“Theoretical Experiments in the Sociology of Youth” 2015 Symposium Program

TASA Sociology of Youth Thematic Group 2015 Symposium

Friday the 27th of November, 9:00am-5pm Cairns Institute – Room D3.063, Cairns, QLD, Australia.

This symposium is open to all TASA members. Please email Paula at pgeldens@swin.edu.au if you are planning to attend.

Current conceptual debates within youth studies often focus on the critical counterbalancing of concepts based on an established set of theoretical positions. Examples of these debates include social change / social continuity, reflexivities / habitus, transitions / generations, or subcultures / post-subcultures and structure / agency. While these debates have provided a fruitful means by which to explore the changing dynamics of young people’s lives, there is the risk that they become taken for granted as the theoretical positions that define youth studies. In a time when the taken for granted assumptions of sociology are being destabilised by theoretical challenges from a range of different ontological and disciplinary perspectives, opportunity exists to open new theoretical spaces within the field. In this context, this symposium invites contributions which experiment with new ways of understanding youth. Our aim is to allow the exploration of agendas in youth studies that go beyond the binaries that currently structure debate in this field. To this end, the symposium provides a space for exploring new and perhaps ‘risky’ ideas and projects, or engaging with perspectives not currently recognised within youth studies.


Session 1. 9:00-10:30

Andy Bennett – Youth clowning: Humour, play and the carnivalisation of risk in contemporary youth culture.

Zoe Armour – ‘Getting Ready’: Seasoned Clubbers, Memory and Style.

Natalie Hendry – The body as a metaphor for social media: Beyond representing experience and/or enacting affective practices.

Philippa Collin and Theresa Swist – ‘Soft power’: A theoretical and analytical lens to explore youth affinities in the digital age

Session 2. 10:45-12:15

Matt Hartt – Intimacy on the Edge: Youth Edgework and Sociality on Tumblr

Annette Bromdal – Intersex and Transgender Concerns in Sport Sociology

Mauro Giardiello – The generational perspective for the analysis of public space

Bronwyn Wood – Youth studies, citizenship and transitions: Intersections, divergences and new theoretical spaces

Lunch. 12:15-1:15

Session 3. 1:15-2:45

Navid Sabet – Unsettling policy and policing the unsettled: theory-method between Foucault and Deleuze

Pam Nilan – Indonesian environmental activists as ‘becoming minoritarian’.

David Farrugia and Julia Coffey – Assembling Youth

Session 4. 3:00-4:30

Panel on ‘Constructions of Young people and Belonging’ Critical Studies of Young People Research Group, Deakin University

Christine Halse, Catherine Hartung, Claire Charles and Rosalyn Black – Young people’s views on asylum seekers and national belonging

Roslyn Black and Catherine Hartung – Scales of belonging: the macro and microgeographies of young people’s citizenship

Emma Charlton, Leanne Coll, Lyn Harrison and Debbie Ollis – The incidental and purposeful: problematising a pedagogy of belonging


Andy Bennett (Griffith University) Youth clowning: Humour, play and the carnivalisation of risk in contemporary youth culture

This paper examines the significance of forms of youth cultural behaviour centered around comically intended, yet often physically dangerous, stunts and pranks, such as shopping trolley racing and bush diving. The paper introduces the term ‘youth clowning’ as a means of describing and analysing such practices. Drawing on Beck’s (1992) notion of risk and Bakhtin’s (1984) concept of carnival, it is argued that the act of youth clowning serves to carnivalise issues of risk and uncertainty through engaging in potentially risky activities but transforming them into an idiot spectacle. The final part of the paper considers how the act of youth clowning has been

celebrated and simultaneously transformed into a global form of youth cultural practice through various forms of media, including television, cinema and the internet.

Zoe Armour (De Montfort University, UK) ‘Getting Ready’: Seasoned Clubbers, Memory and Style

In 1990s Britain, clubbing became a ‘spectacular subculture’ where thousands of ‘clubbers’ (Thornton, 1995) attended ‘super-club’ (Pemberton, 1995) events, such as Gatecrasher (Sheffield) and smaller local dance music venues for example Flamin’ Colossus (Leicester). This paper explores the retrospective accounts of male and female ‘seasoned clubbers’ in their thirties through the use of semi-structured interviews. These individuals participated in what I call ‘the matrix of the clubbing life-world’ in their late teens and early twenties. It focuses on the sartorial aspects of ‘going clubbing’ in relation to the consumption activities and preparations of ‘getting ready’ and the geographies of ‘socialisation’ taking place in the everyday and within the club that constitute a lifestyle choice.

For the purpose of this analysis, I examine a ‘get involved’ scenario where clubbers enacted a form of ‘loose-copying’ through temporary cross interactions with regular scene members. The role of niche magazines, televised programs, and film footage have similarly, been a source of inspiration. The environment of the club space, motorway services, and after-club places became ‘temporary style zones’ for sharing ‘like-minded’ creative expressions. Clubbers could observe one another and have conversations in which they exchanged information on where to buy materials and props. What this reveals is a rich and complex DiY project of individual and collective behaviour that is part of a larger narrative of ‘fitting-in’ and ‘belonging’ in the dance music world.

Natalie Hendry (RMIT) The body as a metaphor for social media: Beyond representing experience and/or enacting affective practices.

The visuality of social media affords representations of the mental illness for young people; the invisibility of mental illness becomes visible, as users upload, share and re-blog memes, animated gifs and digital images. At the same time, young people’s social media practices are also practices of affect, they enact distress, confusion, and hope through likes, comments, re-blogs and curation. Understanding young people’s social media use in this way suggests a binary between representative and discursive approaches, and affect and non-representational approaches. However, as Cho (2015, p. 45) suggests, affect and representation “should not be thought of as opposite, but rather as interrelated: affect is the condition of surplus and intensity; representational language is a system of codes and containment”. Setting up representation and affect

in opposition does little to reflect how social media connects young people experiencing mental illness through visual practices of affect. Further, ignoring the assumptions that underlie this binary has implications for how we respond to assumptions about young people’s wellbeing, risk and social media.

As one way of working through this binary, visual methods have been used to access affect in social research. This suggests that engaging with, and making, images may better reveal what cannot be spoken, as it is felt, experienced and sensed. Visual approaches project a sense of (literally) drawing or visualising one’s feelings onto or up to the surface of a physical or digital body: on paper, a screen, or the skin. However, they may also end up reproducing representational approaches, to simply represent affect rather than engage with practices of affect. Trying to move away from the binary in question becomes unstuck in the reality research methods. In this paper, I outline my attempts to move away from reproducing representation and non-representation as a binary. I work through the entanglement of representational and non-representational approaches to young people, mental illness and social media, both theoretically and practically. I draw on experience facilitating workshops using visual methods with young people experiencing mental ill-health, as a teacher and researcher. Outlining workshop practice, I advocate that the body as a metaphor for social media may be useful as a visual and affective probe (Boehner, Gaver, & Boucher, 2012) that allows participants to represent their experiences of mental illness, while also allowing participants to enact or re-experience affective processes in the workshop space.

Philippa Collin and Teresa Swist (Western Sydney University) ‘Soft power’: A theoretical and analytical lens to explore youth affinities in the digital age

This session will explore the possibilities of the term ‘soft power’ to open up theoretical and analytical spaces in youth studies. While recognising the importance of established positions in the field, there are opportunities to discover innovative concepts and tools for understanding the nuances and affinities of youth practices in the digital age. Political scientist Joseph Nye describes ‘hard power’ as a form of direct power that rests upon inducements and coercion; in contrast, ‘soft power’ is a form of indirect power that stems from cooperation and shared endeavours. While the terms originate and have been developed across the discipline of international relations, we are interested in exploring these flows of power specifically in relation to youth studies and participation in the digital age.

As a theoretical concept, the notion of ‘soft power’ offers new ways of understanding the different gradations of power which circulate in the digital age and influence young people’s identity formation and expression. Explored in this session are the flows of power operating within ‘networked publics’ (boyd 2011) with a specific

focus upon new forms of governing, such as social marketing campaigns, aimed at the promotion of young people’s safety and wellbeing. Exploring the interrelationship between social marketing campaigns, young people’s health and wellbeing practices and ‘soft power’ seeks to highlight to researchers, policy-makers and practitioners the ways in which cultural and social norms are enmeshed with digital media use – as well as unfold in diverse ways.

The challenge of cultural analysis is to “develop translation and mediation tools for helping make visible differences of interests, access, power, needs, desires, and philosophical perspective” (Fischer 2007, p. 1). ‘Soft power’ offers this visibility, by way of tracing how shared understandings and goals unfold across young people’s everyday contexts and experiences. We articulate how informal, associational ‘soft power’ intermingles closely with formal, unidirectional, ‘hard power’ – plus the challenges and opportunities which emerge from these power relations. Applying this lens to the context of youth wellbeing discourses and practices helps us to critique the granularity, data and power relations embedded within contemporary communicative flows. This approach has the potential to open up new ways of recognising the lived experience and affinities of young people in the digital age – as well as richly inform intergenerational dialogue. We suggest ‘soft power’ as a lens to extend and experiment productively with established theoretical and analytical spaces across the fields of youth studies and digital media.

Matt Hart (Western Sydney University) Intimacy on the Edge: Youth Edgework and Sociality on Tumblr

Intimacy is being played out in a variety of ways through the digital, from what Payne (2015) refers to as ‘promiscuous network culture’ to what Berlant (2008) calls an ‘intimate public’. Young people in particular are sharing their lives online in ways that call into question our understandings of risk, sociality, and intimacy. One space in which such complex negotiations can be observed is Tumblr, a visually-driven social media platform. This paper presents the findings of a study of 25 young people, aged 18 to 25, who share not safe for work (NSFW) ‘selfies’ on Tumblr. Following the work of Lyng (1990, 2005), I argue that sharing NSFW selfies on Tumblr constitutes a form of ‘edgework’ or voluntary risk-taking. Rather than position young people as being vulnerable, I argue that such practices build resilience and well-being. The findings also suggest that notions of ‘virtual’ or ‘online’ community are limited in their ability to account for the ways sociality plays out in Tumblr’s diffuse environment. Users adopt pseudonymous identities and often obfuscate their connections to others. I propose instead that the belonging experienced by young nsfw-selfie posters on Tumblr resonates with the sociological concept of the neo-tribe (Maffesoli 1996; Bennett 1999).

Annette Bromdal (University of Southern Queensland) Intersex and Transgender Concerns in Sport Sociology

Myths and ignorance regarding intersex and transgender sometimes result in their bodies inhabiting the space of being ‘deviant’, ‘non-biological’, ‘different’ and ‘non-natural’ (Jarvie, 2012, p. 300) within and outside the realm of sport sociology. Drawing on Grant Jarvie’s (2012, p. 300) notion that “the body remains central to the struggles for recognition” in sport, Nikki Sullivan’s (2009) concept of somatechnics and Judith Butler’s (2004, p. 21) conversation about our bodies never being our own due to their “invariably public dimensions”, this analysis seeks to untangle how people and athletes associated with the categories of intersex and transgender cannot be understood as separate from or somehow outside the technologies of medical, scientific, sociological, sporting and educational institutions that mark and regulate their bodily representations. Drawing on tertiary teaching experiences with university students on their path to become physical educators in Australia, this analysis explores how gendered bodily norms of discipline and regulation intersect and how to potentially challenge those bodily representations and norms through discourses around intersex and transgender in sport sociology. Although physical educators may find the topic of intersex and transgender ‘risky’ to engage in, this enquiry will focus on the pedagogical potential of conversations about intersex and transgender issues within and outside the discourse of sport sociology. This examination therefore hopes to inspire scholars and physical educators to work with and against students’ curiosity for stories about what they may perceive to be, and often told, are ‘embarrassing’, ‘non-natural’, ‘deviant’ and/or ‘non-biological’ bodies’ and explore how power accrues to particular bodies.

Mauro Giardiello (University of Roma Tre – Italy) The generational perspective for the analysis of public space

Over the last quarter-century, in a context of significant economic and social changes, young people have experienced new patterns of transition through different practices in an unpredictable and unstable world. In this paper, according to the recent international literature on youth (Woodman 2011; 2013), the status of adolescents is read as a generational reality, located in a specific social, political and economic milieu. The adolescent sense of generational belonging assumes temporary and reversible boundaries, focused on his/her own self who must make decisions and weigh continually contradictory choices within a broad spectrum of possibilities (Andres & Wyn 2010). In this context, the relationship with the space and the formation of a process of appropriation of the places is undoubtedly connected to the crisis generated by the process of displacement involving the condition of contemporary young people living more and more a space-time indefinite compared to the familiarity that characterized the lives of those who, today, are adult. If young people on the one hand appear increasingly excluded and marginalized from

participating to the public sphere, on the other they appear perfectly integrated into privatized and commercialized pseudo-public spaces without the social dimension. The objective of the study is to understand how the new generation of adolescents, characterized by individualization and a <<do it yourself biography>> lives public space that looks more and more emptied of its social and civic function caused by a relevant privatization as well as related policies of surveillance (Dee 2013; White & Wyn 2004). More specifically, the project aims to show how these processes bring teens to the phenomenon of stigmatization and involve the supremacy of the οίκος (house) over the αγορα (public space) giving the house the role of community that excludes the differences and prevents the autonomous exploration of space. As a consequence a profile of a biography of risk is accentuated in adolescents, deprived of the sense of place and belonging. In the light of these assumptions a pilot study was carried out among adolescents in three Italian cities with a view to investigating the nature of the link between privatization processes and surveillance and the folding of the adolescent in private. Research has shown in the adolescent daily lives the prevalence of spaces of consumption and intimate sphere rather than the public ones and a significant correlation between intolerance and the crisis of public space as a civic and universalistic place.

Bronwyn E Wood (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand) Youth studies, citizenship and transitions: Intersections, divergences and new theoretical spaces

In the spirit of joined up thinking evoked in the discussions of TASA 2012 (Griffith University), this paper examines the intersections and divergences of two sub-fields of youth research – transitions and citizenship – and considers the fresh insights and cross fertilisations such an analysis may yield. As both citizens-in-waiting and citizens-now, children and young people are all undergoing some form of citizenship transition. In light of the apparent current ‘civic deficit’ of youth in western nations, young citizens in transition are often positioned as vulnerable and at risk of disengagement, radicalisation or financial dependency on the State. The paper questions how the rules and norms which govern both ‘successful’ transitions and ‘good’ citizens are shaped across time and space. Moreover, it examines how social theory (such as individualisation, cosmopolitanism, neoliberalism and social class) has mediated, enhanced and/or limited understandings and conceptualisations of both youth transitions and citizenship. Drawing on feminist and spatial theories, the paper advances an alternative position that moves beyond vulnerability and risk discourses of youth (Ecclestone & Goodley, 2014) and re-connects citizenship and transitions through a focus on spatial, intergenerational and relational practices (Massey, 2005; Arendt, 1958). Examining moments of rupture and resilience provides a way to reduce the linearity and normativity of transition and citizenship research traditions.

Navid Sabet (Monash University) Unsettling policy and policing the unsettled: theory-method between Foucault and Deleuze This paper looks at the theoretical possibilities of youth research, hovering between the strategic counter-actualisation of Foucault’s genealogical method and the creative and often hopeful imperative of Deleuze and Guattari’s ontology. Recurring in my engagement with these thinkers are paradoxes, moments that unsettle my understanding of their work, research and the world. Foucault’s has been broadly influential in contemporary policy analysis. However, I argue that the collaborative toolbox offered by Deleuze and Guattari, particularly as a result of their engagement with the notions of affect, desire, becoming, and intensive temporalities, alludes to more-than-governmental spaces of possibility where young people might live, experience and create. My argument is explained with reference to current PhD research, which draws on ethnographic fieldwork to explore youth-focused and community-based arts programs in Melbourne, considering a combination of policy, organisational, and artistic practices. While power and rationality are examined with the help of Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari are put to work in the more unsettled spaces of the field, where bodies and practices seem to exceed determination and become something new.

Pam Nilan (University of Newcastle) Indonesian environmental activists as ‘becoming minoritarian’.

This paper contributes to conceptual debates in the field of youth studies about the use of a Deleuzian framework for analysing empirical data from young people. It is argued that such a framework opens up new theoretical spaces within the field that transcend teleological endgames such as the goal of reaching adulthood. This paper looks at the ‘becoming’ of two young Indonesians who created pro-environmental groups. ‘Becoming’ postulates subjectivity in process. ‘Self is only a threshold, a door, a becoming’’, characterized by potentialities (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, p. 275).   In the formation of the activist groups, affective becoming-minoritarian describes their constitution of a subversive minority within the majority social formation. In this process, their ‘desire’, their passion to bring change, arises not from lack but from connections with like-minded peers. The groups themselves are forms of ‘assemblage’ that manifest ‘rhizomatically’ from the underswell of environmental knowledge that young Indonesians are tapping into through online material and social media. Assemblages are multifaceted arrangements of materials, bodies, expressions, actions joining together; ‘‘fixing or fitting’’ – sometimes fleetingly – to enact new modes of operation (Phillips, 2006, p. 108). An assemblage is emergent. ‘It does not always involve new forms, but forms that are shifting, in formation, or at stake’ (Ong and Collier, 2005, p. 12). An assemblage always shows the twinned tendencies of: territorialisation; maintenance of consistency and identity over time, and deterritorialisation; erosion and fragmentation. The first young activist to feature in this paper is Tabita (21), who founded the Indonesia Dragonfly Society while she was still in high school. The group not only studies dragonflies, but now advocates for conservation of Indonesian wetlands. In terms of becoming-environmentalist, Tabita entered the field of environmental activism through an initial aesthetic focus on the dragonfly that grew into a research interest where habitat preservation became important. The second is Dira (24), who leads Jogjakarta Berkebun (Jogjakarta Urban Gardening). The group establishes urban food gardens in unusual places, promotes organic cultivation, and advocates for local community ownership of food gardens on public land. In that sense, Jogjakarta Berkebun is not only a minoritarian formation that challenges conventional ways of thinking about urban space and food but a relational and affective assemblage; constituted within inclusive bonds of youthful friendship amplified by the technological affordances of Facebook and Twitter.

David Farrugia and Julia Coffey (University of Newcastle) Assembling Youth

This paper explores the implications for the study of youth associated with recent approaches which theorise youth as a fluid process of becoming, rather than a static age-based category which young people move through chronologically. This conceptualisation of youth stems from a range of theoretical perspectives which emphasises the increasing fluidity of biographies related to macro-level structural changes (Beck), as well as the ‘postmodern turn’ which emphasises the fluid nature of social relations and a de-centring of the rational, humanist subject. Both of these understandings inform a range of contemporary scholarship in youth studies aiming to understand the specific issues faced by young people as a result of social conditions, and the ways these both change and endure over time. Against this conceptual backdrop of fluidity, however, the questions of ‘what is youth’ precisely, or ‘how does youth assemble’ needs further exploration. Are young people defined by the conditions they find themselves in – for example, in relations to the dynamics of privilege or precarity in relation to the labour market? Or are they a separate category of analysis in their own right- based on what? Given the fluidity that is usually invoked to describe both the structures impacting youth and the messiness of ‘youth’ experience, we explore what ‘relational’ approaches to youth might contribute to how we think about what ‘youth’ is. We suggest that this approach may assist in a sensitivity to process and contingent becomings which is attuned to the complexity and messiness which characterises the relations between individuals, groups and the social.

Christine Halse, Catherine Hartung, Claire Charles, Rosalyn Black (Deakin University) Young people’s views on asylum seekers and national belonging

The place and plight of asylum seekers has been the subject of prolonged debate around the globe. During the 2013 national election in Australia, all political parties campaigned vigorously and loudly on their capacity to manage the growing number of asylum seekers arriving from Indonesia by boat.

This paper examines the question: How do young people constitute who is entitled to belong and not belong in Australia? To address this question, we draw on focus groups in 2013 and 2014 with students from diverse ethnic backgrounds in primary and secondary schools who were asked to respond to the question: What would you do about the asylum seekers arriving by boat if you were Prime Minister?

Our paper addresses a gap in the literature about the discourses young people invoke in discussing asylum seekers and their entitlement to national belonging in Australia. We show how the shift in political discourses of national belonging from ethnic identity to civic responsibilities is manifest in young people’s views of asylum seekers. At the same time we put the theory of civic nationalism under empirical pressure by revealing the quandaries it poses for young people who are simultaneously caught within a moral discourse of Australia as a tolerant, welcoming multicultural society based on a ‘fair go for all’. Our analysis suggests that theories on civic nationalism underestimate the power of the multiple discourses that shape young people’s understandings of national belonging.

Rosalyn Black and Catherine Hartung (Deakin University) Scales of belonging: the macro and microgeographies of young people’s citizenship

Global interest in the construction of the young citizen as a responsible local and global actor has grown exponentially in recent times. Underpinning this interest is a popular discourse concerned with fostering active young citizens who feel that they belong within the social, economic and democratic fabric and who have the will and capacity to contribute to that fabric. On the one hand, this discourse counters the persistent deficit model of young people as democratically incompetent or disengaged. On the other, it has a normative and homogenising effect, concealing or clouding the more complex and ambiguous experiences of citizenship to which young people may be subject. In particular, it obscures the extent to which young people’s active citizenship delivers the experience of belonging which it promises. In this paper, we seek to formulate a more geographically responsive vocabulary of citizenship and belonging. Drawing on data from two recent studies, we consider the ways in which young people’s citizenship and belonging is constructed, experienced, reproduced and resisted on two spatial scales: the macrogeographic scale of the

United Nations and a set of international non-government organisations (NGOs) conducting active youth citizenship initiatives; and the microgeographic scale of two Australian schools implementing curricula of active citizenship linked to the local community. Based on this analysis, we argue for a conception of young people’s citizenship that better accounts for the dimension of belonging and the ways in which this belonging may be mediated by the specific places in which young people live.

Emma Charlton, Leanne Coll, Lyn Harrison and Debbie Ollis (Deakin University) The incidental and purposeful: problematising a pedagogy of belonging

The relationship between sex, sexuality and gender has perhaps never been as messy and contested as it is in current educational work in the field. This paper explores how constellations of sex-gender-sexuality, which occur in educational spaces, are inextricably linked to and bounded by concepts of belonging. These concepts are not always understood and positioned as problematic by policy makers and practitioners working with young people. We hope to offer a critical rethinking of the different inflections and effects of discourses of belonging, shifting attentions away from common sense and psychologically inflected understandings.

A research narrative from a middle-school and middle class drama classroom forms the basis of our discussion. The vignette describes the nature of how sex-gender-sexuality are shaped through supposedly incidental and mundane pedagogical moments that can hinder opportunities for transformational pedagogical experiences. It also highlights the embodied nature of belonging in school settings and pedagogical spaces. Drawing on this vignette, we argue that normative notions of belonging are embedded in the structures of schools spaces and practices inherent in them. Furthermore, we argue that normative notions of belonging also influence the way teachers view and treat young people, privileging certain types of sex-sexuality-gendered belonging over others.

This paper raises a number of important and critical questions as to how belonging is conceptualised and theorised in youth studies. Specifically, how do limited notions of belonging position young people? What is the relationship between belonging, agency and subjectivity? What are the conditions of possibility for transformational learning if we problematise belonging?

Enquiries: David Farrugia david.m.farrugia@newcastle.edu.au


About tasayouth

Blog of the Australian Sociological Association's Youth Thematic Group
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