PHD BLOG- Here.Me.Now: the voicing of aspiration by youths living in ‘gang’ labelled communities

img_5618This weeks PhD blog is by Charlene Crossley.

Charlene is a 2nd year PhD student at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is undertaking a PhD that examines the aspirations of young people in areas labelled as ‘gang’ effected. She does this using interesting and innovative methods. Here  she offers a short summary of her PhD work to date.

If you would like to hear more from Charlene you can tweet her @Charrrr_xx or email C.crossley@mmu.ac.uk. Charlene is also presenting a poster and an oral presentation at the BSC conference on the 6th July 2016.

 

Here.Me.Now: The voicing of aspiration by youths living in ‘gang’ labelled communities

Do we know what youth transition means? The young people in my research certainly don’t. They know they want a good job, to live in a decent area and have a family. Does it matter how they get there? Is there a clear path? Here.Me.Now looks at the goals and aspirations of young people living in communities labelled as gang effected. Questioning if it is the application of labels like this this that allow the path to become fragmented?

I’m challenging the idea that young people have clear transitions journeys and that they lack aspiration. Aspiration IS important; it dictates where we will aim to be as an adult. Within gang affected communities it is often assumed that young people’s aspirations are to simply join a gang. Therefore, aspiration is not a value that is nurtured or prioritised within these communities; particularly by institutions of social control. The implication is that already disadvantaged communities are expected to support young people’s transitions to adulthood without resources to encourage those young people to aim higher. This research will update the literature with a contemporary account that looks at diverse lives by moving away from a focus of traditional England and with it the school to work transitions and a move into contemporary England where young people are living in very different societies.

The methodology for this research is rather large, but what a great way it has been to engage young people. All too often as researchers we assume we are the experts. Well, here’s a thought – why not situate the young people as experts of their OWN lives. After all, they’re the ones living it. That’s what I decided to do in adopting participatory action research (PAR) as my methodology. At two diverse youth centres in areas of Manchester, completing ethnographic research over a period of eight months, the young people would often talk about the lack of opportunities and how those were limited further by the ‘gang’ label that was attached to their community. It was only through the identification of these issues that I developed a number of research tools to use with the young people. They wrote letters, engaged in mapping, participated in a blog, discussed local media and did activities with flash cards. This has allowed the young people to tell me what the issues are for THEM, in ways that they have chosen. This has allowed young people to be heard, giving them a VOICE. At the end of the research, it is envisaged that the young people will disseminate the research findings from their own experiences to individuals within the wider community.

Researchers all too often assume that individuals want to participate in the research. Even with the development of participant led tools, there is an expectation that they want to be involved and at all stages, which is not always the case. What this process has allowed is for young people to discuss as much or as little as they want. To generate discussion on issues that are important to them. To listen to them and not make assumptions about what we fell is important to us in order to answer what WE want. The methodology hasn’t been without its challenges. From the building of trust to weeks of no engagement. However, what this has allowed further is for the process has been truly participant led.

So, who then gets to decide successful transition is? Is it just school to work? Yes, the literature has extended to cover leisure and home life, but isn’t transition different for different people? Is it, for example, that a successful transition can be that they haven’t got involved in crime or have completed high school? Aspiration is ultimately crucial in guiding YP through their journey, towards what the government would categorise as a ‘successful transition’. However, the labels attached to the particular neighbourhoods in my study do not support this linear transition. This means that these young people are automatically written off as having no aspiration. In fact, certainly for the young people in my research, they have high aspirations, but they have difficulty in achieving their goals. As one young person has said to me, ‘I want to be a PE teacher but I know I ain’t getting there’.

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