency, and the suitability of these youth for that role is explored in the light of three partially overlapping perspectives, of entrepreneurship and cosmopolitan citizenship but also looking at what schools can do to facilitate or impede the realisation of the participants' transformative potential. The contribution of each of these complimentary vantage points will be briefly discussed. with the realisation of this potential.

We will conclude by exploring the hypothesis that immigrant youth in risk-zone areas are potentially ideal candidates for the assuming the role of societal transformative agents and that the realisation of this potential can be significantly facilitated by an approbate pedagogical approach at school.