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Changing experiences of time, changing biographies and

youth values

Carmen Leccardi
University of Milano-Bicocca

While the modern age constructed the meaning of time in relation

to history and progress – essentially as an instrument with which to
transform the world, to invest and use in a careful manner -
contemporary modernity defines it rather in relation to the
dimensions of risk, uncertainty and, above all, speed. As a
consequence, today the dimension of time ends up appearing in
many respects more as a limit than as a resource.
This new semantic framework also deeply shapes the ways and
forms in which young people’s biographies come to be defined. The
‘life plan’ ceases to be the crucial principle through which
biographies are structured and new ways of relating to time are
delineated. Though starkly evident in the biographical constructions
of young people, nonetheless, these forms of temporalisation do not
involve a closure in the present so exclusive as to result in a
complete loss of the past and future. Rather, as recent European
research suggests, a large number of young people appear to be
actively involved in the construction of forms of mediation between
the need for subjective control over time and the risky and
uncertain social environment of today.
In the ‘accelerated society’ in which we live, in which urgency has
become a new cult and the quest for the instantaneous an out-and-
out normative ideal, values in their turn cannot but undergo
modification. As a consequence a transformation takes place in the
criteria for evaluating action. Special importance, for example, is
attributed to those capacities – like flexibility, the ability to make
decisions in “live time” or the predisposition towards forgetfulness
as opposed to memory – that are in keeping with the ‘fast’ social
climate in which we happen to live. Carefully taking these
transformations into consideration may offer a fundamental
interpretative key not only for examining contemporary youth
cultures but also for exploring the strategies for action that young
people may adopt in the new century.

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