PROJECT: Youth – Voice On

PROJECT: Youth – Voice On

Project: Youth – Voice On
Trends of individualisation in the era of post-democratic liquidity

Trends of individualisation in the era of post-democratic liquidity

In an ageing society, such as Greece, younger people are, of course, a special social group (on the basis of its distinct demographic traits) that is smaller in numbers compared to the older ones, but that is also not self-evidently a specific social category. In other words, the younger generations should not be perceived as being synonymous to “the youth”, as they are often called in public discourse.

Youth constitutes a specific social category to the extent that it forms a singular lifestyle, broadly speaking, a “culture” that is distinct from that of the rest of the population. Υouth constitutes a particular and distinct social category only in particular periods, when young people put forward alternative conceptualizations of social reality, radically different value paradigms, against the dominant-established cultural norms and consequently adopt emerging social practices, questioning in the field of everyday life the rules of institutional reality.

According to the above, Eteron’s quantitative research can be seen as a significant tool that helps us understand the dominant trends among young people in Greece, formulate research hypotheses about their characteristics at this particular juncture, but also to verify whether the detected trends justify a view of young people as a distinct social category. The survey data focusing on young people’s ideological stances, their trust in a number of institutions, the extent of their socio-political participation, and their views on current issues, can also be compared to the exit poll data on the youth vote, in the elections of May and June 2023.

A first finding of the Eteron research concerns the mapping of ideological trends within the sample’s age group: 22.2% of the respondents, state that no ideology expresses them and 19.3% refrain from answering the question “which ideological-political current best expresses you”. Around a fifth of the young people in the sample stated that no ideology expresses them, and that they only “believe in the individual”. Bearing in mind the emphasis placed on the individual by liberal and neoliberal ideology, overall, we can assume that about 40% of the sample tends to endorse a view of society as an individualised place (topos) for the articulation of life plans. What is noted here, just as in other surveys, is the intensification of the processes of individualisation, which are inherent and accentuated in the modern capitalist world-system.

This does not, of course, mean the complete absence of close social ties among those who are part of the peculiar contemporary “lonely crowd”. More specifically, with regard to the Greek reality, the family and the extended networks of relatives play a decisive role in young people’s life plans and decisions, as well as their mostly circumstantial integration into peer groups. Rather paradoxically, or perhaps not so much, in modern societies, the more pronounced the processes of individualisation, the more intense is the search for identification, no longer on the basis of social class position, but based on more or less ephemeral identities and identifications, with national, regional and religious tradition offered as an internalised stock of knowledge, able to offer a kind of “reciprocity of perspective”, security and the “taken-for-grantedness” of reality, within a complex and dynamic social world.

Fanaticism, bully groups that engage in acts of violence in the name of national identity, masculinity, sexism, as well as musical subcultures, such as trap for instance, may be performative manifestations in the context of sought identities and identifications, capable of providing a meaning to individualised reality, especially when individualisation manifests itself in an environment of systemic crisis, which reinforces tendencies of disembedding from fundamental social institutions. This is probably one side of the coin. The research findings suggest both countervailing trends and significant antinomies.

When asked “how do you think your life could be improved” (a multiple reply question), despite the fact that most research participants tended to select the option “by making individual efforts” (66.2%), about one third of the respondents stated that the improvement of young people’s individual life can be achieved through collective action and the broader political participation within the existing institutional political environment (approximately 35%). These data are of course more reflective of the values of the young people who participated in this research, since, as shown by the answers to subsequent questions, actual socio-political participation is less common. Only 15.3% state that they have experience of participating in a “grassroots collectivity”, 12.4% have joined a “student political organisation”, 10.6% are or have been members of a “political organisation – political party” and only 6% are members of a “trade union”, percentages that probably overlap, therefore making active socio-political participation significantly weaker than the value orientations of the members of the survey sample.

However, the percentage of participation in elections is rather higher than the national average (70% say they have voted at least once), despite the tendency to distrust political parties: only 9.8% of the participants stated that they trust political parties, ranking them last amongst the evaluated socio-political institutions, with the army, independent authorities and the police occupying the top three places in the relevant list.

The biggest contrast in the research findings concerns the participants’ feelings regarding the Tempi train accident compared to the results of the 2023 national elections. Approximately 73% of young people stated that the Tempi tragedy “was an event that affected [their] opinion on the current government”, with the same percentage stating that Tempi “affected [their] opinion on all the parties that have governed”.

On the one hand, rage seems to have been the dominant emotion regarding the accident, leading around 38% of the young people surveyed to take part in collective and symbolic protest actions. On the other hand, the youth vote in the national elections (May 2023) seems to reward the right-wing government, which in the protests over the Tempi tragedy was the main recipient of the broader social indignation. Eteron’s summary of exit poll data, regarding the vote of young people aged 17 to 24, Nea Dimokratia (ND) recorded an increase of three percentage points compared to the 2019 elections, SYRIZA registered a ferocious decline of 14 percentage points, PASOK and KKE recorded an increase of close to four percentage points and DiEM25 remained at a low percentage, with small losses in terms of the young people’s vote.

How can one interpret this “conversion” of the feelings of outrage into a “mobilising grievances”, in this case over the Tempi accident, which is rapidly reduced to occasional manifestations of social protest, without actually managing to translate into institutional politics, but rather giving way to rewarding those politically responsible for the broader conditions of insecurity for young people?

Eteron’s research findings largely capture the new cultural environment that nourishes our meta-political fluidity, within which the dystopia of the dominance of a “presentism regime” is confirmed, with collective memory being neutralised and with no alternative perspective for the future. The exploited, the precarious, the stigmatised, the socially marginalised, seem incapable of weaving their own “realistic utopia”. The “angel of history” now fixes his gaze down on the wreckage of the present, unable to turn it to the past of the accumulated ruins and to link the present with the past in a narrative about the causes of human suffering.

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