• On the margins: the last place to rebel? Understanding young people’s resistance to social conformity

      Atherton, Frances; McKay, Jane; University of Chester (The Polity Press and the Univeristy of Bristol, 2017-06-28)
      Young people have for decades been the subject of repeated ‘moral panics’ (Cohen, 2002) in western society. From the troubles of the ‘teenager’ in the early post-war period; the mods and rockers of the sixties; the anarchic punk sub-culture of the seventies through to the most recent manifestation of moral panic – the NEET (not in employment, education or training), there is an apparent tension in the simultaneous empowerment and subjugation of young people that manifests through discourses of children’s rights, voice and participation, alongside competing discourses of failure, risk and problematisation. The media portrayal that fuels the moral panic of unruly and out-of-control young people presents an idea that these young people are both frightening to ordinary members of society, and each other (The Independent, 2009), and has extended to the “disruptive use of public space” by young people (Robinson, 2009, p510). In a society framed by risk and austerity-driven reduced life chances for many, anti-social behaviour and disengaged, marginalised youth is fast becoming the norm. In contrast, recent policy trajectories have foregrounded the rights of young people in all areas of policy (McKay, 2014), promoting a more hopeful view of young people as active citizens, participating in civil society, their rights supported through Article 12 of the UN Charter for the Rights of the Child [UNCRC] (UNESCO 1989). Each of these viewpoints has its own literature, its own discourse. Each considers the lives of young people as largely homogenous; seen through whatever policy lens is selected for any given social crisis. By contrast, this chapter considers the way that young people themselves understand and view their position in relation to their social environment, and offers an illustration of the complex and often unintended ways that young people are marginalised in everyday life. Marginalisation is therefore considered, not as an end-product of social dysfunction, rather it emerges as a process by which the young people themselves may negotiate their position in different social situations in order to effect autonomy and self-determination, even within the smallest and most mundane activities. Drawing on the psychological theory of Erikson (1972), we consider what Erikson refers to as the “leeway of mastery in a set of developments or circumstances” which suggested “free movement within prescribed limits” (p.691). A literal translation being space of, or space for, play; what the rules of the game allow. The concept of social play is an important feature of Erikson’s work and relates to the fifth stage of psycho-social development; adolescence. The importance of play in the early years is a well-rehearsed discussion; however, the concept of play in the transition stage from childhood to adulthood, adolescence, provokes a re-consideration of the ways that young people explore and learn about themselves and their world. We consider freedom and autonomy for the young person to follow their own particular motivations, yet within ‘prescribed limits’. The chapter explores how space is negotiated and at particular points of intersection, potential conflict is tempered to maintain the freedom which boundary spaces may offer. It considers the important role of resistance at places of intersection, where the desire to define a new liberty, a free space (Robinson, 2010) is bargained, for as she suggests, “leisure practices can…. Involve opposition, resistance and transgression” (p.508), and these are the key emerging elements of the young people’s social play that we examine.