The story of this volume unfolds like a fairy tale. Once upon a time, a fairy sent a letter to a professor at one of Europe's smallest universities. The recipient was a Swiss social psychologist who was preparing to celebrate the centenary of a compatriot, Jean Piaget, a major developmental psychologist. His prominence was fading in his own country both because of an increasing emphasis on technological and economic problems and because of a diminished concern for the education of youth. This was occurring despite the overwhelming presence of inquisitive young people in the social science departments, who sought help in making meaning of their seemingly ever-changing world; in reflecting on intergenerational relationships, social bonds, and individual autonomy; in trying to understand their cultural diversity and historical heritage; and in worrying about the future.
Upon opening the letter, the professor thought she was dreaming. It was an invitation to “secure the help of two or three colleagues in convening at Marbach Castle a group of 40 scientists of your choice, young promising researchers and confirmed senior scientists from all over the world, to work on an issue that is of primary importance for young people's future.” I was the professor, the “fairy” was Klaus J. Jacobs, and the magic wand was the Johann Jacobs Foundation, well known for supporting important innovative projects and encouraging worldwide communication among scientists. A series of annual conferences on youth, sponsored previously by the Johann Jacobs Foundation, had resulted in important publications (e.g. Bandura, 1995; Petersen & Mortimer, 1994; Rutter, 1995).