Symbolic mobility capital to fight the social stigma of staying: how young adults re-imagine narratives of ‘leaving’ during higher education

Eva Mærsk, Annette Aagaard Thuesen, Tialda Haartsen*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Although the outmigration choices of young adults from peripheral to urban regions to attend higher education have been researched extensively, young adults’ decisions to stay in, nearby, or return to, the peripheral home region have received less attention. This paper explores how young adults who are engaged in higher education re-imagine narratives related to notions of ‘leaving’ in their mobility biographies to justify their choice to stay in or return to their peripheral home region. We conducted in-depth interviews with postgraduate students in peripheral regions in Denmark and the Netherlands. Our findings confirm the existence of a mobility imperative for young adults in peripheral regions reproduced by both our participants and their social relations. However, we additionally find that young adults re-imagine narratives of ‘leaving’ which simultaneously correspond with contemporary discourses on place and residential mobility in the form of valuing (dis)connection to place, experiencing urban lifestyles, and life phase transitions, but which also open up possibilities for re-evaluating the attractiveness of often stigmatized peripheral regions. We suggest that narratives of ‘leaving’ during higher education help young adults to build what we call ‘symbolic mobility capital’ to mitigate the negative connotations related to living in a peripheral region.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-169
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Youth Studies
Issue number2
Early online date6-Oct-2021
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Identity
  • leaving
  • peripherality
  • staying
  • student life

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