Research Projects


Young people’s  future dreams and transitions  –  belonging to communities and society

340 200 € Konefoundation. 1.1.2023- 31.12. 2026.

In present public debate  urban vulnerable young people are presented as a risk to society with street violence and possible risk of marginalization. In our research project, we turn this situation around and examine the structural opportunities and obstacles society creates for young.  We focus on what kind of resources and support are offered to them or disable them socially by local institutions and communities.  We conduct research on how young people feel they belong to local communities and to Finnish (and in some parts to Swedish) society at large.  In the lives of young people, there are several significant transitions related to education,  region and interpersonal relations. We seek how different transitions like education and moving from childhood home take place and how their social relations and networks change in these processes.  We ask what kind of future young people see for themselves as well as for their communities? How do their individuals dreams intertwine with their communities and future prospects in them?

We will produce several pieces of qualitative data to be gathered from different parts of Finland, Eastern Helsinki, and some suburbs in Stockholm.

PI Docent Tarja Tolonen, researchers MSocSc Hanna Yrjänä and MSocSc Anni Nyyssölä.


Young people, marginalisation and institutions

Currently, in addition to my work as a University lecturer, I collect data of public discussions, institutional practices and young people’s experiences on institutions. The primary theme of interest is marginalization of young people. Marginalization and welfare of Finnish youth is one of the major topics in current public discussion in many levels and arenas.

In education policies, young people with little education are on one hand seen as a problematic group. Also in other policies, such as health, social and work policies, young people with multiple social problems are seen as being in risk. In this research I focus on the relationships between young people and the institutions? I criticize blaming the individual young people, who just act as clients or students in them. I ask what could be done differently in order the institutions to work in a more friendly and efficient way for young people? Theoretically research lies on studies of social class, gender and ethnicity mixed with youth studies.

Youth in time research project

Youth in time research project attempts to follow for 100 young people born in 2000 in a longitudinal qualitative research, starting in 2015, taking place in five different regions in Finland.  Researcher from Youth Research Network and University Helsinki and University of  Eastern Finland.  I follow young people interviewed in Helsinki suburban areas. Project is coordinated by the Youth Research Society, see  Youth in time. 

Youth in Time  project  cooperates with Nordic Network for Qualitative Longitudinal Youth Research – Nord-Lys as well as with Network of Longitudinal Youth Studies in Europe.

Young people’s lifestyles, leisure time and formation of social class (starting 2008)
(Youth Research Network)
The research project focuses on young people’s leisure time, lifestyles and social relations in their social, cultural and material contexts. I will conduct research on young people’s current lifestyles and new ways of forming sociability, as well as their sense of belonging in the communities they live in. Young people’s future plans will also placed within certain social and material contexts.

I will draw on (new) studies on social class, which include concepts such as culture, identity and lifestyle, combined with notion of gender (cf. Devine and Savage 2005, Anthias 2005). Secondly I use Pierre Bourdieu’s tradition of conceptualising lifestyle and social class and how it has been applied in educational and feminist research (for example Skeggs 1997, 2004a and b).

One aim of this study is to highlight the importance of conceptualising social class in contemporary Finnish society and to connect this with lifestyles of young people. In this research by lifestyle I refer to both being in the habit of doing something (see Bourdieu 1990 on habitus, and Jokinen 2004). On the other hand, in this research lifestyles are seen as distinctive practices of making taste, which requires practical knowledge of certain fields (Bourdieu 1998/1979).

The following questions are addressed in this research:

How are social class, (sub)cultures and lifestyles related to each other in contemporary Finnish society?

What kinds of social, cultural and material resources do young people have in their use, and what kind of resources are young people able to generate themselves?

What kind of roles do families, friends and other social networks of young people play in the lives of young people, especially in the prevention of exclusion in society?

What is the relation of locality and class in the lives of young people? For instance how do young people generate and perform different lifestyles in diverse rural and urban localities? And what other differences are embedded in these lifestyles?

Cultural and Material Formation of Social Class within Families

University of Helsinki, 2008-2010,  Docent Tarja Tolonen

Takes place: University of Helsinki, Departments of Sociology, Education and Social Psychology

The research team consists of Docent Tarja Tolonen (sociology), post doctoral researchers Päivi Berg (social psychology) and Minna Kelhä (education) and a doctoral student Marja Peltola (sociology).

Recent changes in Finnish society – tightened conditions of working life and cuts of welfare services among others – have had a strong and polarizing effect on families. In order to explore social, cultural and material resources of families, this research project turns to ‘new studies’ of social class, where class is organised anew (see discussion in Devine and Savage 2005). Social class is understood as a dynamic cultural process, which can be studied in the levels of (local) lifestyles and habits (cf. Savage et al 2005, 95-122) and the cultural and material practices of families. Lifestyles and habits are woven into many other social differences, gender and ethnicity being among the most central.

The following research questions will be addressed: How the cultural practices of young people and their families relate to social and economical structures, and how are the social, economic and cultural differences and social positions produced in them? What kinds of social networks, as well as social, cultural and material resources do young people and their parents have at their disposal, and are ethnicity and gender articulated in utilizing these resources? How do the everyday practices of the families relate to local institutions (school, social and health care, youth work)? How do young people and their parents understand their families, and how do they describe their families as social, economic or moral units? What kinds of continuities and changes can be found in the cultural practises of different generations?

The research project will use qualitative methods: Altogether, 190 interviews will be conducted and observation will be made in several institutions. The group will collect part of the data together, and interview both children and parents from the same families.

The data will be analysed collectively on three levels: 1) Cultural and social level, 2) Individual meanings given to own experiences, 3) Material circumstances. Both joint and individual publications will be published in international and national journals.

Social and Spatial transitions in young people’s life course

Research project 2001-2007
(by Academy of Finland, Youth Research Network)

In this reseach I will focus on how young people situate themselves into locality, nationality and globality as well as social differences while talking about “self evident” and “normal” things in their ordinary lives. However, matters that occure as self evident and normal are highly complex and intertwine with social differences (such as class, race, gender, ethnicity and locality).

The data used in this research is based on 60 interviews. I will make life course interviews on young people of age 18-20 with different social backrounds and lifesituations in different locations in Finland. I will discuss on their past, how they have made situations concerning their transitions (to school, work, family) so far, as well as their future plans.

Agency and Power in Young People’s Lives: Boundaries and Limitations

Led by Tuula Gordon, 2003-2005, University of Helsinki
Researchers: Tarja Tolonen and Sanna Aaltonen

Agency and Power in Young People’s Lives combines theoretical analysis of exercise of agency and of power relations encountered by young women and men. The project draws from the fields of sociology, education, cultural studies, feminist research and youth research. We explore what possibilities and limitations are involved in young people’s lives as they construct their lives in the context of social, cultural and material frames. We ask how they construct and utilise personal resources in order to negotiate the course of their current everyday life, the extent to which they construct future life trajectories and to what extent and in what ways they plan their futures as well as negotiate their current everyday lives.

Place, voice and gendered orders in everyday life at school

Tarja Tolonen

Phd. research project

My doctoral work focuses on gender, youth and school. I have conducted a research on the dynamics of school communities. The focus of the research is gendered everyday practises, and their differencies in local school communities. I also study ideals and representations of gender, youth and school. Through my reseach it is possible to build understanding of the social processes such as marginalizations, friendships, enjoyment and bullying at school, as well as the relationships between the teachers and the students.

Citizenship, Difference and Marginality in Schools – With special reference to gender

(Academy of Finland, 1994-1998, Tuula Gordon)

In this comparative, cross-cultural, collective, ethnographic project we explored how citizenship and difference are constructed in school (in Helsinki and London) and broadened the theory of political, legal and social citizenship to include culture, embodiment and sexuality. The collective consists of Elina Lahelma, Pirkko Hynninen, Tuija Metso, Tarja Palmu (all in the Department of Education, University of Helsinki, and Tarja Tolonen, Sinikka Aapola and Jukka Lehtonen (all in the Deparment of Sociology, University of Helsinki) and with Janet Holland and her research assistants (Southbank University, London)

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