In general, biographies are examinations of people’s experiences and life course trajectories relating to different social domains, they are stories or narratives that people tell about themselves and their past life and the life course transitions and events that make it up (Brannen, 2020) (see also the entries Life Course, Life Trajectory and Transitions in this Glossary). Kohli (1981) defines biography as “a story told in the present about events and experiences in a person’s life in the past and her/his expectations for the future”. A biography is thus not a simple chain of life events, but rather a told life shaped by the interplay of structure and agency involving subjective meaning-making regarding the individual life course (Kovacheva, 2016).

Therefore, whereas the life course perspective is institutional with life course pointing to an institutionalised construction of culturally defined patterns of normal lives, the biographical perspective refers to subjective constructions (Stauber & Ule, 2015). In a biography, the objective world gains its meaning in and through the individual’s interpretation; the life story an individual tells expresses those meaningful parts they select as the content of their own narrative (Antikainen & Komonen, 2003). A central analytical link between the perspectives of biography and the life course is the general biographisation of the life course (Stauber & Ule, 2015) or the biographical turn (Chamberlayne et al., 2000), which results from the de-standardisation of life course and, more broadly, from the cultural turn in late modern societies. Life course trajectories and transitions become highly individualised and biographical and, consequently, the personal meanings that individuals attribute to their actions and to the interconnectedness between them become increasingly significant (Antikainen & Komonen, 2003). At the same time – relating to the significant changes that societies have undergone over the last decades – environments of learning have changed in important ways as traditional lifeworlds are eroding, class-based contexts breaking down, and normal scripts for life course disappearing (Alheit, 1996; 1999).

Application in the CLEAR project

The aim to give voice to the silenced and marginalized groups occupies a central place in biographical research (Antikanen & Komonen, 2003; Denzin, 1989), which highlights the relevance of the concept for the CLEAR project. We pay a particular attention to the groups of young people in vulnerable and multi-disadvantaged positions, and aim to provoke an active transformation of learning outcomes to support and strengthen their participation; CLEAR seeks to give voice to their desires, needs, wishes, expectations, and anxieties. We will conduct narrative biographical interviews with young people in different social contexts to attain in-depth information on how young people themselves exercise their agency in interpreting and dealing with educational failure and success along their life courses, and to detect respective connections between structural, institutional, and individual aspects shaping the construction of learning outcomes. With this holistic understanding of young people’s own perspectives – combined with other levels and dimensions of analysis included in the project – CLEAR aspires to pave the way for implementing and accelerating innovative policy approaches fine-tuned to the actual conditions, visions, needs, and expectations of young people. Previous research (Kovacheva et al., 2020) has shown that young people, even in most vulnerable situations, avail of learning opportunities and attribute to them diverse subjective meanings. We emphasise that, for understanding the educational trajectories of young people, it is of utmost importance to consider how structural and institutional changes intermingle with the life courses of young people and shape their individual biographies.


Alheit, P. (1996). Changing Basic Rules of Biographical Construction: Modern Biographies at the end of the 20th Century. In A. Weymann & W. R. Heinz (Eds.), Society and Biography. Interrelationships Between Social Structure, Institutions and the Life Course (pp. 111–128) Weinheim.

Alheit, P. (1999). On a Contradictory Way to the ‘Learning Society’: A Critical Approach. Studies in the Education of Adults, 31(1), 66–82.

Antikainen, A., & Komonen, K. (2003). Biography, Life Course, and the Sociology of Education. In C. A. Torres & A. Antikainen (Eds.), The International Handbook on the Sociology of Education (pp. 143–159). Rowman & Littlefield.

Brannen, J. (2020). Life Story and Narrative Approaches in the Study of Family Lives. In J. Parsons & A. Chappell (Eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Auto/Biography (pp. 97–118). Palgrave Macmillan.

Chamberlayne, P., Bornat, J., & Wengraf, T. (2000). Introduction: the biographical turn. In P. Chamberlayne, J. Bornat & T. Wengraf (Eds.), The Turn to Biographical Methods in Social Science. Comparative issues and examples (pp. 1–30). Routledge.

Denzin, N. K. (1989). Interpretive Biography. SAGE.

Kohli, M. (1981). Biography: account, text, method. In D. Bertaux (Ed.), Biography and society (pp. 61–75). SAGE.

Kovacheva, S., Jacovkis, J., Startari, S., & Siri, A. (2020). Are lifelong learning policies working for youth? Young people’s voices. In M. Parreira do Amaral, S. Kovacheva & X. Rambla (Eds.), Lifelong Learning Policies for Young Adults in Europe. Navigating between Knowledge and Economy (pp. 149170). Policy Press.

Kovacheva, S., Verlage, T., & Walther, A. (2016). Life Course. Young_Adulllt Glossary. Retrieved from

Stauber, B., & Ule, M. (2015). Life course – biography. GOETE Glossary. Retrieved from



Jenni Tikkanen, Sebastiano Benasso, Siyka Kovacheva


In Social Sciences and Humanities, comparison is a widely accepted scientific approach to knowledge generation that assumes that differences in phenomena exist – across space and time – in relation to systems, structures, policies, experiences and outcomes, but that in a regional and global context similarities will also be significant.

As a research method, comparative analysis aims to yield new knowledge through a deliberate comparison of chosen phenomena. This can be achieved by structuring the research process along various stages or phases – description, interpretation, juxtaposition and comparison (see Manzon, 2014) – of the data/information collected. This allows us to understand how the compared phenomena work in different contexts. It also raises awareness of how the same things work in different settings and, thus, helping us to generalize about the observed phenomena. Another benefit of comparative analysis is that it relativizes one’s own observations and prevents ethnocentric and universalistic conclusions. Finally, it also provides knowledge of alternative solutions to similar problems that can be either supportive or warning of potential policy solutions.

In educational research, the method of comparison has several purposes, most of which revolve around either interpretation or causal analysis of the observed phenomena: “Interpretive studies seek to understand educational phenomena, while causal-analytic studies seek to elucidate causation and causal complexity and to identify configurations of causal conditions that produce similar/different outcomes” (Manzon, 2014, pp. 98f). This substantial difference between interpretation and causal analysis goes back to the choice of research data. In this regard, a qualitative-oriented approach focuses primarily on cases and considers the holistic complexity of relations, contexts, and cultural specificities of a chosen case, whereas a quantitative-oriented approach has as its main focus the data variables and their comparability, usability, and interpretation (cf. Ragin, 1987, p. xi). Although both approaches vary “on the basis of different concepts of understanding: related either to generalizable knowledge of relations among variables (aiming at generalization), or to dense knowledge of cases” (Della Porta, 2012, p. 207), the current trend is to make use of the complementarity of both approaches, which is also applied in the project (see also the entry Mixed-Method-Research in this Glossary).

In terms of methodological steps, it is important to establish commonality between the chosen units of analysis right at the start, i.e., “to identify the extent and the reasons for commonalities and differences between the units of comparison, examining the causes at work and the relationships between the causes” (Manzon, 2014, p. 100). For a research study to be valid, only relationally equivalent phenomena can be chosen and compared as units of analysis. Equivalences among education systems may be established as cultural, contextual, structural and functional equivalents. A particular attention needs to be paid to the precise definition of terms, since concepts are often context-dependent and for similar terms there are different semantics transported by the respective national and cultural context (see also the entry Social Construction in this Glossary).

More recently, comparative research has further developed important ways to avoid so-called methodological isms, i.e., assumed unchanging and unchanged forms and importance of the objects of inquiry (often national education systems) by reflecting on issues of methodological nationalism, statism, educationism, and spatial fetishism (see Dale & Robertson, 2009; Robertson & Dale, 2017). It has also developed contextualized comparison across various dimensions – horizontal, vertical and transversal – of comparison that help us to move beyond static categories and to favour instead a multi-sited and multi-scalar analysis focusing on “linkages across place, space, and time” that, in addition, pay attention to the “vertical, horizontal, and especially the transversal elements of the study” (Bartlett & Vavrus, 2017, p. 7).

Application in the CLEAR project

The CLEAR research project is designed as a multi-level, mixed-method comparative study, which seeks to understand the construction of learning outcomes in their multiple variations across different education systems and countries. We apply cross-national comparative research and comparative analyses at national and regional level in order to account for the variety of data (both qualitative and quantitative), approaches (institutional analysis, participatory strategies) and levels (national, regional, local). Having in mind the multiplicity of actors, processes, and structures involved in educational phenomena such as learning outcomes or (under)achievement, the comparative analysis has the power to offer deep and fruitful insights into complex issues, which requires to delicately outbalance the processual (progress), iterative (communication), and relational (interconnectedness) aspects of the compared phenomena. The comparisons help us to establish the common threads and different attitudes in tackling educational inequalities across Europe.


Bartlett, L., & Vavrus, F. (2017). Comparative Case Studies: An Innovative Approach. Nordic Journal of Comparative and International Education, 1(1), 5-17.

Dale, R., & Robertson, S. (2009). Beyond methodological ‘isms’ in Comparative Education in an era of globalisation. In R. Cowen & A. M. Kazamias (Eds.), International Handbook of Comparative Education (pp. 1113–1127). Springer.

Robertson, S., & Dale, R. (2017). Comparing Policies in a Globalizing World. Methodological reflections. Educação & Realidade, 42(3), 859–876.

Della Porta, D. (2012). Comparative analysis: case-oriented versus variable-oriented research. In D. Della Porta & M. Keating (Eds.), Approaches and Methodologies in the Social Sciences: A Pluralist Perspective (pp. 198-222). Cambridge University Press.

Manzon, M. (2014). Comparing Places. In M. Bray, B. Adamson & M. Manson (Eds.), Comparative Education Research. Approaches and Methods (pp. 97-137). Springer.

Ragin, C. (1987). The Comparative Method: Moving Beyond Qualitative and Quantitative Strategies. University of California Press.


Marcelo Parreira do Amaral, Jozef Zelinka, Joseph König, Alexandra Ioannidou

Early School Leaving

The notion of Early School Leaving (ESL) refers to individuals between the ages of 18 and 24 years who leave education and training without acquiring a high school diploma or its equivalent (see also the entry (Under)Achievement in this Glossary). The European Commission developed the notion of ESL in response to the Lisbon Strategy. Despite this official definition, ESL is a notion with multiple meanings, based on the educational realities of various transition regimes (see also the entry Transitions in this Glossary). One of the difficulties in addressing ESL on a European level is the absence of its unified definition across the continent. Although the challenges connected with ESL are well acknowledged, there is no standard method for addressing it.

EU political discourses highlight the connection between ESL, unemployment, and social exclusion, and have identified Early School Leavers (ESLs) as a target category for education, labor market, social, and youth policy (Rocha et al., 2015). Reducing early school dropout rates is currently a top priority for EU member states and policymakers, as well as a significant obstacle for national and regional education and training systems (see also the entry Youth Policy in this Glossary). All available data show that the participation rates in education has increased globally in recent decades, but to varying degrees in nations with distinct educational systems and traditions. Significant changes are occurring in the school-to-work transition, in particular, and in the life course of young people, in general, because of the increasing educational level of young people and the changing labor market (Parreira do Amaral et al., 2015).

Research on ESL has demonstrated that getting at least a high school diploma boosts one’s possibilities in lifelong learning and in the labor market. Fragile citizenship and poor health are also associated with dropping out of school (Vanttaja & Jarvinen, 2006). Kennelly & Monrad (2007) refer the dynamic process of ESL. ESL is frequently preceded by a period of doubt and truancy after prolonged periods of difficulty and with early warning indications of dropping out: bad grades in core areas, low attendance, grade retention, and disengagement in the classroom, including behavioral issues. More recently, De Luca et al. (2020) show the role of ESLs in the rate of NEETs (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) in Italy and Spain, emphasizing the interconnection between these two categories of young people (see also the entries NEETs and Multi-Disadvantaged Youth in this Glossary).

Application in the CLEAR project

The objective of CLEAR is to shift the focus from national to regional and local policy analysis. Despite the fact that national levels have been instrumental in determining institutional typologies of vocational education and training, adult learning, and education, regional and local differences have not been captured by such research. Members of the Consortium have already reported on the significance of local spaces for understanding the educational outcomes and employment of young people in the EU (Scandurra et al., 2021; Parreira do Amaral et al., 2019), and the new research seeks to broaden their scope of analysis. Moreover, the research investigates the development of intersectional inequalities in education and training. Recent research reveals complex interrelationships between the experiences of female and male youths who have undergone very unequal processes of (early) school leaving, frequently reproducing disadvantages associated with families of low socioeconomic status or with direct experience of migration or ethnical constraints. CLEAR anticipates the difficulties associated with reaching out to these communities. It so challenges the discursive and policy construction of vulnerable or multi-disadvantaged young people based on their position, status, educational accomplishments, or family background.


De Luca, G., Mazzocchi, P., Quintano, C., & Rocca, A. (2020). Going Behind the High Rates of NEETs in Italy and Spain: The Role of Early School Leavers. Social Indicators Research, 151, 345–363.

Kennelly, L., & Monrad, M. (2007). Approaches to dropout prevention: Heeding early warning signs with appropriate interventions. [Report] National High School Center. Retrieved from

Parreira do Amaral, M., Dale, R., & Loncle, P. (Eds.). (2015). Shaping the Futures of Young Europeans: education governance in eight European countries. Symposium Books.

Parreira do Amaral, M., Kovacheva, S., & Rambla, X. (Eds.) (2019). Lifelong Learning Policies for Young Adults in Europe. Navigating between Knowledge and Economy. Policy Press.

Rocha, C., Macedo, M., Araújo, H. C., Clycq, N.,& Timmerman, Ch. (Eds.). (2015). Educational policies and early school leaving in Europe. [Special Issue]. Educação, Sociedade & Culturas, 45.

Scandurra, R., Cefalo, R., & Kazepov, Y. (2021). Drivers of Youth Labour Market Integration Across European Regions. Social Indicators Research, 154, 835–856.

Vanttaja, M., & Järvinen, T. (2006). The young outsiders: the later life-courses of ‘drop-out youths’. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 25(2), 173-184.


Georgios K. Zarifis, Natália Alves

Educational Inequality

The notion of educational inequality is a derivative of the concept of inequality, one of the most central, long-standing topics in the social sciences. Indeed, several of the founding theories of sociology revolved around the topic of inequality, namely issues of social class and stratification, from Marxism to Weber’s sociology, through to structural functionalism. This centrality goes hand in hand with the birth of modernity and the emergence of the so-called social question, which in the mid-nineteenth century referred to a situation in which accelerated industrialization and urbanization, coupled with the establishment of new social relations of production, generated the widespread pauperization of the working classes (Castel, 2003). Awareness of this pauperization and related living conditions stimulated not only political and social struggles, but also set forth public policies aimed at reducing inequalities (see also the entries Social Exclusion/Inclusion and Spatial Justice in this Glossary). In its turn, educational inequality is very often taken to refer to the well-established correlation between academic performance and several types of inequality (economic, geographical, gender, etc.) (see also the entries Intersectionality and Gender in this Glossary). Here, it is important to distinguish equality – which involves only a quantitative assessment or description of a given situation – from equity – which involves both a quantitative assessment and a moral or ethical judgment. That is, equality is

the state of being equal in terms of quantity, rank, status, value, or degree [whereas] [e]quity considers the social justice ramifications of education in relation to the fairness, justness, and impartiality of its distribution at all levels or educational subsectors (Jacob & Holsinger, 2008, p. 4).

Yet, as stated by Espinoza (2007), educational inequality does not restrict itself to a narrow understanding of academic performance; instead, it can be assessed on different dimensions (access, survival, output, and outcome), and according to different theoretical models (meritocratic, class conflict, conservative, evolutionary liberal and compensatory liberal). In educational policies after the second world war, the objectives of promoting educational equity have been adopted across the industrialized world. The key policy aim has been to reduce the influence of privilege on educational attainment by providing equality of conditions (Lynch & Baker, 2005) for all individuals and to establish an agenda of improving life opportunities of disadvantaged and discriminated groups of a society (Järvinen, 2022) (see also the entry Opportunity Structures in this Glossary). However, despite all the equalizing policy initiatives and implementations executed over the past 50 years, research shows that the educational attainment gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged both between and within countries has barely narrowed (Erikson, 2020) (see also the entries Multi-Disadvantaged Youth and (Under)Achievement in this Glossary).

Application in the CLEAR project

The CLEAR research project investigates the discursive, interactional, and spatial barriers that learners face, seeking to reveal how they affect educational inequality and opportunity structures. In this sense, inequalities are regarded as having their own contextual reality, which entails paying close attention to their ontological history and internal logic. Thus, different stakeholders, from young people in vulnerable and multi-disadvantaged positions to experts and decision-makers will be engaged to assist in the identification of the main drivers of the current situation in their own regions.


Castel, R. (2003). Transformation of the Social Question. Transaction Publishers.

Erikson, R. (2020). Inequality of educational opportunity – the role of performance and choice. European Review, 28(1), 4455.

Espinoza, O. (2007). Solving the equity–equality conceptual dilemma: a new model for analysis of the educational process. Educational Research, 49(4), 343–363.

Holsinger, D. B., & Jacob, W. J. (Eds.) (2008). Inequality in Education: Comparative and International Perspectives. Springer.

Järvinen, T. (2022). Thinking about social inequalities and marginalization in education under shifting global conditions. In F. Rizvi, B. Lingard & R. Rinne (Eds.) Reimagining Globalization and Education (pp. 92104). Routledge.

Lynch, K., & Baker, J. (2005). Equality in education: An equality of condition perspective. Theory and Research in Education, 3(2), 131–164.


Tiago Neves, Tero Järvinen, Valeria Pandolfini, Aina Tarabini


Gender is a very recent concept in social sciences. Until the first half of the 20th century, there was no distinction between sex and gender. They were used as synonymous categories to characterise both male and female attributes. It was considered that biological differences determined the different behaviours, personality traits, and symbolic universes of men and women. Between the late 1960s and early 1970s, a first distinction between sex and gender emerged. At the origin of this approach are the seminal works of Simone de Beauvoir (1990, 1994) and Ann Oakley (1972). Both consider sex as a biological fact and gender as a social construction (see also the entry Social Construction in this Glossary). They show how gender roles are historically, socially and culturally constructed, with man being the hegemonic reference model. Belonging to the 2nd feminism wave, these academic works, and others that followed, were decisive for 1) denouncing the invisibility of women in history and the invisibility of their role in society; 2) deconstructing the idea of ​​women’s conformation to the private sphere and their formal and legal subordination to male power; and 3) showing the democratic deficit that consists in their withdrawal away from the public space and the political arena (see also the entry Intersectionality in this Glossary).

Since the 1990s, the difference between sex and gender has seen new developments. The discussion between what biologically distinguishes male and female has become more complex. Physical or biological characteristics based on chromosomal or hormonal differences seem to be insufficient to characterize who belongs to which sex (Holmes, 2007). At the same time, the relationship between the biological and the social becomes more complex. In this approach, gender is not a property of individuals but something that is done or performed and attributed to us from birth, and that we negotiate throughout our lives (see Butler, 1990, 1993) (see also the entry Life Course in this Glossary). Doing gender is an expression that emphasises the idea of gender “as an accomplishment, an achieved property of situated conduct” (West & Zimmerman, 1987, p. 126). This new approach highlights a performative vision of gender that underlines the possibility of agency, gives visibility to the diversity of gender identities, and questions the hegemonial imperative of hetero-normativity (Connell, 1987, 2002; Risman, 2004, 2014).

Application in the CLEAR project

In the field of education, there is already a vast literature on gender-related issues. The CLEAR project adopts the intersectionality approach, which emphasises the interplay of multiple positions such as gender, ethnicity, disability, socioeconomic status and the production of social inequalities and particular types of discrimination. The category of gender is particularly important in the policy analysis and the qualitative research with young people. On the one hand, gender helps us to understand the differences in young people’s life courses, in their conceptions about learning outcomes and educational (under)achievement and how they affect their life trajectories. One the other hand, it enables discussing how policies deal with educational (underachievement) in connection with gender and other intersectional categories.


Beauvoir, S. (1990). Le deuxième sexe I, Les faits et les mythes. Gallimard.

Beauvoir, S. (1994). Le deuxième sexe II, L’expérience vecue. Gallimard.

Butler, J. (1990). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Routledge.

Butler, J. (1993). Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex. Routledge.

Connell, R. (1987). Gender and Power: society, the person, and sexual policies. Stanford University Press.

Connell, R. (2002). Gender. Polity.

Holmes, M. (2007). What is gender? Sociological approaches. Sage Publications Ltd.

Oakley, A. (1972). Sex, Gender and Society. Harper and Row.

West, C., & Zimmerman, D. H. (1987). Doing Gender. Gender and Society, 1(2), 125-151.

Risman, B. J. (2004). Gender as a social structure: Theory Wrestling with Activism. Gender & Society, 18(4), 429-450.


Natália Alves, Aina Tarabini, Anna Siri

Innovation Forums

Generally, Innovation Forums (IFs) are meant to create a deliberative space. Deliberation is understood as a form of involvement in which the emphasis is placed on discussion, reflection, exchange of arguments and consideration of others’ opinions (Bulling et al., 2013). A deliberative setting ideally asks participants “to be truthful in what one says, to respect the arguments of others, to give good reasons for one’s own arguments, and to be open to changing one’s position by the force of the better argument” (Steiner, 2012, p. 3). Similarly, innovation is understood as “a two-stage process, comprising both the generation of ideas, usually referred to as creativity, and characterized by suggestions regarding new processes, products, procedures, or strategies […] and the implementation of ideas, which refers to the process undertaken to translate the initial suggestions into reality” (Stolberger et al., 2017). The idea of co-creation refers to a circular, informal, and horizontal setting of participation where the power in the defining issues to be tackled by the discussion is distributed among participants and facilitated by researchers (see also the entry Transversal Participatory Approach in this Glossary).

The IFs are designed 1) to ensure the full participation of all stakeholders and ensure that everyone may express themselves in their own language and to adhere as closely as possible to the ideal of an open exchange of opinions and points of view; and 2) to support different groups in expressing their opinions to the other groups and reach a common understanding.

A core practice of IFs are group discussions. Group discussions can be managed according to different participative methods: e.g., separated thematic discussions in homogeneous groups followed by a debriefing in the plenary; or even gather some small heterogeneous groups around specific topics, where a common ground is already settled and share different experienced-based points of view as added value (see also the entries Social Inclusion/Exclusion and Youth Participation in this Glossary). IFs can also integrate participative methodologies, such as the Open Space Technology (, or the World Café Method ( The choice of specific participative methods needs to be assessed and discussed in each context according to local conditions, type and number of participants, timing and facilitation resources. The IFs setting shall be designed in respect of participants and their expectations as stakeholders.

Application in the CLEAR project

In CLEAR, IFs aim at co-creating awareness about the topics of educational (under)achievement and learning outcomes and exchanging insights and experience-based knowledge coming from the participants: young people within and outside the educational system, professionals of formal and non-formal educational, and stakeholders from public and/or third sector organizations.

Planned at the final stage of the project’s lifespan, as a key element in the application of Transversal Participatory Approach, the IFs will gather the different actors involved in the research to discuss the project’s main findings and major issues. Prior to the IFs, the participants will receive information to tackle the issues at stake in depth, challenge others’ opinions and develop their views to elaborate (new) views.

We organize the IFs at a local level as participative and deliberative meetings gathering people who usually do not meet, due to their field of work, their social position and job. In addition, very heterogenous levels of expertise in floor taking will be very likely to be found among the participants. This is the main innovative characteristic of the IFs in CLEAR, where topics and issues raised by international academic research meet with those who design, apply and ‘live’ educational policies. In CLEAR, the IFs will take place in unformal and friendly spaces, equipped with all necessary workspaces, tables and chairs, interactive digital tools, with a plenary room and a continuous coffee break corner.


Bulling, D., Carson, L., DeKraai, M., Garcia, A., Raisio, H. (2013). Deliberation models featuring youth participation. International Journal of Child, Youth and Family Studies, 3(1), 409–432.

Steiner, J. (2012). Learning to deliberate. In G. M. Carney & C. Harris (Eds.), Citizens’ voices: Experiments in democratic renewal and reform (pp. 3-7). Irish Centre for Social Gerontology.

Stolberger, J., West, M.A., & Sacramento, C.A. (2019). Innovation in Work Teams. In B. Paulus & B. A. Nijstad (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Group Creativity and Innovation (pp. 231–251). Oxford University Press.


Luca Raffini, Francesca Zamboni, Siyka Kovacheva


Intersectionality is meanwhile a widely accepted term used to describe the intensification of social discrimination and inequality. First coined in 1989 by activist and scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality was meant to explain the complex and cumulative ways in which the multiple forms of discrimination (mostly, but not solely, classism, sexism, and racism) overlap and intersect in the production of social relations and in the making of people’s experiences, practices and lives (see also the entries Gender and Social Construction in this Glossary). The intersectional approach thus goes beyond addition of social categories and posits an interactive, mutually constitutive relationship among these categories that cannot be disassociated.

Intersectionality quickly became a popular term among academic and political circles. But despite the growing use of the concept, its meaning is not always clear. Furthermore, it often becomes a label that does not account for the interconnected nature of exclusionary practices and does not clearly signal political action (see also the entry Social Exclusion/Inclusion in this Glossary). It is argued (e.g., Smooth, 2013) that even well-intentioned policies often fall short in that they assume all inequalities share the same ontological history and internal logic and thus fail to frame policy issues as intersectional phenomena that need intersectional solutions.

Three elements are critical to avoid misuse of the concept:

  • The relational nature of inequalities. The intersectional approach understands inequalities as intrinsically relational. This entails looking at the interactions between different sources of discrimination, but also attending at the intersections between the advantaged and disadvantaged groups to understand the making of social relations.
  • The contextual and historical nature of inequalities. The intersectional approach analyses how these intersections operate in specific organizational/structural and representational/discursive contexts that are historically, culturally, and spatially constituted.
  • The unitary approach to macro-micro dimensions of inequalities. The intersectional approach addresses inequality from a combined structural-subjective perspective that includes the macro-structural expressions of exclusion and its embodied realizations.

Overall, intersectionality as a concept serves as a heuristic device (Anthias, 1998) or a theoretical/research paradigm (Hancock, 2007) to address the complexity of the social relations by means of its intersections. Furthermore, according to Walby et al. (2012), the intersectional paradigm needs to be addressed through a realist approach able to capture the nature or the ontology of social relations through which inequality operates.

Application in the CLEAR project

The CLEAR research project analyses the complexity of factors affecting learning outcomes in different contexts and it particularly points to their mutually intersecting dimensions (individual, institutional, structural, relational, and spatial). A special attention is paid to multi-disadvantaged groups of young people in order to understand their particular experience of educational (under)achievement. CLEAR problematises the discursive and the policy construction of vulnerable and/or multi-disadvantaged youth and aims at applying a context-sensitive approach to educational inequalities. According to the project rationale, different sources of inequality have different ontological histories and internal logics which must be carefully disentangled. In this sense, and in coherence with intersectionality, CLEAR addresses educational inequalities as relational and contextual phenomena, which are produced and expressed both at micro and at macro levels. The critical intersectional approach informs the project though its various stages, be it the empirical analyses, institutional and expert analyses, or the quantitative and qualitative research with young people.


Anthias, F. (1998). Rethinking social divisions: Some notes towards a theoretical framework. Sociological Review, 46(3), 506–535.

Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1(8), 139–167.

Hancock, A.-M. (2007). When Multiplication Doesn’t Equal Quick Addition: Examining Intersectionality as a Research Paradigm. Perspectives on Politics, 5(1), 63–79.

Smooth, W. G. (2013). Intersectionality. From theoretical framework to policy intervention. In A. Wilson (Ed.), Situating intersectionality: Politics, policy and power (pp. 11-41). Palgrave Macmillan.

Walby, S., Amrstrong, J., & Strid, S. (2012). Intersectionality: Multiple Inequalities in Social Theory. Sociology, 46(2), 224­–240.


Aina Tarabini, Tero Järvinen, Anna Siri

Learning Outcomes

The term learning outcomes gained currency during the past decades to refer to a specific understanding of learning/teaching as modelled in a process-product approach. As such, LOs focus specifically intentional activities in teaching/learning and those that can be measured/quantified.

According to Hussey & Smith, learning outcomes are the “observable products of the activities of the educators”, that is, “the products of the learning process within the pupil” (2002, p. 223). Learning outcomes are indissociable from their assessment, both conceptually and historically. Indeed, the notion of learning outcomes developed in close articulation with the significant expansion of secondary and tertiary education from the 1950’s onwards. Essentially, it was behaviourism that emphasized the clear identification and measurement of learning and the need to produce observable and measurable outcomes. Learning outcomes are therefore very often tied to a taxonomy or hierarchy of learning levels (Moon, 2002). The approach’s simple but persuasive idea is that clearly stated objectives will guide teachers and students and explain how student achievement will be measured (Melton, 1997) (see also the entry (Under)Achievement in this Glossary). Thus, there is a paradigm shift from teaching to learning and student-centered learning. This change has been linked to the requirement for more precise curriculum design and the recognition that more effective and varied learning methods benefit students. This has increased the requirement to convey knowledge, understanding, skills, and other traits inside qualifications and their components through learning outcomes (Otter, 1995). In parallel, as stated by Hussey and Smith, “The greatly increased public expenditure [on education at this time] encouraged the feeling that educators had to make their practices more scientific and accountable” (2002, p. 222 [original emphasis]), which led to the development of quantifiable assessment criteria of the educators’ work. It is then clear that, from the very start, learning outcomes are not strictly pedagogical apparatuses, “statements of what a learner is expected to know, understand and/or be able to demonstrate at the end of a period of learning” (Adam, 2006, p. 2). They are also managerial tools of performance management that currently encompass all subject areas and most (if not all) education and training levels. For example, as argued by Adam, they became “a fundamental building block in the Bologna educational reform process” (2006, p. 3). 

Application in the CLEAR project

CLEAR challenges more traditional conceptualisations of learning outcomes and underachievement, which place a strong focus on (statistically) capturing and measuring the quality of learning outcomes. Instead of identifying groups of students who are connected to poor learning outcomes and stratifying them into and , CLEAR departs from the assumption that learning outcomes are not natural and self-evident phenomena, but rather result of manifold intersecting factors and people: institutional arrangements, spatial and socio-economic determinants, discursive and socio-cultural influences, as well as individual experiences, dispositions, and cognitive and psycho-emotional abilities. In CLEAR we also stress that learning outcomes are products of the activities of multiple actors (learners, significant others, experts, etc.), and not only educators.

Given its focus on the processes of constructing learning outcomes, which are interpreted as the result of manifold intersecting factors and people, CLEAR needs to account for the fact that learning outcomes are multifunctional tools, serving the purposes of defining the levels of qualifications frameworks, setting qualification standards, describing programmes and courses, orienting curricula, and defining assessment specifications, therefore “influencing teaching methods, learning environments and assessment practices” (Cedefop, 2017, p. 14). This multi-dimensional perspective also needs to consider the use of learning outcomes as both pedagogical and managerial devices, particularly since these specific student-focused expectations follow a unit of instruction, usually stated in observable and measurable terms.


Adam, S. F. (2006). An introduction to learning outcomes. A consideration of the nature, function and position of learning outcomes in the creation of the European Higher Education Area. In E. Froment, J. Kohler, L. Purser & L. Wilson (Eds), EUA Bologna Handbook, Making Bologna Work. European University Association (EUA)/Raabe.

Cedefop (2017). Defining, writing and applying learning outcomes: a European handbook. Luxembourg: Publications Office.

Hussey, T., & Smith, P. (2002). The Trouble with Learning Outcomes. Active Learning in Higher Education, 3(3), 220–233.

Moon, J. (2002). The Module and Programme Development Handbook: A Practical Guide to Linking Levels, Outcomes and Assessment Criteria. Routledge.

Melton, R. (1997). Objectives, Competences and Learning Outcomes. Kogan Page.

Otter, S. (1995). Learning Outcomes in Higher Education. Routledge.


Tiago Neves, Marcelo Parreira do Amaral, Georgios K. Zarifis

Life Course

In social sciences, the observation of life events and of the different sequences and interdependencies between them has spurred the search for a broader set of research practices, currently subsumed under the Life Course Research. Within this interdisciplinary research strand, the term Life Course has a central place. Elder et al. (2015, p. 6) define it as “a temporal pattern of age-graded events and roles that chart the social contours of biography, providing a proximal content for the dynamics of human development” (see also the entry Biography in this Glossary). An individual’s life course is multidimensional as it develops in different mutually related and influencing life domains (Mayer, 2004) that correspond to functionally differentiated spheres of modern societies (Heinz, 2010).

Life course is characterised by trajectories, which are sequences and combinations of transitions between positions and stages, such as entering education and becoming a parent (see also the entries Life Trajectory and Transitions in this Glossary). People tend to follow normative patterns of age-proper behaviour and proper sequence of transitions in their lives which however vary across social classes or status groups (Mayer, 2004). These normative pathways are shaped by ethical prescriptions and cultural preferences, but they have also been institutionalised through the regulation of the welfare state and its institutions (Kok, 2007). Therefore, an ecology of expectations concerning the construction of the life courses is very likely to surround people in their life course management, especially in relation the increasing biographical de-standardisation (see also the entry Social Construction in this Glossary).

People make life choices and compromises based on the alternatives that they perceive before them and are not, hence, passively acted upon by social influence and structural constraints. This planfulness and agency depend on the context and its constraints (Elder et al., 2003) as well as prior life experiences and the different forms of resources individuals have at their disposal (Mayer, 2004) (see also the entries Opportunity Structures and Spatial Justice in this Glossary). Thus, life course is a cumulative process, and advantages and disadvantages do not occur randomly during a lifetime, but according to a logic of path dependence that usually starts with early advantages or disadvantages brought about by people’s social origins (Levy & Bühlmann, 2016).

While the institutionalised constructions of the life course and the various policies, which aim to govern individuals’ life courses, define normal and desired patterns of transitions, social change constantly undermines such notions of normality (Kovacheva et al., 2016) making the synchronisation of biographical steps increasingly complex. Life course de-standardisation refers to life courses becoming less similar and the domination of specific types of life courses becoming weaker (Elzinga & Liefbroer, 2007); in other words, life courses are increasingly becoming less predictable, less stable, and less collectively determined and, hence, increasingly flexible, individualised, insecure, and uncertain – especially for young adults (Brückner & Mayer, 2005; Kovacheva et al., 2016) who are pushed by institutions to make pivotal choices for their future.

Application in the CLEAR project

In the CLEAR project, the concept and theoretical approach of life course offer us a logical framework to explore the individual and subjective dimensions in the construction of learning outcomes and (under)achievement in a lifelong learning perspective. The life course approach is holistic promoting a multidisciplinary focus and an ecological model placing families and individuals in the context of historical, demographic, and social change (Kovacheva et al., 2016). It enables us to study the experiences, expectations, visions, and perceptions of young Europeans, and their ability to create subjective meanings and continuity along the different phases of their life courses, as well as to consider their diverse socio-economic and spatial contexts.

In the CLEAR project, we apply the theoretical instruments of life course research to policy analysis, specifically to understand how various policies interact with individual life courses of young people and to localise the points of possible change. We will apply the paradigmatic principles of the life course perspective, in particular the role of individual agency recognising that young people do not accept their social and historical circumstances passively; they actively construct their own life course through the choices and actions they take within the opportunities and constraints of history and social circumstance (Elder et al., 2003). The project is also sensitive to another important principle of the perspective – that of linked lives – and will explore the interactions between young people and their families, schools, policy professionals, and other stakeholders in shaping the individual trajectories, in particular the processes of falling into or coming out of vulnerable situations.


Brückner, H. & Mayer, K. U. (2005). De-standardization of the life course: What it might mean? And if it means anything, whether it actually took place? Advances in Life Course Research, 9, 27–53.

Elder G. H., Jr., Johnson, M. K., & Crosnoe, R. (2003). The Emergence and Development of Life Course Theory. In J. T. Mortimer & M. J. Shanahan (Eds.), Handbook of the Life Course (pp. 3–19). Kluwer Academic; Plenum Publishers.

Elder, G. H., Jr., Shanahan, M., & Jennings, J. (2015). Human Development in Time and Place. In M. Bornstein, & T. Leventhal (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology and developmental science (pp. 6–54). Wiley.

Elzinga, C. H., & Liefbroer, A. C. (2007). Destandardization of family-life trajectories of young adults. European Journal of Population, 23(3), 225–250.

Heinz, W. (2010). Life course dynamics. In C. Crothers (Ed.), Historical Developments and Theoretical Approaches in Sociology – Volume I (pp. 226–248). UNESCO-EOLSS.

Kok, J. (2007). Principles and prospects of the life course paradigm. Annales de Demographie Historique, 113(1), 203–230.

Kovacheva, S., Verlage, T., & Walther, A. (2016). Life Course. YOUNG_ADULLLT Glossary. Retrieved from

Levy, R., & Bühlmann, F. (2016). Towards a socio-structural framework for life course analysis. Advances in Life Course Research, 30, 30–42.

Mayer, K. (2004). Whose Lives? How History, Societies, and Institutions Define and Shape Life Courses. Research in Human Development, 1(3), 161–187.

Tikkanen, J. (2020). Constructing Life Courses in Times of Uncertainty. Individualisation and Social Structures in the Context of Finnish Education. University of Turku.


Jenni Tikkanen, Sebastiano Benasso, Siyka Kovacheva

Life Trajectory

The concept of life trajectory is strongly related with other concepts of Life Course Research and Biography Research and can be described as a set of social roles occupied by the individual in different social spheres of life (education, employment, privacy) (see also the entries Biography and Life Course in this Glossary). These social spheres are determined by discourses, social structures and institutions in a particular social context. As a result of the individual life choices and the life chances provided by the existing opportunity structures, the individual takes a certain line of life development (see also the entry Opportunity Structures in this Glossary). Thus, by successively occupying certain social roles, the individual constructs his/her own life trajectory (Elder, 1998), which is framed by societal processes and embedded in specific social and cultural contexts. The interaction between, on the one hand, the social inequalities and institutional constraints of the social environment, and on the other hand, the individual’s actions and choices, determines the course of the unfolding of his/her life trajectory.

The life trajectories are understood as long-term patterns of time and space, stability and change, often including multiple life transitions, e.g., school-to-work transition, transition from parental home to own home and family, transition to parenthood, etc. (George, 1993) (see also the entries Transitions and Spatial Justice in this Glossary). Life trajectories are built not only from multiple transitions but also from life events and actions (Walther et al., 2022). The notion of life trajectory is used primarily to describe the individual movements or developments occurring during the whole span of life, i.e., “all that takes place between the two ultimate life boundaries – birth and death” (Levy et al., 2005, p. 11). From a Life Course Research perspective, the individual has one global life trajectory within which it can be distinguished between several other trajectories such as marital, professional, health-related, or residential trajectory. They need to be perceived as interdependent in order to understand how they intermingle with each other and how they affect the global individual trajectory (Levy et al., 2005).

Application in the CLEAR project

The concept of life trajectory, as a nuclear concept of Life Course Research, is central to the CLEAR project, mainly in what concerns the qualitative research with young people. The analysis of their global and specific life trajectories will allow understanding how formal and non-formal learning processes and their outcomes affect young people’s past, present, and future lives. This analysis will also enable highlighting the complex interconnections between biographical decisions and actions, on the one hand, and educational, social, economic, political, and spatial conditions, opportunities and constraints, on the other hand. It will also allow us to understand, how these interconnections frame young people’s life trajectories. Focusing on life trajectories enables to assess the importance of learning outcomes, educational (under)achievement and opportunity structures in the lives of young people, as well as their influence on individual’s agency in the process of life course construction.


Elder, G. (1998). The Life Course as Developmental Theory. Child Development, 69(1), 1-12.

George, L. K. (1993). Sociological perspectives on life transitions. Annual Review of Sociology, 19, 353–373.

Levi, R., Ghisletta, P., Spini, D., & Widmer, E. (2005). Why look at life courses in an interdisciplinary perspective? Advances in Life Course Research, 10, 3–32.

Walther, A., Stauber, B., & Settersten Jr., R. A. (Eds.) (2022). Life Course Research and Social Policies. Springer.


Darena Hristozova, Natália Alves

Mixed-Method Approach

The plenitude of different disciplinary approaches to research inquiry enables a mutual inspiration and support. A growing body of literature is now devoted to mixing the various approaches in order to get closer and approach more holistically specific research problems. In this vein, the Mixed-Methods-Research (MMR) has been defined as the type of research in which a researcher “combines elements of qualitative and quantitative research approaches (e.g., use of qualitative and quantitative viewpoints, data collection, analysis, inference techniques) for the broad purposes of breadth and depth of understanding and corroboration” (Johnson et al., 2007, p. 123).

Cresswell & Plano Clark (2017) identify three core MMR designs: 1) A convergent or parallel design, when the researcher brings together the results of the quantitative and qualitative analysis so they can be compared or combined to gain a more complete understanding of a phenomenon or to validate one set of findings against the other. 2) An explanatory sequential design, in which quantitative data are first collected and analysed followed by a subsequent qualitative phase to explain or expand on the quantitative results. 3) An exploratory sequential design, which begins with the collection and analysis of qualitative data and continues with the development of a quantitative phase based on the qualitative results.

A critical point in MMR concerns the integration of the different worldviews linked to quantitative and qualitative research (positivism/post-positivism and constructionism/interpretivism) (Bryman, 2012) (see also the entry Social Construction in this Glossary). MMR can be considered as a third paradigm based on pragmatism. Pragmatism “debunks concepts such as truth and reality and focuses instead on what works” (Teddlie & Tashakkori, 2009, p. 14 [original emphasis]) for the research question. Other challenges related to MMR are mixed methods sampling as well as integration strategies of different kind of data (qualitative and quantitative) and their integrative analysis (Bazeley, 2009).

MMR design is particularly suited for international comparative research: quantitative methods can be used to gain empirical evidence about the distribution of social phenomena in different contexts while their contextuality can be investigated and interpreted in its necessary differentiation by applying qualitative methods (see also the entry Comparison in this Glossary). The convergence of both methodological approaches, thus, helps to grasp the diversity of processes, actors, and developments involved. Further, it fosters the concretization and explication of theoretical presuppositions and enables testing of (in-)correct causal assumptions in different contexts.

Application in the CLEAR project

In CLEAR, MMR is applied to integrate the strengths of qualitative and quantitative approaches to gain a better understanding of the combination of multiple factors affecting the construction and assessment of learning outcomes in diverse contexts. CLEAR integrates in a parallel/convergent mixed-method design quantitative and qualitative analyses, drawing on data sets from multiple sources: EU surveys (e.g., EU-SILC, EU-LFS, EU-AES), international large scales assessments (PIAAC, PISA), and administrative data at European and national level. It also conducts institutional analyses and policy reviews, qualitative interviews with key actors, educational practitioners and young people, but also web-based expert surveys on policy coordination and innovative participatory strategies. The MMR applied in CLEAR contributes to better explore and understand the several mutually intersecting dimensions – individual, institutional, structural, relational, and spatial – involved in the processes of constructing and assessing of learning outcomes.


Bazeley, P. (2009). Editorial: Integrating data analyses in mixed methods research. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 3(3), 203–207.

Bryman, A. (2012). Social research methods. Oxford University Press.

Creswell, J. W., & Plano Clark, V. L. (2017). Designing and Conducting Mixed Methods Research. Sage Publications Ltd.

Johnson, R. B., Onwuegbuzie, A. J., & Turner, L. A. (2007). Toward a Definition of Mixed Methods Research. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 1(2), 112–133.

Teddlie, C., & Tashakkori, A. (2009). Foundations of Mixed Methods Research. Integrating Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches in the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Sage Publications Ltd.


Isabella Quadrelli, Valeria Pandolfini, Alexandra Ioannidou

Multi-Disadvantaged Youth

Young people with (multiple) disadvantages have been targeted by several policy programmes all over Europe with varying definitions between the countries. While in some countries and policy contexts the term is used interchangeably with notions such as vulnerable youth, youth-at-risk, excluded or disconnected youth, or early school leavers (see also the entries Early School Leavers and NEETs in this Glossary), there is no widely accepted agreement on how to define disadvantaged youth. Generally, it points out to groups of young people who have fewer chances to reach their goals in the life course, particularly due to lack of structural opportunities and the existence of institutional barriers (see also the entries Life Course and Opportunity Structures in this Glossary):

Disadvantage stands for unequal opportunities and the risk of social exclusion in school-to-work transitions. It is described as the interplay between a structural lack of accessibility, manageability and relevance of transition opportunities and individual lack of resources. Referring to constellations of disadvantage rather than problem groups avoids structural problems becoming individualised (Walther et al., 2005, p. 8 [original emphasis]).

Among the factors that facilitate social disadvantages are, e.g., physical or mental disabilities, difficult family constellations, low social support and resilience, critical life events (illness or sudden death of close persons, abuse, legal problems, substance addiction), lack of skills and intrinsic motivations, irregular migration status, ethnic discrimination or discrimination based on sexual orientation etc. (see Bendit & Stokes, 2003, p. 265).

Disadvantage occurs rarely alone, but often in different, mutually dependent or multiple variations. Sometimes even less serious problems may accumulate to severe disadvantage (Bullock & Parker, 2014, p. 4) and lead to social and material inequalities, “which form the backdrop of everyday life for disadvantaged youth, constituting stressors and deprivations that exert influence both contemporaneously and as part of life course trajectories” (Nurius et al., 2015, p. 567) (see also the entry Life Trajectory in this Glossary). When exposed to such stressors, young people respond in different ways depending on their previous experiences and social support. In addition, other categories of social inequality, such as ethnicity, class, race, or gender, can lead to intersectional and, thus, intensified experiences (see also the entries Gender and Intersectionality in this Glossary). The research shows that although “gender trends among disadvantaged youths are less well-known”, the “disadvantaged boys’ and girls’ greater exposure to risks, such as involvement with deviant peers, substance use, or lower levels of physical activity may attenuate gender differences” (Mendonça & Simões, 2019, p. 785). Finally, disadvantage is a dynamic development with several stages, including the “onset, progression, response to interventions and treatment and (one hopes) escape. Some disadvantages are permanent, others episodic or transitory and each has the possibility of getting worse or better” (Bullock & Parker, 2014, p. 5).

Researchers distinguish between the sociological concept of disadvantage and the experience of disadvantage. Sociologically, the term disadvantage describes an “unintended consequence of accelerated technological, economical and social changes” (Bendit & Stokes, 2003, p. 263) that have affected some portions of the population more than others. Thus, the main factors lie beyond the reach of individual agency. However, the term disadvantaged youth evokes contradictory feelings regarding the experience of disadvantage. On the one hand, these youth feel that participation in second-chance programmes may open up new possibilities of vocational training or financial support (see also the entry Youth Participation in this Glossary). On the other, they find that such participation can have a stigmatising effect when seeking a job or subsequent regular training (Bendit & Stokes, 2003, p. 266 [original emphasis]). Actually, young people in policy measures need a more inclusive educational and employment environment that provides them with more opportunities irrespective of their ethnic origin, family background, bodily appearance or health status (Wintersteller et al., 2022) (see also the entry Social Exclusion/Inclusion in this Glossary).

In countries like Germany, disadvantaged youth is codified as a legal term to structure access rights to positive action type of programmes, which risks becoming a label associated with negative or stigmatising images (Walther & Stauber et al., 2002). If disadvantages are seen as purely individual deficits, it can spur “individualisation of structural deficiencies” (Bendit & Stokes, 2003, p. 265; Parreira do Amaral & Zelinka, 2019). Otherwise, educational disadvantages can also be explained as affected by segmented education systems that need to be adjusted to their needs. In any case, young people with multiple disadvantages are seldom listened to in the policy-making design, and ”are even less likely to be involved in youth organisations” (Williamson, 2002, p. 95).

Application in the CLEAR project

In the CLEAR project, we see the concept of multi-disadvantaged youth as a socially constructed, relational, and dynamic term, which describes the current situation of young people, rather than their given anthropological condition, thus trying to avoid the essentialisation of their individual deficiencies. When relating to the term as a policy concept, we pay a particular attention to context-sensitive settings that create vulnerable conditions for certain groups, as well as to the construction of the term under specific regional and national settings, including economic development, labour market situation, and institutional opportunity structures. In CLEAR we argue for policies that foster the active participation of and cooperation among all actors involved in design and implementation of programs addressing multiple disadvantage (see also Fasching & Felbermayr, 2022).


Bendit, R., & Stokes, D. (2003). ‘Disadvantage’: transition policies between social construction and the needs of vulnerable youth. In A. López Blasco, W. McNeish & A. Walther (Eds.), Young people and contradictions of inclusion: towards Integrated Transition Policies in Europe (pp. 261–283). Policy Press.

Bullock, R., & Parker, R. (2014). A historical review of the concept of severe and multiple disadvantage and of responses to it. [Discussion Paper]. Retrieved from

Fasching, H., & Felbermayr, K. (2022). Participative Cooperation During Educational Transition: Experiences of Young People With Disabilities in Austria. Social Inclusion, 10(2), 358–368.

Mendonça, C., & Simões, F. (2019). Disadvantaged Youths’ Subjective Well-Being: The Role of Gender, Age, and Multiple Social Support Attunement. Child Indicators Research, 12, 769–789.

Nurius, P. S., Prince, D. M., & Rocha, A. (2015). Cumulative disadvantage and youth well-being: A multi-domain examination with life course implications. Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal, 32(6), 567–576.

Parreira do Amaral, M., & Zelinka, J. (2019). Lifelong learning policies shaping the life courses of young adults. An interpretative analysis of orientations, objectives, and solutions. Comparative Education, 55(3), 404–421.

Walther, A., & Stauber, B. et al. (Eds.) (2002). Misleading Trajectories. Integration policies for young adults in Europe? Springer.

Walther, A., Pohl, A., Biggart, A., Julkunen, I., Kazepov, Y., Kovacheva, S., & Ule, M. (2005). Thematic study on policy measures concerning disadvantaged youth. [Report]. Retrieved from

Williamson, H. (2002). Supporting young people in Europe: principles, policy and practice. [Report]. The Council of Europe international reviews of national youth policy 1997-2001 – a synthesis report. Council of Europe Publishing.

Wintersteller, T., Wöhrer, V., Danz, S., & Malik, M. (2022). “They Really Only Look for the Best”: How Young People Frame Problems in School‐to‐Work Transition. Social Inclusion, 10(2), 335–346.


Jozef Zelinka, Marcelo Parreira do Amaral


NEET is an acronym for young people Not in Education, Employment, or Training. The term represents young people between the ages of 15 and 29 years (Eurofound, 2012, 2013; International Labour Organization, 2013, 2015) and does not have a standardized measuring definition, particularly in terms of characterizing economic inactivity. OECD (2014, 2015) statistics and analyses have been significant in the conception and implementation of education and training and labour market policies targeted at this particular group of young people, namely by the EU.

Theoretical discussions on NEETs have highlighted several aspects. Simmons & Smyth (2016), for instance, highlight the contradiction that, while in the neoliberal discourse education and training are portrayed as enhancing chances of entering the labour market, a large number of young people are underemployed not due to a lack of qualifications, but due to a lack of suitable job openings (see also the entries Skills Ecosystems and Opportunity Structures in this Glossary). Yates et al. (2007, p. 329) state that “NEET is a problematic concept that defines young people by what they are not, and subsumes under a negatively perceived moniker a heterogeneous group of young people whose varied circumstances and issues are not conceptualized.”

Furlong (2006) asserts that the popularity of the term NEET is partially attributable to the negative connotations of having no status or status zero and provides two arguments against the use of the notion of NEETs. Policies addressing NEETs may fall short of their objectives because the criteria are overly wide, as the majority of young people experience phases of NEET status but not all are in risky situations. On the other hand, the definition may be too limited, as an increase in employment does not necessarily lead to a reduction in vulnerability, given the growth in precarious employment (see also the entry Vulnerability in this Glossary). Avis critiques the policy discourse on NEETs as pathologizing, since it reflects the moral panic of the middle classes and portrays NEETs as the source of social problems while ignoring the structural roots of the “economy of insecurity” (Avis, 2014, p. 274).

More recently, Lőrinc et al. (2020) questioned the individualisation of the NEET problem emphasising the structural dimension of young people’s negative school experiences and their difficult transition to work (see also the entry Transitions in this Glossary). The acronym NEET is further associated with the special status that young people obtain, which often labels them as in need of help or assistance. Such passivist ascription can lead to secondary stigmatisation and instrumentalization of young people’s life courses further aggravated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemics with its significant impact on apprenticeships and training. To aid in the economic recovery from the pandemic, the Commission established a Youth Employment Support package on July 1, 2020 to serve as a bridge to employment for the upcoming generation (European Commission, 2020).

Application in the CLEAR project

CLEAR recognizes the significance of education in creating sustainable, innovative, and resilient society, as well as its role in reducing the levels of inequality and disparity. CLEAR evaluates the dominant definitions of learning outcomes and education (under)achievement as a result of asymmetric discursive and power relations that are shaped by unequal spatial distribution of economic, political, and educational resources and opportunity structures, which in turn shape the definitions of policy addressees. From these addresses, NEETs stand as significant: dealt with in the European Union and member-states policies, young people are trapped among education and training policies and labour market policies. Referring to the most recent policies and strategies to be critically analysed by the CLEAR project, the EU Youth Strategy was agreed in 2018 and establishes a framework for cooperation with EU-member states on their youth policies from 2019 to 2027 focused to engage, connect, and empower young people (Eurodesk, 2018).


Avis, J. (2014). Comfort radicalism and NEETs: a conservative praxis. International Studies in Sociology of Education, 24(3), 272-289.

Eurodesk. (2018). Engage, Inform, Empower. Position Paper “Recommendations from the main European Youth Information and Mobility networks on the New EU Youth Strategy”. Retrieved November 17, 2022, from

Eurofound. (2012). NEETs – Young people not in employment, education or training: Characteristics, costs and policy responses in Europe. Publications Office of the European Union.

Eurofound. (2013). Young People and NEETs. European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Work Conditions. Retrieved from

European Commission. (2020). Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions “Youth Employment Support: A Bridge To Jobs For The Next Generation”, Brussels, 1.7.2020 COM(2020) 276 final.  Retrieved November 17, 2022, from

Furlong, A. (2006). Not a very NEET solution: representing problematic labour market transitions among early school-leavers. Work, employment and society, 20(3), 553-569.

International Labour Organization. (2013). Global Employment Trends for Youth 2013. A generation at risk.—dgreports/—dcomm/documents/publication/wcms_212423.pdf

International Labour Organization. (2015). What does NEETs mean and why is the concept so easily misinterpreted—dgreports/—dcomm/documents/publication/wcms_343153.pdf

Lőrinc, M., Ryan, L., D’Angelo, A., &Kaye, N. (2020). De-individualising the ‘NEET problem’: An ecological systems analysis. European Educational Research Journal, 19(5) 412–427.

OECD. (2014). Society at a Glance 2014: OECD Social Indicators. OECD Publishing.

OECD. (2015). Youth not in education or employment (NEET) (indicator). In OECD iLibrary.  Retrieved November 15, 2022, from

Simmons, R., & Smyth, J. (2016). Crisis of youth or youth in crisis? Education, employment and legitimation crisis. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 35(2), 136-152.

Yates, S., & Payne, M. (2007). Not so NEET? A Critique of the Use of ‘NEET’ in Setting Targets for Interventions with Young People. Journal of Youth Studies, 9(3), 329-344.


Georgios K. Zarifis, Natália Alves, Paula Guimarães

Open Science

Open Science is an umbrella term for a new paradigm in scientific work, which seeks to increase the quality, efficiency, comprehensibility, and reusability of scientific results. It aims at all stages of the research cycle (hypothesis, data collection, processing, data storage, long-term preservation, publication and dissemination of research results, reuse of data and information) (Open Science and Research Initiative, 2014, p. 8) and promotes transparency, accessibility, and reproducibility of the whole research process. Depending on various stakeholder groups, the Open Science practices underlie various discourses and requirements (see Fecher & Friesike 2013), which are, however, united by the common goal to innovate and open the scientific process to all actors, stakeholders, and the wider public (see also the entries Innovation Forums and Transversal Participatory Approach in this Glossary). Especially if the science is publicly funded, the Open Science practices are meant to guarantee safe and transparent handling of the data and information.

In practice, the Open Science refers to how research is designed, performed, and assessed, and encompasses various dimensions: 

  • Open Access refers to the possibility to freely access to research publications.
  • Open and FAIR Data (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable) refer to research data that have no restrictions on their access and that enable their secondary reusability.
  • Open Research Infrastructure refers to facilities, resources and services that are used for scholarly research, including data sets, archives, software packages, e-infrastructures, computational models, and observational platforms.
  • Open Educational Resources, that is learning, teaching, and research materials, in any format and medium, that are published under an open license, allowing free access, reuse, use for any purpose, adaptation, and redistribution by others (UNESCO, 2019, p.13).

Open Science enhances the trustworthiness of research findings in academia and society particularly in two ways: a) through the transparency and reproducibility of research data and b) through the openness of the research process to the involvement of societal actors leading to co-creation and innovation of knowledge. According to Vicente-Saez & Martinez-Fuentes (2018) “Open Science is transparent and accessible knowledge that is shared and developed through collaborative networks”.

Application in the CLEAR project

Open Science in its different dimensions is implemented in CLEAR at all research stages. It applies to empirical field analyses, as much as to quantitative and institutional reviews. During the application of the transversal participatory approach, the Open Science practices will be deployed to ensure that young people and local stakeholders will be involved in the development of knowledge and that this knowledge will be made accessible to all relevant decision-makers. The research beneficiaries will profit from the research results by making use of the open research platforms (website, social media), open dissemination practices (policy briefs, reports, interviews, conferences, peer-reviewed publications), and open discussion forums (roundtable discussions, Innovation Forums). CLEAR pays a particular attention to an open working environment also within the Consortium, while protecting sensitive data and information according to the highest ethical standards.


Fecher, B., & Friesike, S. (2014). Open Science: One Term, Five Schools of Thought. In S. Bartling & S. Friesike (Eds.), Opening Science (pp. 17-47). Springer,

Open Science and Research Initiative (2014). The Open Science and Research Handbook.

UNESCO (2019). Draft Recommendation on Open Educational Resources. UNESCO 40th General Conference. (Draft). Document Code: 40 C/32. UNESCO.

Vicente-Saez, R., & Martinez-Fuentes, C. (2018). Open Science now: A systematic literature review for an integrated definition. Journal of Business Research, 88, 428-436


Alexandra Ioannidou, Jozef Zelinka, Natália Alves

Opportunity Structures

The concept of opportunity structures draws on a rich vein of studies opened by the debate about the notions of life chance (Dahrendorf, 1979) and opportunity (Merton, 1968), and refers to the visions and patterns of action applicable in response to culturally framed problems. In the analysis of youth transitions, Roberts (1968) introduced the opportunity-structure (OS) theory to account for the different paths and trajectories observable, stating that the interaction between structuring agents creates blueprints or career routes within which different groups of young people are required to make successive and reflexive choices (Roberts, 2009) (see also the entries Life Course, Life Trajectory and Transitions in this Glossary). Opportunity structures frame the configuration of possibilities and constraints for thought or action, in a given context. They represent

collective and individual responses to situations confronting us, [meaning that] our responses to these situations are fundamentally framed by the kinds of opportunities for thought or action that we have at our disposal, or by the range of both construals and constructions of the nature of the problem/issue we are confronting, and the range and kinds of responses from which we might select (Dale & Parreira do Amaral, 2015, p. 30).

OS are strategically selective, as they limit the courses of action that are likely to see actors realise their intentions. They are also unevenly distributed, as the possible options differ among groups of young people according to their background, resources, and previous course of action.

In the debate and research on opportunity structures, the tension between structure and agency represents a significant focus. In Blau’s (1994) structuralist formulation, structures related to institutions and population’s stable characteristics, affect the likelihood of specific courses of action, as outcomes. Other scholars stress instead the relationship between structuring factors and agents, capable of successive and reflexive choices (Roberts, 2009), concluding that opportunity structures favour some actions and decisions over others (Parreira do Amaral & Jornitz, 2019), without pre-determining the course of social action.

Furthermore, recent research (Dale & Parreira do Amaral, 2015; Benasso et al., 2022) has proposed to distinguish among different types of opportunity structures. Discursive opportunity structures shape public discourses circulating at different levels (from international to national, from mainstream to common sense) and determine what a problem is and how to deal with it. Institutional opportunity structures organise the implementation patterns and modes of action according to specific structural features at the national level, contextualising and actualising the discursive opportunity structures in relation to local systems. Socio-relational opportunity structures focus on the effects of the intersection between individual biographies and policies (structures) and emphasises the active character of participants, whereby people negotiate the meaning of policies and measures they enter (or reject), framing them as opportunities (or not) (see also the entries Biography and Youth Policy in this Glossary). Finally, opportunity structures articulate according to a spatial perspective, as territorial contexts have a deep impact on individual trajectories. Local socio-economic conditions and local welfare arrangements shape regional skills ecosystems (Dalziel, 2015) and regional opportunity structures (Glauser & Becker, 2016; Cefalo et al., 2020) contributing to significant intra-national variations (see also the entries Spatial Justice and Skills Ecosystems in this Glossary).

Application in the CLEAR project

In the CLEAR project, the OS concept provides a bridge across several analytical dimensions, as they allow to highlight the relational and spatial dimension of learning outcomes, as well as the connection between individuals, institutions and structures. We perceive the institutional and discursive opportunity structures as one of the decisive moments in identifying the limits and possibilities of young people to participate in the construction of learning outcomes.


Benasso, S., Cefalo, R., & Tikkanen, J. (2022). Landscapes of Lifelong Learning Policies Across Europe: Conceptual Lenses. In S. Benasso, T. Neves, D. Bouillet & M. Parreira do Amaral (Eds), Landscapes of Lifelong Learning Policies across Europe (pp. 19-39). Palgrave Macmillan.

Blau, P. M. (1994). Structural contexts of opportunities. University of Chicago Press.

Cefalo, R., & Scandurra, R. (2021). Territorial disparities in youth labour market chances in Europe. Regional Studies, Regional Science, 8(1), 228–238.

Dahrendorf, R. (1979). Life chances: Approaches to social and political theory. The University of Chicago Press.

Dale, R., & Parreira do Amaral, M. (2015). Discursive and institutional opportunity structures in the governance of educational trajectories. In M. Parreira do Amaral, R. Dale & P. Loncle (Eds.), Shaping the futures of young Europeans: Education governance in eight European countries (pp. 23–41). Symposium Books.

Dalziel, P. (2015). Regional skill ecosystems to assist young people making education employment linkages in transition from school to work. Local Economy, 30(1), 53–66.

Glauser, D., & Becker, R. (2016). VET or general education? Effects of regional opportunity structures on educational attainment in German-speaking Switzerland. Empirical Research in Vocational Education and Training, 8(8), 423–448.

Merton, R. K. (1968). Social theory and social structure (3rd ed.). Free Press.

Parreira do Amaral, M., & Jornitz, S. (2019). Die Konzeptualisierung von Bildungsverläufen Jugendlicher: eine Governance-Perspektive auf Lebenslauf. In R. Langer & Th. Brüsemeister (Eds.), Handbuch Educational Governance Theorien (pp. 417–440). Springer.

Roberts, K. (1968). The entry into employment: An approach towards a general theory. The Sociological Review, 16(2), 165–184.

Roberts, K. (2009). Opportunity structures then and now. Journal of Education and Work, 22(5), 355–368.


Ruggero Cefalo, Sebastiano Benasso, Jozef Zelinka, Xavier Rambla

Policy Coordination

Policy Coordination

Any analysis of (under)achievement must take policy coordination into account. In general, several levels of governance and different policy areas address the learning outcomes of young people. Time horizons and geography add further levels of complexity (see also the entry Spatial Justice in this Glossary).

The European Union, the member states, many cities and regions, and most local authorities attempt to guarantee that all the youth achieve certain basic learning outcomes. For the last decade, the European institutions have coordinated the relevant policies and the main authorities by means of yearly country-specific recommendations that the member states must take into consideration when running the national budget. These recommendations often link education and training to employment targets and policies regarding skills development. This is one of the reasons why the bulk of lifelong learning policies that target young adults in the European Union are centred on employment (Parreira do Amaral & Zelinka, 2019).

Time horizons posit important challenges too. On the one hand, although individuals take stock of their education in the middle term of their biography, decision-makers and civil society representatives aspire to improve achievement, reduce unemployment and tackle skills mismatches in a few years’ time (see also the entries Biography and Skills Ecosystems in this Glossary). On the other hand, in many European countries the academic year starts in August or September and terminates in June or July, while the pattern of employment policies follows the fiscal year from January to December.

The geographical dimension is also significant. Remarkably, regions are not always equivalent authorities insofar as some regions are the locus of political identity for many citizens, but other ones are simply a vague geographical reference for the majority (Keating, 2013). Furthermore, cities and regions have disparate institutional capacities. Thus, in Austria and Germany, certain city-state Länder are endowed with a strong and well-funded government. At the other extreme of the institutional capacity continuum, certain regions are loosely articulated towns that are scattered along railways and roads with uneven power of territorial integration (Rambla & Milana, 2020) (see also the entry Spatial Justice in this Glossary).

Application in the CLEAR project

In the CLEAR research project, policy coordination is a crucial dimension of analysis for the investigation of policies addressing low-achievement in basic and digital skills of recent graduates and the adult population. The objective is to analyse different modes of coordination between the relevant policy actors and explore how skills formation and skills utilisation connect. This is important for estimating how the labour market development and the skills provision interact and define the desired skills and competencies.


Keating, M. (2013). Rescaling the European State The Making of Territory and the Rise of the Meso. Oxford University Press.

Parreira do Amaral, M. & Zelinka, J. (2019). Lifelong learning policies shaping the life courses of young adults. An interpretative analysis of orientations, objectives and solutions. Comparative Education, 55(3), 404-421.

Rambla, X. & Millana, M. (2020). The stepping- stones of lifelong learning policies: politics, regions and labour markets. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 39(1), 1-4. 


Xavier Rambla, Paula Guimarães, Ruggero Cefalo

Skills Ecosystems

A skill is the learned ability to perform an action successfully. Everybody acquires a varied set of skills depending on her routines, but most people engage in systematic education and training to acquire specialised skills (UNESCO-UNEVOC, n.d.). Well-known sociologists of education, such as Michael Young, have challenged the assumption that equates knowledge with skills, because knowledge entails an array of cognitive and socio-emotional processes that do not necessarily generate skills. Remarkably, humans develop knowledge by means of continuous movements between theoretical or discursive knowledge and practical or tacit knowledge. Skills normally highlight the practical side and often overlook the theoretical side of knowledge (Young, 2010).

Skills are relational insofar as nobody can develop her skills apart from social interaction with other people. Institutions and social structures also contribute to shape particular articulations of skills that the literature labels as skills ecosystems. Finegold (1999) developed the concept of high skill ecosystems to refer to a range of mutually reinforcing factors that helped nurture the cluster of high-tech bio-medical and software firms in California’s Silicon Valley. Buchanan et al. (2001) maintained that the concept of skill ecosystem could be usefully applied to a broad range of contexts, defining skill ecosystems as “clusters of high, intermediate or low-level competencies in a particular region or industry shaped by interlocking networks of firms, markets and institutions” (Buchanan et al., 2001, p. 21). There is ample evidence of the persistence of low skills equilibria in many countries (e.g., the UK), where the competitiveness of companies is based on a low-price product strategy and the low wages of workers (Finegold & Soskice, 1988). In low-skills equilibria, people are matched with their jobs but at a very low level of skills. Low-skills equilibria can adversely affect the economic development of a local economy, region or sector, or indeed an entire country. These price-based strategies leave the local workforce vulnerable to displacement because of innovation and competition in global markets and workers have few incentives to remain in education because local employers are neither seeking nor are they willing to reward high levels of skills (see also the entry Vulnerability in this Glossary). For their part, employers have little incentive to upgrade production processes or workers’ skills since this can undermine their price-based competition strategy (Wilson & Hogarth, 2003). These examples demonstrate that a perfect match between available skills and job tasks is not always a positive indicator and contributes to challenge the very idea of an optimal and perfect match between the supply of skills from the education and training sector and the demand for skills from the labour market (skills match/mismatch) advocated by manpower forecasting and human capital approaches (see also the entry Opportunity Structures in this Glossary).

According to this analytical framework, Buchanan et al. (2001) argued that VET policy could not rely on stand-alone training interventions and would need to be integrated with regional and economic development measures aimed at supporting industry efforts to develop, utilise and retain a highly skilled workforce. The core claim pertained the need to address the range of contextual factors that shape approaches to skill formation and usage within a particular ecosystem (Payne, 2008), including: business characteristics; institutions and policy frameworks regarding education, vocational training, lifelong learning and the labour market; the structure of jobs (job design and work organisation).

At the heart of the skills ecosystem approach is an attempt to integrate VET policy within a wider business improvement and economic development agenda, thereby proposing a multi-factorial approach to skill formation that includes skill demand and usage as well as supply, tailored to their specific context. National and local skills strategies require high a degree of coordination between actors and governance activities across different areas and scales of government, and beyond government, in the formulation and implementation of skills policies for young people (see also the entry Policy Coordination in this Glossary).

Application in the CLEAR project

Within the frame of CLEAR, it is important to recognize that the concept of skills ecosystem comes with strong spatial justice implications attached, calling for the investigation of relations among actors, policies, and institutions at different territorial levels. As argued by Dalziel (2015), skills in the local labour force are a critical factor of regions’ development, touching upon the issue of coordination in skills formation and utilisation, as well as the perspectives of employers and young people making life career-related decisions. This is backed up by research on regional disparities emphasizing territorial and regional dynamics as structural characteristics resulting in diverging real incomes and rates of labour force participation (Dijkstra et al., 2015; Scandurra et al., 2021).


Buchanan, J., Schofield, K., Briggs, C., Considine, G., Hager, P., Hawke, G., Kitay, J., Meagher, J., Mounier, A. & Ryan, S. (2001). Beyond Flexibility: Skills and Work in the Future. New South Wales Board of Vocational education and Training.

Dalziel, P. (2015). Regional skill ecosystems to assist young people making education employment linkages in transition from school to work. Local Economy30(1), 53-66.

Dijkstra, L., Garcilazo E., & McCann, P. (2015). The effects of the global financial crisis on European regions and cities. Journal of Economic Geography, 15(5), 935-949.

Finegold, D. (1999). Creating self-sustaining high-skill ecosystems. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 15(1), 60-81.

Finegold, D., & Soskice, D. (1988). The failure of training in Britain: analysis and prescription. Oxford University Press.

Payne, J. (2008). Skills in context: what can the UK learn from Australia’s skill ecosystem projects? Policy and Politics, 36(3), 307-323.

Scandurra, R., Cefalo, R., & Kazepov, Y. (2021). Drivers of youth labour market integration across European regions. Social Indicators Research, 154(3), 835-856.

Wilson, R., & Hogarth, T. (2003). Tackling the Low Skills Equilibrium: A Review of Issues and Some New Evidence. Department of Trade and Industry/University of Warwick.

UNESCO-UNEVOC. (n.d.). Skills. In TVETipedia Glossary. Retrieved November 4, 2022, from

Young, M. F. D. (2010) Alternative Educational Futures for a Knowledge Society. European Educational Research Journal, 9(1).


Ruggero Cefalo, Xavier Rambla

Social Construction

The term social construction refers to an understanding of reality as a joint process of meaning-making. Reality is seen not as an objective, external entity that inscribes its features equally on all human subjects, but rather as the product of – sometimes cooperative, sometimes conflictual – interpretations grounded in social interactions. While the main tenets of social construction have important roots in phenomenology (Alfred Schutz, Edmund Husserl) and symbolic interactionism (George Herbert Mead, Herbert Blumer), it is Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s book The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (1966) that represents the prime pillar of the social constructionist approach.

For the social constructionist approach, daily events may be assimilated as routine – an unproblematic reality. That is, individuals may find it easy to grasp a given phenomenon, attributing meaning and significance to it, when the same phenomenon is similar to others experienced previously. However, there may also be problematic situations in which multiple interpretations compete to establish themselves as the true or legitimate. This competition is, first and foremost, anchored in language, which is the tool through which all interpretations, concepts, communications of an experience are made possible (Charon, 1998). These problematic situations can be framed, then, as disruptions of the habitualization, a process which refers to how

any action that is repeated frequently becomes cast into a pattern, which can then be reproduced with an economy of effort and which, ipso facto, is apprehended by its performer as that pattern. Habitualization further implies that the action in question may be performed again in the future in the same manner and with the same economical effort (Berger & Luckmann, 1966, p. 71 [original emphasis]).

The expression social constructionism is often used interchangeably with social constructivism. Although both terms share the same epistemic background, as they define the process of construction or inscription of knowledge, there are relevant differences between them. While social constructivism describes the process through which an individual experiences, makes sense of and reflects reality, social constructionism describes the process of collective modelling, practicing, and constructing knowledge artifacts. In other words, the user’s knowledge (constructivism) is a result of rational and rather theoretical abstraction, while the maker’s knowledge (constructionism) results from practical experiences and trial-error-method (Floridi 2011, p. 284). When deliberating on the constructions of learning outcomes or (under)achievement, both perspectives can offer fruitful insights (see also the entries Learning Outcomes and (Under)Achievement in this Glossary). While the emphasis on constructivism highlights the individual’s role in reflecting upon his or her educational achievements, the constructionist approach helps to grasp how “some groups successfully define a condition as problem within their society” (Kitsuse & Spector, 1973, p. 418). Learning outcomes can, thus, be seen as a phenomenon that requires individuals to ascribe a meaning to it (constructivist emphasis), as much as a social problem that has been defined, modelled, and hegemonically defined by some groups (constructionist emphasis).

Application in the CLEAR project

CLEAR’s overall approach has close ties with the notion of social construction. Indeed, CLEAR focuses on the processes of constructing learning outcomes, which are interpreted as the result of manifold intersecting factors and people. That is, learning outcomes are problematised as socially constructed, and not as natural, self-evident or taken-for-granted phenomena. Therefore, CLEAR will focus on how competing definitions and interpretations of learning outcomes are displayed, enacted and implemented at different levels. This process of un-naturalising learning outcomes becomes a basis for redefining them with a view on equity and inclusion.


Berger, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Doubleday & Company.

Charon, J. M. (1998). Symbolic Interactionism: an introduction, an interpretation, an integration. Prentice-Hall.

Floridi, L. (2011). A Defence of Constructionism: Philosophy as Conceptual Engineering. Metaphilosophy, 42(3), 282-304.

Kitsuse, J. I., & Spector, M. (1973). Toward a Sociology of Social Problems: Social Conditions, Value-Judgments, and Social Problems. Social Problems, 20(4), 407–419.


Tiago Neves, Jozef Zelinka

Social Exclusion/Inclusion

Social exclusion and inclusion refer to the degree in which individuals and social groups of a given society have access to rights, resources and opportunities to participate in its political, social, economic, and cultural spheres (see also the entry Opportunity Structures in this Glossary). While inclusion refers to membership of a community, social exclusion refers to non-membership. Both concepts are usually regarded as multidimensional, covering a wide range of realms of vulnerability that may impact groups and individuals with varying degrees (housing, health, political participation, income, territory, body, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.) (see also the entries Spatial Justice and Vulnerability in this Glossary). This gives rise to various forms of exclusion, such as exclusion from education, employment or social relations. However, despite its wide use in scholarly discussion across the scientific disciplines and policy rhetoric alike, there is no general agreement on the content and use of the term. On the contrary, it has been shown how different meanings of social exclusion are embedded in conflicting political ideologies with different understandings of the phenomenon, which, in turn, have resulted in different political programmes (Byrne, 1999).

Within the context of empirical research, social exclusion has been examined from the points of view of e.g., social structure, social groups, policies, and individuals. In the structural approach, the developmental trends and changes in the society resulting in the exclusion of individuals and certain social groups (financial recession, crisis of the welfare state etc.) are examined. When exclusion is studied at the level of social groups, the research tends to be more sectoral, focusing on a specific population identified as being in vulnerable positions, such as the long-term unemployed, refugees, NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training), etc. (see also the entry NEETs in this Glossary). From the individual perspective, social exclusion is typically examined as the accumulation of different excluding disadvantages in the person’s life course (Järvinen & Jahnukainen, 2016) (see also the entry Multi-Disadvantaged Youth in this Glossary). Critical policy analysis, in its turn, is interested in how target groups of policies are constructed in policy discourses and policy programmes.

Reducing young people’s social exclusion has become a major policy issue across Europe. A key division between the policies is whether their approach to disadvantage and social exclusion is individualizing or structural (Pohl & Walther, 2007; Parreira do Amaral & Zelinka, 2019). In an individualizing approach, disadvantage and social exclusion are attributed to deficiencies of individuals, and the policy focus is on boosting individuals’ characteristics, mostly employability. A structural approach, in its turn, connects disadvantage and social exclusion to inequalities in societal rights, resources and opportunities, and policies are designed to increase societal participation and membership (see also the entries Youth Participation and Youth Policy in this Glossary). In other words, the objective of inclusive policies is to improve the living conditions and societal opportunities of excluded groups and individuals so that they can be engaged in society as citizens with full human and social rights.

Application in the CLEAR project

In line with the overall objectives of the CLEAR project, we approach social inclusion and exclusion as phenomena that are constructed in the interaction of manifold intersecting factors, such as institutional arrangements, spatial and socio-economic determinants, discursive practices as well as individual dispositions and action. The project aims to promote social inclusion by actively engaging young people from vulnerable and multi-disadvantaged positions in identifying the main drivers and causes of their current situations. By adopting an innovative transversal participatory approach that creates opportunities for active involvement of young people and gives voice particularly to those in vulnerable situations, the aim is to design innovative policy solutions that prevent social exclusion and increase young people’s societal participation, overall well-being, and full civic inclusion.


Byrne, D., (1999). Social exclusion. Open University Press. 

Järvinen, T., & Jahnukainen, M. (2016). Now which of us are excluded? Conceptual examination of marginalization and social exclusion. In T. Hoikkala & M. Karjalainen (Eds.) Finnish youth research anthology 1999-2014 (pp. 547‒564). Finnish Youth Research Society / Finnish Youth Research Network.

Parreira do Amaral, M., & Zelinka, J. (2019). Lifelong learning policies shaping the life courses of young adults. An interpretative analysis of orientations, objectives and solutions. Comparative Education, 55(3), 404‒421.

Pohl, A., & Walther, A. (2007). Activating the disadvantaged: Variations in addressing youth transitions across Europe. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 26(5), 533‒553.


Tero Järvinen, Tiago Neves

Spatial Justice

Spatial Justice

The concept of spatial justice aims to properly consider the spatial dimension of social inequalities in contemporary societies. It underlines the socio-spatial differentiation in the fair distribution of opportunities, access to rights and public goods, and – in general – of positive and negative outcomes of social and institutional processes (see also the entry Opportunity Structures in this Glossary).

The concept of spatial justice entails a representation of space that goes beyond being a mere container of social relations, as it instead depicts complex socio-spatial relations, in which the space both influences and is influenced by social agents. Spatialized relations can have both negative and positive effects on individuals and groups, producing unfair distributions of opportunities: “Locational discrimination created through the biases imposed on certain populations because of their geographical location is fundamental in the production of spatial injustice and the creation of lasting spatial structures of privilege and advantage” (Soja, 2009, p. 3).

The concept was developed in the field of critical geography and urban studies – consistently with the spatial turn in social sciences – by scholars like David Harvey (1973), Edward W. Soja (2009, 2010) and Susan Fainstein (2010), with the aim to develop a standpoint for supporting actions to improve social equality in disadvantaged locales (Soja, 2010) – in light of the lessons by Henry Lefebvre (1968) on the right to the city (see also the entry Social Exclusion/Inclusion in this Glossary).

While many works in this field have a focus on large cities – as specific sites of inequalities – and urban planning, our understanding of the concept is that cities are not the one and only key site of spatial injustice. Other spatial and regional cleavages and forms of uneven development (e.g., urban/rural, inner and marginal areas/core areas, competitive and lagging regions) are key in differentiating life course, chances and opportunities, as well as in generating varying interactions with educational, training and labour market policies. Along this line, inter-regional spatial disparities are considered a major source of social and political instability for the EU (Iammarino et al., 2019).

Two strands of foci on spatial justice can be found in the research literature:

  • on the one hand, a distributive approach considers how public goods are allocated, accessible and available in different spaces, with the aim to achieve a fair redistribution of educational, health and labour opportunities;
  • on the other hand, a procedural approach takes into consideration how policy- and decision-making processes represent, design and manage measures – and their intended or unintended outcomes – in different locales, with the aim of disentangling representations of space in and spatially differentiated outcomes of (multilevel) arrangements and decisions.

When we turn to educational effects, learning outcomes may be affected by spatial dimensions before, during and after schooling. Neighborhoods/locales may cumulate economic, social, environmental and cultural disadvantages, with negative consequences on a range of individual life chances – usually reinforced (if not caused) by institutional dimensions: different locales receive unequal educational resources due to wealth, power, and connectedness factors that impact on the quality of teachers, school programs, out-of-school opportunities students might experience (e.g., Beach et al., 2018; Kettunen & Prokkola, 2022) (see also the entries Educational Inequality and Learning Outcomes in this Glossary).

“The political organization of space is a particularly powerful source of spatial injustice” (Soja, 2009): failing to provide adequate schooling facilities and opportunities, and producing exclusionary residential segregation and educational zoning are examples within the field of educational policy, severely affecting individual outcomes. Nevertheless, a sole focus on educational organization is not enough. The approach to spatial justice implies the need for a wider conceptualization of local (educational) spaces, that do not include educational institutions and policies only (Amos et al., 2016). This calls for an attention to a wider set of influencing factors on learning outcomes, both societal and institutional: e.g., environmental factors (including air quality and pollution), welfare services (healthcare, transportation, etc.), forms of spatial organization (level and type of local autonomy and multilevel arrangements), characteristics of the productive systems and of the labour market (economic sectors and innovation structuring the demand of work), demographic trends (migration flows, family arrangements).

Application in the CLEAR project

The focus on spatial dimension of (in)justice in education and its societal outcomes is a core feature of the CLEAR project. On the one hand, a focus on distributive dimension of educational opportunities and outcomes is aimed to advance evidences useful to support fine-grained representations for academic and policy-making purposes. Inter- and intra-national differences will be considered as a key feature in most working packages. On the other hand, a focus on representations of different locales by different agents, and their consequences on and for educational policies (e.g., Armstrong, 2012; Jones et al., 2016) will be relevant in most analyses. In this respect, the incorporation of multiple voices in our research is aimed to increase awareness and opportunities on the need for integration of people living in different contexts in decision-making.


Amos, K., Loncle, P., Martelli, A., Barberis, E., Becquet, V., & Theobald, U. (2016). Translation of Policy Instruments and Negotiation of Actors in Local School Spaces. In A. Walther, M. Parreira do Amaral, M. Cuconato & R. Dale (Eds.), Governance of educational trajectories in Europe: pathways, policy and practice (pp. 75-94). Bloomsbury.

Armstrong, F. (2012). Landscapes, spatial justice and learning communities. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 16(5-6), 609-626.

Beach, D., From, T., Johansson, M., & Ohrn, E. (2018). Educational and spatial justice in rural and urban areas in three Nordic countries. Education Inquiry, 9(1), 4-21.

Fainstein, S. (2010). The Just City. Cornell University Press.

Harvey, D (1973). Social Justice and the City. Edward Arnold.

Iammarino, S., Rodriguez-Pose, A., & Storper, M. (2019). Regional inequality in Europe: evidence, theory and policy implications. Journal of economic geography, 19(2), 273-298.

Jones, S., Thiel, J. J., Davila, D., Woglom, J. F., Zhou, X., Brown, T., & Snow, M. (2016). Childhood Geographies and Spatial Justice: Making Sense of Place and Space-Making as Political Acts in Education. American Educational Research Journal, 53(4), 1126-1158.

Kettunen, M., & Prokkola, E.-K. (2022). Differential inclusion through education: Reforms and spatial justice in Finnish education policy. Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, 40(1), 50-68.

Lefebvre, H. (1968). Le droit à la ville. Ellipses.

Soja, E.W. (2009). The city and spatial justice. Justice spatial / Spatial justice, 1, pp. 1-5.

Soja, E.W. (2010). Seeking spatial justice. University of Minnesota Press.


Eduardo Barberis, Ruggero Cefalo

Transitions (linear/non-linear)

Transitions (linear/non-linear)

The concept of transition refers to the idea of change and most often it is applied to the changes in an individual life course: from one life period to another, from one status or role to another (see also the entries Life Course and Life Trajectories in this Glossary). Transitions can be perceived as moments within a particular life trajectory characterized by accelerated changes, compared to the relative stability of stages (Levi et al., 2005). Youth is a dynamic life period with various transitions, for instance within education, from school to work, and from single life to marriage and parenthood.

Life course transitions take place in different ways and with a different logic in traditional and contemporary societies. Linear transitions are characterized by sequential passage of the individual through different life stages with the entry into specific life roles being supported by tradition. Due to cultural, economic, and social changes, tradition has been gradually replaced by the processes of individualization. Modern socio-economic changes have led to the standard biography, the relatively predictable and linear moves from youth to adulthood, being replaced with the biography of choice in which individual actions and personal choices become increasingly important in the construction process of their life paths while the stable context and traditions dissolve (du Bois-Reymond & López Blasco, 2003; Giddens, 1991) (see also the entry Biography in this Glossary). Thus, non-linear life transitions are becoming increasingly prevalent: transitions do not follow a strict sequence, an individual can make a transition but then has to return to the old life role, and they may be able to make only some of the “traditional” life transitions (Jones, 2009). The de-standardization of life transitions is also associated with the extended period of educational training, increasing labour market insecurity, and labour flexibilization (Wallace & Kovacheva, 1998).

While the youth are expected to individualize their lives by constructing educational and occupational trajectories based on their personal preferences and choices, the consequences of the choices are often unpredictable, and the choices are not always real in the sense that there might not actually be meaningful options available. Thus, some experts have challenged the assumption that the set of meaningful options has been expanding so much as, for instance, Giddens (1991) has interpreted (Furlong, 2009). In this vein, it is interesting to link the change from linear to complex transitions with the analyses of inequalities (see also the entries Educational Inequality, Gender and Intersectionality in this Glossary).

Application in the CLEAR project

Life transitions are important markers reflecting specific patterns of the individual life course construction. Emphasizing the concept of linear/non-linear transitions in the CLEAR project will help us to gain a better understanding of the nature of contemporary life transitions, their meaning for the individual, and their impact on individuals’ residence in different social spheres. The concept is important because it reflects the processes of an individual’s transition from one life stage to another, showing the importance of individual planning and life decisions made for the individual’s current life situation and life prospects. At the same time, we acknowledge that individual lives that consist of trajectories and transitions are constructed in a reciprocal process of political, social, economic, and spatial conditions, as well as welfare state regulations and provisions, in addition to biographical decisions and investments. We perceive high-quality learning outcomes to be those which enhance the ability of young people to develop personally meaningful life projects and make successful life transitions. The process of learning and its outcomes needs to be explored as embedded in the particular social context (time and place) in which the individual life unfolds (Mayer, 2009).


du Bois-Reymond, M., & López Blasco, A. (2003). Yo-yo transitions and misleading trajectories: towards Integrated Transition Policies for young adults in Europe. In A. López Blasco, W. McNeish & A. Walther (Eds.), Young people and contradictions of inclusion: Towards Integrated Transition Policies in Europe (pp. 19–42). Policy Press.

Furlong, A. (2009). Revisiting transitional metaphors: reproducing social inequalities under the conditions of late modernity. Journal of Education and Work, 22(5), 343–353.

Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and Self-Identity. Polity Press.

Jones, G. (2009). Youth. Polity.

Levi, R., Ghisletta, P., Spini, D., & Widmer, E. (2005). Why look at life courses in an interdisciplinary perspective? Advances in Life Course Research, 10, 3–32.

Mayer, K. U. (2009). New Directions in Life Course Research. Annual Review of Sociology, 35(1), 413–433.

Wallace, C., & Kovacheva, S. (1998). Youth in Society. The Construction and Deconstruction of Youth in East and West Europe. Macmillan and St. Martin’s Press.


Darena Hristozova, Xavier Rambla, Jenni Tikkanen

Transversal Participatory Approach

Transversal Participatory Approach

The integration of participatory approaches in Social Sciences Research questions how more traditional methodologies usually construct hierarchies and distribute power among the involved subjects (see also the entry Mixed-Method-Research in this Glossary). “Participatory research is not a single, unified methodology, but a problematic approach to research, which continues to make assumptions about knowledge-production and the value and worth of research” (Brown, 2022, p. 202). A central common trait among participatory approaches is the shifting of the role of participants from objects to subjects of research. Although from different perspectives, participatory methodologies such as the Participatory Action Research, Community Based Participatory Research (Cornwall & Jewkes, 1995) or Creative Methods (including performance-based methods and creative forms of elicitation approaches), they all challenge the dominant understanding of research as a top-down activity. Participatory approach changes the status of participants from mere information bearers – to be triggered by the stimulation of researchers – to co-producers of research (see also the entries Innovation Forums and Youth Participation in this Glossary). In terms of power, this does not imply a naïve assumption of a complete horizontality. On the contrary it fosters the acknowledgement of the consequences of stratification and power unbalances, that constitutes the basis from which different standpoints are placed in relation to reach a deeper understanding of society. A clear distinction of roles between researchers and participants, as partners who collaborate and cooperate with respect to shared objectives, is thus needed (see also the entry Open Science in this Glossary). 

Among the main risks in the application on participatory methods is the reproduction of unrealistic claim of horizontality, which leads to misleading assumption of exchangeable roles needed to be considered. Further, the promise of benefits that cannot be granted to participants should be monitored also, as well as the – more or less conscious – exploitation of asymmetries of power that potentially produce negative effects far beyond that of non-activation. Furthermore, inaccurate and inadequate settings for the application of participatory actions may cause deception, frustration, manipulation (e.g., researchers applying their skills to direct the participants towards desired outcomes, under the disguise of alleged horizontality), and extractivism, understood as an action of researchers appropriating the knowledge produced by the participants, without any form of restitution (Serafini, 2022). At the opposite, virtuous pathways of shared knowledge production and the creation of trust must be pursued throughout the research process.

Application in the CLEAR project

The Transversal Participatory Approach creates opportunities for an active involvement of different target groups at different stages of the research and dissemination activities. It provides settings where different actors in the educational arena as well as young people can actively discuss the project’s research results and identify the most relevant issues to be addressed by policy makers. The goal is to involve different actors in the research as critical fellows, and not merely as an audience to be targeted.

As one of main targets in CLEAR are youths in disadvantaged and/or vulnerable positions, we pay a further attention to aspects of potential risks and discomfort. We assume that those youths probably share a feeling of distance – and sometimes exclusion – from the institutions and, more broadly, from the world of adults. We therefore carefully invite youths to commit to a participatory process and make precautions in relation to perceived pressure.


Benasso, S., Bouillet, D., Neves, T., & Parreira do Amaral, M. (Ed.) (2022). Landscapes of Lifelong Learning Policies across Europe: Comparative Case Studies. Palgrave Macmillan.

Brown, N. (2022). Scope and continuum of participatory research. International Journal of Research & Method in Education, 45(2), 200-211.

Cornwall, A., & Jewkes, R. (1995). What is Participatory Research? Social Science & Medicine, 41(12), 1667-1676.

Giorgi, A., Pizzolati, M., & Vacchelli, E. (2021). Metodi creativi per la ricerca sociale. Contesto, pratiche e strumenti. Il Mulino, Bologna.

MacDonald, K. (2002). L’Intervention Sociologique after Twenty-Five Years: Can it Translate into English? Qualitative Sociology, 25(2), 247–260.

Parreira do Amaral, M., Kovacheva, S., & Rambla, X. (Ed.) (2019). Lifelong Learning Policies for Young Adults in Europe: Navigating between Knowledge and Economy. Policy Press.

Serafini, P. (2022). Creating Worlds Otherwise: Art, Collective Action, and (Post)Extractivism. Vanderbilt University Press.

Touraine, A. (2000). A method for studying social actors. Journal of World Systems Research, 6(3), 900–918.

von Benzon, N., Holton, M., & Wilkinson, C. (Eds.) (2021). Creative Methods for Human Geographers. Sage Publications Ltd.

Wright Mills, C. (1959). The Sociological Imagination. Oxford University Press.


Luca Raffini, Sebastiano Benasso, Cristina Cavallo




The concept of (under)achievement, or more precisely academic (under)achievement, has been a focus of research and policymaking at national and European level for many years. Academic (under)achievement is a recurring public discourse crisis and has been called the predominant rhetoric in education in recent years (Weiner et al., 1997). According to Whitmore (1980), it was the post-Sputnik self-excoriation in the late 1950s that brought the word to prominence. In general, (under)achievement refers to the ability, or rather inability of some students to reach certain levels of school attainment (see also the entry Learning Outcomes in this Glossary). When tackling this issue, there are several approaches to be distinguished.

A psychological approach to (under)achievement looks at the difference between actual and predicted attainment of an individual. This branch of research seeks to understand “why persons fail to achieve their potential or fail to meet expectations for performing at a level that they are capable of performing” (Levesque, 2011, p. 3025). In this vein, researchers define underachievement as “a discrepancy between ability or potential (expected performance) and achievement (actual performance) that cannot be explained by learning disability or the documented need for any other category of special education services” (Levesque, 2011, p. 3025). The psychological approach is, thus, interested in the individual’s abilities and skills which either match the expected outcomes or not. Hence, the adoption of a quasi-behaviouristic approach to learning outcomes largely overlooks the importance of pedagogical interactions and learners’ involvement in the learning activities on academic achievement, which provides useful information for educators. On the one hand, learners should have the opportunity to interact with educators and with other participants in order to increase their learning opportunities. On the other hand, educators should provide a learning environment in which participants are motivated and involved in the learning process.

A sociological approach, looks at the relative performance of groups of population and the differential attainment between them, contrasting, e.g., the performance of (students in given) schools against their socioeconomic background (see OECD, 2010). It seeks to understand, why certain groups differ in their academic achievement, explaining it on the ground of their different socio-economic status, religion, gender or geography (Harris et al., 2021, p. 5) (see also the entry Gender in this Glossary). Some researchers also see correlations between achievement and ethnicity/culture (Herrera et al., 2020) or between achievement and obesity (Gillies, 2008, p. 2). A core distinction here is made between achievement and attainment. While educational attainment is limited to the “level of academic performance, often expressed in quantifiable terms” (Gillies, 2008, p. 4), academic achievement is a much broader term transcending schooling and includes skills and abilities that are not quantifiable and visible in testing.

The research on Gifted Education has identified several factors commonly associated with underachievement, which are equally connected to the individual. Among them are low academic self-perception, low self-efficacy, low self-motivation, low goal valuation, negative attitudes toward school and teachers, and low self-regulatory or metacognitive skills (see Levesque, 2011, p. 3028). It has, however, pointed out to the fact that the group of underachievers is very heterogenous and that each student “may underachieve for a somewhat unique combination of reasons” (ibid.). In this regard it is difficult to distinguish what exactly leads to the discrepancy between ability and achievement, since “no reason exists to believe that all gifted students should achieve well academically (Janos & Robinson, 1985) or that ability and achievement should be perfectly correlated (Thorndike, 1963)” (Reis & McCoach, 2000, p. 154). Relying only on testing may be also misleading, as the “grades often do not reflect what students know” (Siegle, 2018, p. 287).

The issue of (under)achievement contains normative value judgements, as it presupposes that there is a standard or expected outcome against which the student is measured, which may itself cause difficulties to some groups of learners: “Should we identify individuals as underachieving because they choose not to perform in areas that they do not value and that are not of interest to them?” (Siegle, 2018, p. 288). In this regard, every form of reverse intervention, be it counselling or instructional intervention (Levesque, 2011, p. 3030), needs to acknowledge that (under)achievement can occur accidentally, either earlier or later in the academic or occupational career, that it appears as a combination of various selective factors, and that only some students develop a chronic pattern (cf. Levesque, 2011, p. 3027). Further, the focus on (under)achievement needs to be shifted more towards the socioeconomic composition of a school or territory, as well as towards the organization of academic activities (from curricula to pedagogics), to complement the strict individualistic explanation of (under)achievement (see also the entry Spatial Justice in this Glossary). To sum up, there are several conceptual difficulties with the notion of (under)achievement. On the one hand, identifying the criteria for achievement and underachievement is a complex and contested field. On the other hand, identifying (under)achievement or failure to reach one’s own potential is similarly awkward.

Application in the CLEAR project

In the CLEAR project, we use the term (under)achievement in brackets, in order to highlight its selective character and the fact that what counts as academic (under)achievement in one country or region may not apply the some in other contexts. Further, it is our goal to look beyond the simplistic logic of categorising students into achievers, over-achievers and low-achievers, and instead problematise the very construction of the term, its use in policy-making and in various learning environments and skills ecosystems. We look particularly at the manifold intersecting people and factors that cause some portions of students appear as underachievers, keeping in mind that academic achievement applies to a much broader set of abilities and skills, which are not depicted in quantified and measurable learning outcomes, but can equally contribute to pursuing a successful life course.


Gillies, D. (2008). Educational potential, underachievement, and cultural pluralism. Education in the North, 16, 1-22.

Harris, J., Purdy, N., Walsh, G., Jones, S., & Rowan, A. (2021). Educational Underachievement in Northern Ireland: Review of Research 2021. [Report]. Centre for Research in Educational Underachievement. Retrieved from

Herrera, L., Al-Lal, M., & Mohamed, L. (2020). Academic Achievement, Self-Concept, Personality and Emotional Intelligence in Primary Education. Analysis by Gender and Cultural Group. Frontiers in Psychology, 10(3075).

Levesque, R. J. (2011). Underachievement. In R. J. Levesque (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Adolescence (pp. 3025–3035). Springer.

OECD. (2010). PISA 2009 Results: Overcoming Social Background – Equity in Learning Opportunities and Outcomes (Volume II). [Report]. Retrieved from

Reis, S. M., & McCoach, D. B. (2000). The Underachievement of Gifted Students: What Do We Know and Where Do We Go? Gifted Child Quarterly, 44(3), 152-170.

Siegle, D. (2018). Understanding Underachievement. In S. I. Pfeiffer (Ed.), Handbook of Giftedness in Children (pp. 285–297). Springer.

Weiner, G., Arnot, M., & David, M. (1997). Is the future female? Female success, male disadvantage, and changing gender patterns in education. In A. Halsey, H. Lauder, P. Brown & A. Wells (Eds.), Education: culture, economy, and society (pp. 620–630). Oxford University Press.

Whitmore, J. R. (1980). Giftedness, conflict, and underachievement. Allyn & Bacon.


Marcelo Parreira do Amaral, Joseph König, Jozef Zelinka



In research literature, vulnerability has gained several meanings and understandings, which Brown et al. summarise in three clusters:

first, as an anthropological condition of humans and as a cultural trope about the problems of life in increasingly fragmented and unequal societies; second, as a policy and practice mechanism, which plays out in interventions, sometimes overtly and explicitly, sometimes subtly or unnoticed; and third as a more robust concept to facilitate social and political research and analysis (Brown et al., 2017, p. 498).

As an anthropological condition, vulnerability is ascribed to the individual as his or her given or natural state. However, this essentialising understanding does not account for the set of circumstances and situations that make the individual or group appear as (more or less) vulnerable (Luna, 2009, p. 128). Since, under specific conditions, everyone can experience a state of vulnerability, be it sickness, natural disaster, or sudden death of a close person. It is these vulnerant conditions and circumstances (Burghardt et al. 2017, p. 12) – also called stressors – that create the possibility of entering a vulnerable state. In this respect, vulnerability shall not be intended as an individual characteristic, but in relational terms, in connection with contextual social and institutional factors that contribute in the production of vulnerability (see also the entry Social Construction in this Glossary). Such factors might result from structural division of (educational, economic, labour market) opportunities, social and cultural traditions of a given region or country, as well as from institutional structures, which might open up or close one’s life chances (see also the entries Opportunity Structures and Spatial Justice in this Glossary). Thus, in social terms, we may understand vulnerability as the difficulty of individuals, groups, organizations and institutions to cope with negative consequences (in terms of opportunities and rights) of various – not rarely plural – vulnerant factors or stressors.

In policy-making, vulnerability often appears as an interpretive frame of educational policies targeting vulnerable and multi-disadvantaged groups (Parreira do Amaral & Zelinka, 2021) (see also the entry Multi-Disadvantaged Youth in this Glossary). The seemingly vulnerable condition of certain groups serves as legitimation to intervene with appropriate measures (Brown, 2017, p. 423), which results in policies constructing their target groups as vulnerable and promoting to assist them in pursuing their educational goals (see also the entry Youth Policy in this Glossary). In this respect, it is important to keep in mind the lesson by scholars like Judith Butler (2020) or Richard Sennett (2003) highlighting the fact that vulnerable people are not identified with their vulnerability – especially when categorized with institutional labels – in ways that may become stigmatizing and disrespectful for their dignity. Vulnerability shall not become a passivizing concept, but include also spaces for action and acts of resistance.

In welfare studies, vulnerability is often intended as a long-term, procedural perspective that takes into account factors affecting social participation other than money-metric measures of poverty (Alwang et al., 2001). In particular, vulnerability is used to describe rising uncertainty in global post-industrial societies, in which changes in key structures of contemporary societies (e.g., family structures, labour trajectories) resulted in a “growing diversity and less stability in the organisation of personal life” (Spini et al., 2013, p. 2) as much as in an increasing perception of risks for the social cohesion as such, since the welfare state coverage of risks becomes less effective. New social risks not covered by traditional welfare measures, the individualization of life courses and of related contingencies, the growth of social inequalities and the difficulties of welfare state to face them are deemed to increase vulnerability and insecurity (see also the entry Life Course in this Glossary). In particular, Robert Castel (2000) identifies four zones of social life – integration, vulnerability, assistance and disaffiliation – maintaining that the rise of social vulnerability increases the risk of dissociation from the social bond, when assistance and integration do not work.

Application in the CLEAR project

The CLEAR research project pays a particular attention to carefully determine the groups of young people, who are temporary and only under given conditions in a vulnerable situation, which makes them more prone to be seen as initially unwilling or incapable of learning (Oksala, 2015), as well as to understand potential future transformations of vulnerant factors and vulnerability. Young people in vulnerable and/or multi-disadvantaged situations are given voice and heard to in several participatory activities throughout the project to ensure that their experiences will contrast and/or complement the quantitative and institutional analyses.


Alwang, J., Siegel, P. B., & Jorgensen, S. L. (2001). Vulnerability: a view from different disciplines. [Discussion Paper]. Social Protection Discussion Papers and Notes 23304. The World Bank.

Brown, K. (2017). Introduction. Vulnerability and Social Justice. Social Policy & Society, 16(3), 423-427.

Brown, K., Ecclestone, K., & Emmel, N. (2017). Review Article. The Many Faces of Vulnerability. Social Policy & Society, 16(3), 497-510.

Burghardt, D., Dederich, M., Dziabel, N., Höhne, T., Lohwasser, D., Stöhr, R., & Zirfas, J. (2017). Vulnerabilität. Pädagogische Herausforderungen. Verlag W. Kohlhammer GmbH.

Butler, J. (2020). The Force of Nonviolence. Verso.

Castel, R. (2000). The Roads to Disaffiliation: Insecure Work and Vulnerable Relationships. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 24(3), 519-535.

Luna, F. (2009). Elucidating the Concept of Vulnerability: Layers not Labels. The International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics, 2(1), 121-139.

Oksala, J. (2015). Johanna Oksala on Foucault, Marx and Neoliberal Subjects. Theory, Culture, and Society. Retrieved November 11, 2022, from

Parreira do Amaral, M., & Zelinka, J. (2021). Vulnerabilität als (neues) europäisches bildungspolitisches Deutungsmuster? Ein Beispiel aus dem Bereich des Lebenslangen Lernens. In A. Koepfer, J. J. W. Powell & R. Zahnd (Eds.), International Handbook of Inclusive Education: Global, National and Local Perspectives (pp. 523–546). Verlag Barbara Budrich.

Sennett, R. (2003). Respect. Allen Lane.

Spini, D., Hanappi, D., Bernardi, L., Oris, M., & Bickel, J. F. (2013). Vulnerability across the life course: A theoretical framework and research directions. [Working Paper]. LIVES working papers, 2013(27), 1-35.


Jozef Zelinka, Eduardo Barberis, Georgios K. Zarifis

Youth Participation

Participation means being involved in the economic, cultural, and political processes that shape people’s lives, directly or indirectly exercising control on these processes and on the decisions that affect them. In a broader sense, we can define as participatory all the activities that are oriented to impact civil society or attempt to alter systematic patterns of social behaviour (Norris, 2002). More specifically, political participation unfolds within a given political system or organisation, where one takes part through a set of attitudes or concrete behaviours, seeking to influence socially binding decisions. Social participation is understood as a person’s involvement in community-based activities. A typical form of social participation is volunteerism. Hence, we can understand participation as an eminently instrumental activity, i.e., as aimed at the pursuit of specific interests, but also as an expressive activity, i.e., as one that has a symbolic and identifying value.

According to mediatic narratives, young people are disenchanted and increasingly sceptical about representative democracy and traditional forms of political organization. The weak public prominence of young people in the public sphere tends to correlate with their marginality and social vulnerability (see also the entry Vulnerability in this Glossary). The dominant understanding of young people as not interested and not involved in social and political participation is based, nonetheless, on a narrow conception of what it means to participate. Where the traditional tools for analysing participation fail is the capacity to read the changes which have interested the society at large, including the meanings, channels, and modes of participation. On the contrary, the forms of participation applied by contemporary youths are far more innovative, especially in the way how young people think about and engage in politics. They are “less institutionalized, and distanced from traditional political actors” (Pleyer, 2010, p. 141) (see also the entries Innovation Forums and Transversal Participatory Approach in this Glossary).

The process of individualization and the weakening of collective identities challenge the traditional channels of participation, and the displacement of politics outside the political system pushes toward the individual dimension and the every-day life. This becomes increasingly relevant especially for the new generations. Young people tend to be active in lifestyle politics that directly connect the individual to universal concerns, as well as in hybrid forms of participation placed on the margin between individual and collective, private and public. The political activation of youth is often invisible as it is rooted in informal, non-institutionalized, horizontal practices (see also the entry Youth Policy in this Glossary). Youth participation, once divorced from traditional collective social cleavages, is concerned with their personal autonomy, personally meaningful and individually oriented. Nevertheless, it is a kind of individualism which is compatible with collective engagement. The “reinvention of politics” in the age of individualization (Alteri et al., 2016) is framed by Micheletti & McFarland (2012) as a form of “individualized collective action” (i.e., political consumerism). According to Bennett & Segerberg (2013), collective action, based on the mobilisation of pre-existing collective identifications, gives way to connective action oriented towards connecting the individual dimension in a collective perspective. Youths are at the forefront of a “collaborative individualization”, defined “as a means of characterizing young people’s attempts to define their identities as simultaneously self-reliant and in need of support and collaboration” (Cuzzocrea & Collins, 2015).

In contemporary society, the spectrum of actions and practices by which young people can contribute to change the world and the environment in which they live have been transformed and pluralized. As a result, the concept of participation itself is worth rethinking. According to Crisholm & Kovacheva (2002) three dimensions of participation can be distinguished: 1) involvement in institutional politics, 2) protest activities, and 3) civic engagement, i.e., volunteerism or direct social action as defined by Bosi & Zamponi (2015). Young people tend to be more active in protest and civic engagement practices than in institutional politics (Pitti, 2018). A clear example of this is the mobilisation of young people in the Fridays for Futures global movement.

Behind the rhetoric about the political disinterest of young people and their low attitude to participation lies a wider process of deinstitutionalization and a “cultural disconnection” (Loader, 2007) between youth and institutions, as the latter seem unable to recognise and understand the needs and languages of young people. Youth participation thus calls us to question the individual and social conditions and characteristics that promote or inhibit activation, the spaces and tools available to young people to make their voices heard or take action, and also the resources available to them to do so. Finally, it prompts us to reflect on processes of institutional innovation, capable of incorporating the languages and modes of activation of young people.

Application in the CLEAR project

This is the critical approach adopted by CLEAR, as youths are involved as critical and meaningful actors, and not merely as an audience to be targeted. The Transversal Participatory Approach creates opportunities for an active involvement of different target groups at different stages of the research and dissemination activities. It provides settings where different actors in the educational arena as well as young people can actively discuss the project’s research results and identify the most relevant issues to be addressed by policy makers.


Alteri, L., Leccardi, C., & Raffini, L. (2016). Youth and the Reinvention of Politics. New Forms of Participation in the Age of Individualization and Presentification. Partecipazione e conflitto, 9(3), 717-747.

Bennett, W. L., & Segerberg, A. (2013). The Logic of Connective Action. Digital Media and the Personalization of Contentious Politics. Cambridge University Press.

Bosi, L., & Zamponi, L. (2015). Direct Social Actions and Economic Crises: The relationship between forms of action and socio-economic context in Italy. Partecipazione e conflitto, 8(2), 367-391.

Crisholm, L., & Kovacheva, S. (2002). Exploring the European Youth Mosaic: The Social Situation of Young People in Europe. Council of Europe Publishing.

Cuzzocrea, V., & Collins, R. (2015). Collaborative Individualization? Peer-to-peer Action in Youth Transitions, Young, 23(2), 136-153.

Loader, B. (Ed.) (2007). Young citizens in the digital age. Political engagement, young people and new media. Routledge.

Micheletti, M., & McFarland, A. (2012). Creative Participation. Responsability-taking in the Political World. Routledge.

Norris, P. (2002). Democratic Phoenix. Reinventing political activism. Harvard University Press.

Pitti, I. (2018). Youth and Unconventional Political Engagement. Palgrave Macmillan.

Pleyers, G. (2010). Alter-globalization. Becoming actors in the global age. Polity Press.


Luca Raffini, Cristina Cavallo, Francesca Zamboni

Youth Policy

Youth policy is a special field of policy designed and implemented at local, national and supranational level. The policies supporting young people aim at fostering their social inclusion through the provision of more opportunities for accessing quality education, employment, health and well-being services, and full civic participation (see also the entries Opportunity Structures, Social Exclusion/Inclusion and Youth Participation in this Glossary). Many other policy fields touch upon youth policy, such as lifelong learning, family, sports and cultural policies, which is why it is necessary to understand youth policies as a cross-sectoral field. The national youth policies in EU countries vary in their definitions of youth, in setting different age limits and, more importantly, in treating youth as a resource and/or as a problem for themselves and for the society in general. Similarly, the focus of local and national policies shifts between the empowerment of young people and their social protection as group in vulnerable situation (see also the entry Vulnerability in this Glossary).

Advanced by the White Paper on Youth (2001), the EU has supported and supplemented the youth policy actions on the national and local levels. The common strategies and programmes and the new European institutions, such as the Youth Partnership between the European Union and the Council of Europe, enrich the scope and improve the cooperation and coordination of youth policies (without any harmonization of national legislation) (see also the entry Policy Coordination in this Glossary). The current EU Youth Strategy for the years 2019-2027 places youth participation at the centre stage by 1) promoting the participation of young people in civic and democratic life, 2) connecting young people across the EU and beyond to foster voluntary engagement, learning mobility, solidarity and intercultural understanding, and 3) supporting youth empowerment through quality, innovation and recognition of youth work.

Application in the CLEAR project

The research themes of CLEAR will inform on several aspects of youth policies. To start with, youth policies often attempt to impinge on educational achievement by opening opportunities for the most disadvantaged youth. Similarly, youth policies cut across two crucial policy areas that affect the achievement of certain learning outcomes, namely education and employment. Other entries (see the entries Opportunity Structures, Policy Coordination, Skills Ecosystems in this Glossary) discuss the coordination of these policies, which contribute to shape skills ecosystems and opportunity structures. However, one of the most distinctive themes of the project will shed new light on significant aspects of youth policies to the extent that participatory research on (under)achievement will bring the voice of young people themselves to the forefront.


Chevalier, T., & Loncle, P. (2021). Introduction: The Development of Youth Policies in Europe in Past Decades. Youth and Globalization, 3(1), 1-11.

European Youth Portal. (2022). Welcome Aboard!

Ghailani, D., Peña-Casas, R., Coster, S., & Regazzoni, P. (2021). Access to social protection for young people. An analysis of policies in 35 countries. European Social Policy Network (ESPN). Publications Office of the European Union.

Lonean, I., Braziene, R., & Taru, M. (2020). Youth Policy Evaluation Review. [Report]. Youth Partnership. Retrieved November 15, 2022, from

Moxon, D., Bacalso, C., & Șerban, A. (2021). Beyond the pandemic: The impact of COVID-19 on young people in Europe. Brussels. European Youth Forum.

Nico, M., Taru, M., Potočnik, D., & Salikau, A. (Eds.) (2017). Needles in haystacks. Finding a way forward for cross-sectoral youth policy. Council of Europe Publishing.

Rambla, X., Bouillet, D., & Petkova, B. (2020). Young adults as a target group of lifelong learning policies: a standard approach to diverse contexts. In M. Parreira do Amaral, S. Kovacheva & X. Rambla (Eds.), Lifelong Learning Policies for Young Adults in Europe. Navigating between Knowledge and Economy (pp. 65-84). Policy Press.

Williamson, H., Fras, M., & Lavchyan, Z. (2021). About time! A reference manual for youth policy from a European perspective. Edited by T. Basarab & H. Williamson. Council of Europe Publishing.


Xavier Rambla, Siyka Kovacheva