Dissertation Abstracts

Between the necessary and the impossible: young blue-collar workers in the Austrian industry.

Author: Altreiter, Carina , carina.altreiter@univie.ac.at
Department: Department of Sociology
University: University of Vienna, Austria
Supervisor: Jörg Flecker
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: German

Keywords: working class youth , habitus , industrial workers
Areas of Research: Work , Youth , Social Classes and Social Movements


For many years, the working class has been a prominent topic of public debates and scholarly research but in recent years the attention declined in several European countries, such as France, Germany or Austria, although workers still account for a large part of the working force. Not only have workers as social group drifted out of focus, but also social class as analytical concept. This development can partly be related to economic changes, such as the declining of the manufacturing industry, but also to changes in lifestyles and values as a consequence of growing prosperity. Especially in the German-speaking part of sociology, socio-economic factors, like class background, forfeit their relevance both in theoretical work and empirical research. The PhD research project draws on recent trends in class analysis, which grew out of dissatisfaction with traditional Marxist approaches, and puts more emphasis on the cultural processes of class reproduction, using the theoretical framework of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu.

The study draws on qualitative interviews with young industrial blue collar workers between 20 and 34 years of age in Austria to show how social class comes into play in the life of the young working class. On the one hand it explores how social position and dispositions (habitus) influences the choices young workers make in their working life and how it affects their perception of work and the meaning they ascribe to it. On the other hand the project also shows how work itself, such as working conditions, colleagues, the presence of mentors etc., as well as experiences in other spheres of life impact upon individual practices and how the habitus plays out. Bearing in mind that the specific configuration of social class and the properties attached to a group need to be situated and analysed in regard to a particular empirical and societal reality, the study also provides a deeper understanding of the configuration of the habitus of necessity, as Bourdieu set it out for the working class in the French society of the 1960s.