In-between school and work in a post-socialist context: do-it-yourself biographies in search of meaningfulness
Sociology and Social Anthropology Central European University Budapest, Hungary
The profound change that both the educational system and the labor market in Romania have been undergoing in the past two decades seriously shattered the predictability of individual strategies and threatened people?s capacities to construct a meaningful sense of self. An institutionalized way of undertaking the transition to the labor market is no longer provided for university graduates (as was the case during the socialist regime). I argue that a space for personal innovation, in which individuals actively explore and engage with their uncertain environments, is opened as a consequence. The years of university studies and the anticipated transition from school to work progressively became a laboratory of the "do-it-yourself" biography, in which various engagements with the available opportunities (like summer jobs abroad, NGO sector projects, conferences/summer schools, part-time jobs, students' associations) are tried out. Further, this experience is put to use in recurring attempts to construct one's sense of self. The institutionally induced awareness of the constructed nature of one's trajectory and the sense of personal responsibility for its crafting often become overwhelming and are viewed in negative terms. However, people's experiences indicate that the potentiality of creating at least temporary meaningfulness is also inscribed in the current situation.
This paper directly engages with the wider debate over the "extended reflexivity thesis" by bringing into discussion the case of individual transition from school to work in post-socialist Romania. It contributes to the need of empirically documenting the way the process of individualization and the contemporary changing nature of the self and its construction look like for individuals embedded in a variety of contexts The empirical material on which I rely consists of qualitative interviews with university graduates from different cohorts. I provide a thick description of some of the main features of the current experience of graduating the university in Romania and also suggest dimensions on which the differences in the way the same turning point was constructed for the previous generations appear.