ERG SES D 12, Social Aspects of Education
Higher education (HE) institutions are often thought to rejuvenate and replenish local labor markets with recent graduates, especially in rural locales where highly educated populations are dwindling (Hansen, 2007). However, individuals who have completed HE generally migrate from less populated areas to urban regions (HSV, 2011). While some student groups may stay in the area of their alma mater, others return home or to other areas. An investigation using a ‘social space’ lens provides an interesting analysis for understanding which student groups stay versus leave and the circumstances that facilitate their decisions.
Thus, the primary research question this papers aims to answer is: How does current research on HE graduate employment and migration incorporate implicit and explicit conceptions of social space?
Research on HE graduate migration and employment has often been linked to regional economics, labor markets, and educational pathways. Individual and familial demographics and relationships have also been key elements of analysis to understand patterns of HE graduate migration. Background factors such as gender, social class, and home region have a role in forming students’ perceptions of employment opportunities and ultimately have a role in their employment and migratory decisions (Kivinen, Ahola, & Hedman, 2001; Wikhall, 2002; Williams, 2009). An analysis of these factors in terms of social space, can provide insight on the differing experiences and subsequent choices of HE graduates’ migration within and between gender, class, and regional populations.
Most modern social theories used in such analyses discount the significance of the concept of space (Sayer, 2000; Urry, 1991), which can influence the identification of causality and overall research outcomes. When space has been considered, mapping and measuring has been the focus instead of individual or group pathways or attachments (Moss, 2006).
Thus, the aim of this paper is to identify how social space is conceived in current research on HE graduate migration in Sweden and other European regions. Conducting this type of analysis is important in order to gain insight on how the consideration of social space in educational research, particularly on HE graduate migration patterns, can contribute to understanding the relationship between social demographic factors and broader social, economic, and political relationships.
To accomplish this task, current literature on HE graduate employment and migration is examined from the perspective of social space. While physical space is commonly conceived as geographical boundaries, cities, or households, social space refers to people and their relationships. There is overlap in the conception of physical and social space in that individuals’ views of space are socially mediated interpretations (Sayer, 2000) and are influenced by relationships of power (Moss, 2006). Feminist researchers have also been concerned with how space shapes women’s experiences (Moss, 2006). To conceptualize the notion of social space, Lefebrvre’s (1991) three concepts of space as socially produced serve as the theoretical guide for this paper. These concepts can be operationalized for the analysis of literature on HE graduates’ employment and migration decisions as follows (the examples in this list are not exhaustive):
- Spatial practice: The way regional labor markets are organized, such as legal stipulations for business start-ups, unemployment and growth figures, and local industry types.
- Representations of space: Graduates’ geographical origin, social relationships with family and friends, and emotional attachments to people and places.
- Representational space: Students’ pathways through higher education, including the location and focus of their prior studies, academic involvement, and achievements.
Hansen, H. K. (2007). Technology, Talent and Tolerance - The Geography of the Creative Class in Sweden Lund: Lunds University. HSV (2011). Universitet & högskolor. Högskoleverkets årsrapport 2011 [SwedishUniversities & University Colleges - Annual Report 2011] (No. 2011:8 R). Stockholm: National Agency for Higher Education. Kivinen, O., Ahola, S., & Hedman, J. (2001). Expanding Education and Improving Odds? Participation in Higher Education in Finland in the 1980s and 1990s. Acta Sociologica, 44(2), 171-181. Lefebvre, H. (1991). The production of space. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd. Moss, D. (2006). Gender, space and time: Women and higher education. Oxford: Lexington Books. Sayer, A. (2000). Realism and social science. London: SAGE Publications Ltd. Urry, J. (1991). Time and space in Giddens’ social theory. In C. Bryant & D. Jary (Eds.), Giddens’ theory of structuration: A critical appreciation. London: Routledge. Williams, N. (2009). Education, gender, and migration in the context of social change. Social Science Research, 38, 883-896. Wikhall, M. (2002). Culture as Regional Attraction: Migration Decisions of Highly Educated in a Swedish Context (No. 2002:13). Stockholm: SISTER.
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