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Time, Space and Agency in a Life Project
- Polish Students’ Reflexivity
In recent several years Poland has undergone major changes of political and social system. Initially it was possible thanks to some actors’ awareness of agency potential and in return this must have further affected the Polish mentality and individual ways of thinking about future. The case of Poland is special as the changes in creating self-identity and designing own biography is influenced not only by the high modernity (com. Giddens, Pierson 1998: 118) or postmodern times (as others prefer) specificity including the globalization issues but also by the system transformation mechanisms. The issue is very broad and only some of the mentioned phenomena and processes’ aspects can be addressed here. Characteristics of contemporary Polish society often comprises the statement on its enlarged reflexivity and quality of constant self-reference which result in intensive individual activity (com. Koralewicz, Ziólkowski 2003: 244-245). It seems that Polish students constitute an exceptionally interesting category of respondents to find out how people nowadays incorporate the issues of time, space and agency into thinking on their lives. First of all it is because they are Polish – which results in combining the question of post-communist countries condition with the notion of globalization processes. Secondly they are young – their way of constructing their own lives will probably influence the future of the rest more than the way others construct them. Thirdly because they are members of society which has just joined the EU preceded by long period of reflexive process of negotiating terms of accession and adjusting state’s institutions and regulations to European requirements. And finally – last but not least – this category members may be perceived as carriers of some qualities skills and attitudes formerly associated with the stratum of intelligentsia, now transforming into the counterpart of common for Western states class of professionals of a bit different identity and functions performed in the society. In the paper the ideas of reflexive monitoring of action, agency and life politics are discussed. After the review of contemporary authors’ thoughts on the issue come the results of the preliminary research. About 200 students of the University of Szczecin and other higher education institutions in this city and were surveyed in spring 2004 just before Poland’s accession to the EU. The respondents were asked whether and how they plan their future, whether they plan to leave Poland, how they assess Poland’s role in the EU. They were also asked to portrait a member of contemporary intelligentsia to predict how they perceive their future role as members of knowledge class.
Reflexivity, Agency and Life Project
Reflexivity and agency are the aspects of (post)modernity often discussed by many contemporary sociologists. Let me just mention Anthony Giddens, Ulrich Beck, Jurgen Habermas – although they sometimes use slightly different notions they all speak about similar phenomena. One of probable thesis stemming form their texts could be as follows: modern human beings construct reflexively their biographies and so do companies and states/nations. Or to use Giddens’, Archers’ Elias’, Bourdieu’s perspective – there are no separate levels of social existence: actors, organizations, macro-scale. Social process of structuration is permanent and reflexive, actors both use and create rules and regulations constituting structure. The following Giddens’ terms are associated with the topic: Reflexive project of the self: the process whereby self-identity is constituted by the reflexive ordering of self-narratives (Giddens 1991:244) Self-identity: the self as reflexively understood by the individual in terms of his or her biography (Giddens 1991:244) Trajectory of the self: the formation of a specific lifespan in conditions of modernity, by means of which self-development, as reflexively organized, tends to become internally referential. (Giddens 1991: 244) Colonisation of the future: the creation of territories of future possibilities, reclaimed by counterfactual interference (Giddens 1991: 242) Narrative of the self: the story or stories by means of which self-identity is reflexively understood, both by the individual concerned and by others (Giddens 1991: 243) Life-planning: the politics of self-actualisation in the context of the dialectic of the local and global and the emergence of the internally referential systems of modernity (Giddens 1991: 243) Reflexive monitoring of action: The purposive, or intentional, character of human behaviour, considered within the flow of activity of the agent; action is not a string of discrete acts, involving an aggregate of intentions but a continuous process (Giddens 1984: 376) Giddens and among others the above mentioned authors take part in the debates called like agency versus structure and challenge the dualism of macro versus micro and individual volition and collective oppression/superiority. That is how the issue of agency is perceived in contemporary sociology: Agency – the term is usually juxtaposed to structure and is often no more than a synonym for action, emphasizing implicitly the undetermined nature of human action, as opposed to the alleged determinism of structural theories. If it has a wider meaning, it is to draw attention to the psychological and social psychological make-up of the actor, and to imply the capacity for willed (voluntary) action. (Marshall 1998: 10) Agency, reflexivity seem to be not only crucial notions for contemporary social sciences but also crucial phenomena for the future shape of the global existence. Below again some reasons for observing Polish students are suggested.
The research on Polish students especially in association with the issue of intelligentsia is quite a popular topic in the time of transformation. The reasons are connected with dimensions of time and space: Polish students are believed the future of Poland – new Poland as a member of the European Union. A few major research projects were realized referring to this theme. The transformation seems to be the variable responsible for the growing objectivity among students and for the subjectivity status as development offer (com. Szymborska-Kubiak 2003). Students are also analysed in the context of socio-cultural capital and market aspirations of future Polish intelligentsia (com. Bartoszek 2003). Academic culture too constitutes an interesting topic associated with the aspects of agency of students especially if Polish students are compared with their counterparts in other nations (e.g. students in Germany, com. Gieseke, Póltorzycki 2001). The condition of Polish students has been for a few years now also analysed in the context of labour force and labour market in research reports published by AIG OFE and Gazeta Wyborcza ( www.gazeta.pl/mlodzi 2005) The portrait of an average Polish student during the period of transformation emerging from these studies is composed of a few features and qualities: more and more reflexive, more and more often connecting studies with work, more and more eager to learn foreign languages, and study two or more faculties, more and more often studying abroad.
My idea about this preliminary study project was first of all to ask students more questions about their plans for future as combined with the special moment of our nation’s existence. To check whether reflexiveness of the individual are somehow connected with the reflexivity of the collective and to see whether individual biographies are complimentary with the ‘national biography’. Poland has made huge effort to join the EU, it was our state’s priority and major collective drive. We were informed each day by the mass media about completion of further stages of the process which was maybe one of the main tasks and targets in our history. It was started by our elites (intelligentsia) but slowly almost all the classes, groups, categories of individuals were incorporated, involved in the project. Provided we make an assumption that students are our future elites it would be interesting to find out what projects are they going to realize as this may lead us to any clues about our national or even European future. I asked respondents questions on plans to leave, on their attitudes towards their peers leaving Poland, about whether they consider themselves as patriots in order to find out whether our future elites will share any qualities with former intelligentsia which was the carrier of national values, strict moral virtues and devotion to the motherland and its history. Now although most of young students think of themselves as patriots, they are willing to go abroad for at least few years if not longer. They accept decisions of their peers to leave and are quite convinced about having influence on their lives, about their agency. Majority of them think about their future in terms of short-term goals to achieve and most of them also work out long-term goals.
Discussion and conclusions
Definitely further research is needed as this was not a representative sample. Also larger research project would be more suitable to answer more profound questions. Will increasing reflexiveness result in improving the social system or just upgrades the chances of young people to make quick career. Will reflexivity make current students reinterpret in future capitalism and help to transform it into more friendly to previously underprivileged or will it just be a tool for making big money rather than tool for shaping personalities searching to provide their lives with more meaning and sense.
Bartoszek A., 2003, Kapital spoleczno-kulturowy mlodej inteligencji wobec wymogów rynku, Katowice Beck U., 2002, Spoleczenstwo ryzyka, Warszawa 2002
Giddens A., 1991, Modernity and Self-Identity. Self and Society in the Late Modern Age, Polity Press, Cambridge
Giddens A., 1984, The Constitution of Society, Polity Press
Giddens A., Pierson C., Conversations with Anthony Giddens. Making Sense of Modernity, Polity Press
Gieseke W., Póltorzycki J. (eds.), 2001, Kultura studiowania w okresie transformacji, Warszawa
Koralewicz J., Ziólkowski M., 2003, Mentalnosc Polaków, Warszawa
Kubiak-Szymborska E., 2003, Podmiotowosc mlodziezy akademickiej, Bydgoszcz
Marshall G.(ed.), 1998, A Dictionary of Sociology, OUP