Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Choosing to Labour: Structure and Agency in School-Work Transitions

Document type Article
Author Lehmann, Wolfgang
Journal Canadian Journal of Sociology
Volume 30
Date 2005
ISSN 1710-1123
Pages 325-350


We still know relatively little about how young people rationalize their educational and occupational plans and what this might tell us about the relationship between structure and agency in school-work transitions. In this paper, based on a multi-method comparison of youth apprentices in Canada and Germany, the range of school-work transition alternatives realistically under consideration was circumscribed by socio-economic status, habitus, cultural capital, and institutional factors. While their vocational choices reproduced their class position, youth apprentices nevertheless saw their entry into the trades as an expression of a preference for, and identity with, working-class ideals of manual work. Further analysis suggests, however, that these narratives can also be interpreted as post-facto rationalization strategies in response to public discourses that equate life course success with ever higher levels of educational attainment.