Jones’ (2002) discussion of polarised transitions and the ‘fast and slow lanes to adulthood’ espoused by Bynner et al. (2002) are good examples of how dualistic language often permeates youth transitions discourses. This often results in transitions research concentrating on a dichotomy of experience during the youth phase. The primary purpose of this article is to develop the argument for the inclusion of detailed documentation and analysis of the transitions of intermediate groups who fall between the lines of this dualism. These young people constitute a ‘missing middle’ in relation to youth studies and UK educational policy. To support this argument, the paper turns to the results of a qualitative study of 18–24-year-old, male, front-line, retail employees in the South-East of England to illustrate how some young people do not find themselves neatly situated on one side of such categorical cleavages. These young men are following neither a NEET (not in education, employment or training) pathway nor a ‘tidy’, government preferred, route through post-compulsory education. Thus, studying such seemingly ordinary young people can contribute towards developing a more holistic understanding of youth in the contemporary period.
Keywords: polarisation, fast-track transitions, missing middle, ordinary youth, social change
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