Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Children, young people and the everyday

This month, Emma Davidson, Fiona Morrison (both CRFR) and Lisa Whittaker (Glasgow University) were lucky enough to present their research findings at the Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth International Conference. The conference explored the concept of the ‘everyday’, and its role in helping researchers gain insight into children and young people’s social worlds. In this blog, we share our perspectives on everyday life and agency.

How an individual behaves, feels and relates to the people and spaces around them often consists of social practices considered mundane, routine and even unimportant – like walking to school, washing the dishes, watching TV or playing outdoors. These seemingly ‘ordinary’ activities can tell us much about children’s social worlds, and more importantly, the wider structural context within which these worlds sit.

At the conference we presented three unique papers, connected by two central themes. The first was an appreciation that the everyday is not simply a site where individuals are socialised and social practices reproduced. Rather, the everyday, as Beverley Skeggs has discussed, can be a space were norms and values are interpreted, navigated and potentially challenged. By acknowledging the role of agency, the everyday is a space in which children and young people can shape and make the social worlds around them.

The second theme around which our papers fell relates to the type of behaviour and actions the ‘everyday’ seeks to describe. Typically, the everyday has been conceptualised as that which is mundane or otherwise unimportant. What then of the everyday experiences of children and young people whose lives are characterised by issues far from mundane – such as violence, neglect and abuse?

Emma’s research into young men and violence found that in disadvantaged areas some young men not only normalised violence, but actively sought out a deviant identity as a means of escaping the structural inequalities they faced. Lisa and Emma’s project meanwhile spoke of the experiences of growing up in care, and the difficult transitions young people made into adulthood. Despite support, many of these young people’s pathways were beset by chaos and disorder, so much so it had become a predictable and expected part of everyday life. Finally, Fiona’s research explored children’s perspectives of contact with non-resident fathers when there is domestic abuse. She focused on how children spoke about their experiences of domestic abuse, how they made sense of abuse and how they navigated and responded to abuse in their everyday lives.

The finding that cut across the three papers was that while disorder and risk was not a welcome aspect of children and young people’s everyday lives, it became an all-consuming presence which was then reconstructed as normal, routine and ordinary. This response, the papers conclude, was a means through which they could give order and stability to aspects of their lives that were anything but. The papers all highlighted how children and young people continue to exercise agency and resist, even when their everyday lives are characterised by ‘disorder’ and ‘risk’. These emancipatory possibilities, however small, gave young people agency in circumstances over which they had very little control.

Contact Emma by email.

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