Context, Experience, Expectation, and Action—Towards an Empirically Grounded, General Model for Analyzing Biographical Uncertainty

  • Herwig Reiter Deutsches Jugendinstitut e.V.
Keywords: biographical uncertainty, youth transitions, post-communism, time perspective, unemployment, recognition, social change, economic crisis


The article proposes a general, empirically grounded model for analyzing biographical uncertainty. The model is based on findings from a qualitative-explorative study of transforming meanings of unemployment among young people in post-Soviet Lithuania. In a first step, the particular features of the uncertainty puzzle in post-communist youth transitions are briefly discussed. A historical event like the collapse of state socialism in Europe, similar to the recent financial and economic crisis, is a generator of uncertainty par excellence: it undermines the foundations of societies and the taken-for-grantedness of related expectations. Against this background, the case of a young woman and how she responds to the novel threat of unemployment in the transition to the world of work is introduced. Her uncertainty management in the specific time perspective of certainty production is then conceptually rephrased by distinguishing three types or levels of biographical uncertainty: knowledge, outcome, and recognition uncertainty. Biographical uncertainty, it is argued, is empirically observable through the analysis of acting and projecting at the biographical level. The final part synthesizes the empirical findings and the conceptual discussion into a stratification model of biographical uncertainty as a general tool for the biographical analysis of uncertainty phenomena. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs100120


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Author Biography

Herwig Reiter, Deutsches Jugendinstitut e.V.

Herwig REITER ist wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter am Deutschen Jugendinstitut (DJI) in München. Zu seinen Arbeitsgebieten gehören die Soziologie der Jugend, Arbeit und Arbeitslosigkeit, Lebenslauf und Biografie, Postkommunismus und qualitative Methodologie und Methoden.