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In Late-modern societies social development and processes of social change reflect (narratives about) uncertainty and risk in general – which is expressed by the notion of ‘risk society’ – but more specifically in dominant political and theoretical discourses about youth. To capture risks for youth in this context political, academic, professional and public instances see young people at the same time as a treasured and endangered resource and/or as dangerous and therefore as a risk for society. The category ‘youth at-risk’ reflects several attempts to regulate the behaviors and dispositions of youth in order to prevent them from taking or being exposed to risks, e.g. by unhealthy or deviant behavior or by risks of social exclusion due to failure of school careers (e.g. early school-leaving). If however young peoples’ risk behavior is read as coping with demands and problems of late modern ‘risk societies’, other dimensions of risk prevention come into sight:

In GOETE the notion of risk with regard to young people has to imply social risks, the category ‘youth at-risk’ and risk-behavior of young people. Therefore, different dimensional (social) levels are to be respected. On a macro-level, postmodern conditions of life are unfolding risks and uncertainties that challenge the coping processes and abilities of young people in a dialectic way of individualisation and pluralisation that eliminate traditional orders and lead to individual responsibility. Therewith on a meso-level of social organizations and institutions, destructuralised institutional networks lead to even more uncertainty for the individuals that are faced with diverse and complex ways and possibilities of agency. Thus on a micro-level one can see that risk-behavior is not only a special form of agency in uncertain contextual social frames. Risk-behavior of young people is moreover to be seen as a contextual frame and a setting for agency to act in postmodern conditions of life where other forms of self-sufficient ways of responsibility are likely to fail.


Beck, Ulrich (1992) ‘Risk Society: Towards a new Modernity’. London: Sage.

Bauman, Zygmunt (2007) ‘Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty’. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Blumer, Herbert (1971) ‘Social Problems as Collective Behavior’, Social Problems 18(3): 298-306.

France, Alan (2000) ‘Towards a Sociological Understanding of Youth and their Risk-taking’, Journal of Youth Studies 3(3): 317-331.

Kelly, Peter (2000) ‘The dangerousness of youth-at-risk: the possibilities of surveillance and intervention in uncertain times’, Journal of Adolescence 23: 463-476.

Sharland, Elaine (2006) ‘Young People, Risk Taking and Risk Making: Some Thoughts for Social Work’, Forum: Qualitative Research 7(1): Art.

(John Litau and Barbara Stauber)