Julius Elster

The role of different reflexive orientations in identity formation and negotiation among youth in Tottenham


Supervisor: Dr Justin Cruikshank and Dr Ross Abbinnett

While a wide body of literature exists on structural factors as determinants in explaining pathways of youth in Tottenham since the England Riots of 2011, young people’s heterogeneous experiences in relation to identities and stereotypical images have lacked similar scrutiny. My research project is intended to fill this gap in sociology and youth studies literature by putting forward a conceptualisation of reflexivity that focuses on the mediatory processes—linking social context to individual identity formation through the reflexive subject—and the “embeddedness” of reflexive orientations. In construing reflexivity this way, the study aims to open up novel pathways for understanding youth-identity formation and the emergence of self-stereotyping.

My study applies a variety of qualitative methods, including interpretative phenomenological analysis, that examines young people (N = 16; 16–24 years of age) drawn from four youth organisations operating in the Tottenham wards (London Borough of Haringey). In shedding light on how different reflexive orientations may evoke or prevent self-stereotyping behaviours, the research findings are not only hoped to contribute to empirical knowledge of Tottenham’s youth, but also provide a new (ontological) understanding of young people’s reflexive treatment of identity, features that have yet to be treated in combination.


As a project manager, I have the past decade been the instigator of many valuable and award-winning outreach, education and employability projects in north and east London. My academic trajectory, on the other hand, took shape a bit later. Since 2010, I have been zigzagging between academia and my aspiration to build social cohesion and education opportunities in north London.

After graduating with an MSc in Philosophy of the Social Sciences from London School of Economics (where I obtained an overall Distinction), University of Birmingham offered me a Government and Society fees and bursary scholarship to pursue a PhD in Sociology. Besides being a doctoral researcher, I am currently in the editorial team of The New Birmingham Review and a teaching associate for the following sociology course: Social Worlds and the Sociological Imagination.


  • BA Politics, Philosophy and History (Birkbeck College, University of London)
  • MSc Philosophy of the Social Sciences (Distinction) (London School of Economics)

Research interests

My main field of study is contemporary sociology and social theory, where I primarily focus on life course studies, identity formation, qualitative methods and the concept of reflexivity. I draw on a specific construal of reflexivity, by borrowing from phenomenologically inspired sociology, with the intention of examining, among other things, young people's subjective experiences vis-à-vis their life trajectory and identity.

Additional research interest comprises philosophy of the social sciences and sociological theories influenced by phenomenology and social mechanisms literature; especially, I am interested in different approaches to social ontology and topics such as social embeddedness, levels of analysis and structure–agency distinction.

Professional memberships

  • British Sociological Association
  • Norsk Sosiologforening (Norwegian Sociological Association)
  • European Network for the Philosophy of the Social Sciences (ENPOSS)
  • Centre for Social Ontology

Conference papers

  • Subjective experiences of youth living in poverty: reflexive orientations and the process of self-stereotyping
    Child and Youth Poverty: Contexts, Concepts and Consequences, University of Leeds, September 2016
  • The predicate–property distinction: a reconciliation of intra-activity and social embeddedness
    European Network for the Social Sciences, University of Helsinki, August 2016
    http://www.helsinki.fi/tint/enposs2016#program DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.34373.45287
  • Youth-identity formation and reflexive orientations through a phenomenological perspective
    Reflexivity Forum, Centre for Social Ontology, University of Warwick, May 2016
  • The heterogeneity of young people in Tottenham: lived experiences and reflexive orientations, Concepts, contexts and comparisons in youth studies, Serbia, September 2018 


  • Julius Elster [forthcoming book chapter] Reflexivity as a mediatory mechanism and the iterative process of experience
  • Julius Elster (2017) The temporal dimension of reflexivity: linking reflexive orientations to the stock of knowledge, Distinktion: Journal of Social Theory, Vol. 18: 3, 274-293, DOI: 10.1080/1600910X.2017.1397527

Contact details:

Twitter: @JuliusElster
ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5255-8266
LinkedIn: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/juliuselster
ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Julius_Elster
Academia: https://bham.academia.edu/JuliusElster
Google Scholar: https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=beEhn4sAAAAJ&hl=en
Mendeley: https://www.mendeley.com/profiles/julius-elster/
ResearcherID: http://www.researcherid.com/rid/T-1248-2017