The political socialization of adolescents. An exploration of citizenship among sixteen to eightteen year old Belgians
Faculty of Social Sciences. Political Sciences
Leuven :K.U.Leuven, 2010
The concept of citizenship has been omnipresent in the political science literature for the last two decades. Many authors point to a number of societal changes that could have important influences on the relation between the individual and his/her political community. Three elements are ubiquitous in this literature: national identification, the ideal of a participating and active citizen, and, finally, the acceptance of co-citizens with a different ethno-cultural background. In this dissertation, we analyze how individuals themselves perceive their role as citizens. To study the evolution of these attitudes, we looked at adolescents because this is an age group identified in socialization literature as undergoing important changes on these attitudes. Several socialization agents interact with the adolescent and possibly influence this process. The three most important ones are the parents, the peer-group, and the school. For the empirical section of this dissertation, a paneldataset was collected in 112 Belgian schools chosen on the basis of a stratified sampling method. Over 4000 young people were interviewed in 2006 (average 16 years of age) and 2008 (average 18 years of age). The results contradict a number of assumptions of the theoretical literature. For national identification, we do not find people turning away from the nation-state. We do see that different identifications are combined; some young people will identify more with sub-national communities whereas others will have a more supranational identification. On the attitudes concerning good active citizenship we see a similar multifaceted picture of young people arise. Three different concepts of active citizenship seem to co-exist: one with emphasis on conventional forms of participation, one with more civic engagement, and, finally, one with focus on law-abiding behaviour. In the analysis of attitudes concerning prejudice, we found that citizenship does not really live up to its function as a status that can overarch heterogeneity in the population. Young people with an exclusively Belgian background (by birthplace of the parents) consider citizens from other ethnic groups clearly as an ‘out-group’. They do not feel close to these groups and most young people can for example not imagine themselves dating someone from these out-groups. We see that the two language regions show great difference in social aspects of prejudice (‘feeling close’ or ‘dating someone’) but not on more general ethnocentric statements. This is equally the case for the educational level of the respondents. The analyses on the school-level show us that diversity in the school has an effect on the attitudes concerning out-groups. However, this effect is strongly influenced by the intergroup atmosphere of the school itself. When tensions are present in the school, diversity can even strongly deteriorate the opinions about out-groups. Diversity at school in itself therefore shows not to be a sufficient condition to improve attitudes on out-groups, it has to be supplemented by a positive intergroup atmosphere or it could even turn out to be counterproductive. In an extensive separate chapter, the evolution of these attitudes between 16 and 18 years is analyzed. The interaction patterns of the young person with the parents, peer-group, and school were also included in these analyses. The results show a very high degree of stability both in the structure of the attitudes and in their absolute level. On the aggregated level, there is in some cases not even a statistical difference between both age groups. On the individual level, we do see some amount of change between sixteen and eighteen years of age. The influence of the socializing agents on this evolution appeared to differentiate depending on the citizenship attitudes. Parental interaction showed only influence on attitudes of active citizenship whereas interaction with peers only relates to the identification attitudes of the adolescent. School can influence attitudes in several ways, of which a democratic school climate seemed to be the most effective. This last variable influences all the citizenship dimensions researched in this dissertation except the likelihood to date someone from an out-group.