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Becoming independent : political participation and youth transitions in the Scottish Referendum

Breeze, Maddie and Gorringe, Hugo and Jamieson, Lynn and Rosie, Michael (2017) Becoming independent : political participation and youth transitions in the Scottish Referendum. British Journal of Sociology. ISSN 0007-1315

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Abstract

Sociological debates on youth engagement with electoral politics play out against a backdrop of supposed ‘decline’ in civic participation (e.g. Putnam 2000, Norris, 2011), in turn contextualized by theories of individualization in ‘late’ or ‘reflexive’ modernity (Beck, Giddens). However, the enfranchisement of 16 and 17 year olds in the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum catalysed remarkably high levels of voter turnout among this youngest group, and was accompanied by apparently ongoing political engagement. We explored this engagement among a strategic sample of young ‘Yes’ voters, in the immediate aftermath of this exceptional political event. Analysis of qualitative interview data generated an unanticipated finding; that interviewees narrated their political engagement biographically, articulated their referendum participation reflexively, and located their new political ideas, allegiances and actions in the context of their own transitions to ‘independent’ adulthood. This inspired us to rethink young people's political engagement in relation to youth transitions. Doing so enables a synthesis of divergent strands in the sociology of youth, and offers new insights into the combinations of ‘personal’ agentic and ‘political’ structural factors involved in young people's politicization.