In search for significance

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In search for significance: Fostering movement across the five worlds of adolescents

The In Search for Significance project is funded by the Academy of Finland (2019–2023). It seeks to identify and test ways in which adolescents can find and cultivate significance in their lives, understood as perspectives and actions that connect the adolescents’ personal interests with activities and projects for a just and equitable world.

In this project funded by the Academy of Finland (2019–2023), we seek to identify and test ways in which adolescents can find and cultivate significance in their lives, understood as perspectives and actions that connect the adolescents’ personal interests with activities and projects for a just and equitable world. The adolescents will take the position of agents actually redesigning their activities by means of projects. This will be accomplished with the help of Change Laboratory interventions conducted in two schools. The 14-year old middle-school students will be the central agents of change.

Phelan & al. (1998) identified three worlds of adolescents: family, peers, and the school. What matters is how the youngsters manage transitions between the three worlds. This project draws on cultural-historical activity theory and significantly expands Phelan’s model. We recognize two additional spheres of activity in the lives of young people, namely social media and civic activity. The search for significance is an expansive process of learning. It requires the overcoming of encapsulation of the worlds by cultivating projects selected and designed by the adolescents.

The project seeks to answer the following research questions:

  1. What kinds of individual and collective trajectories of development emerge when adolescents envision and put in practice local initiatives that give significance to their lives?
  2. Which instruments are effective in facilitating movement across the five activity spheres of the adolescents in search for significance?
  3. In which ways does the Change Laboratory method need to be adjusted and further developed to allow the adolescents to become authors of their own lives?

The first Change Laboratory is conducted in the Pitäjänmäki school in Helsinki in the fall of 2020. The participants are 8th grade students. The project will trace and identify different trajectories of search for significance among the participants. The analysis will focus on the participants’ actions and instruments of boundary-crossing across their different spheres of activity. The project will generate a new, interventionist model for promoting sustained search for significance among adolescents.