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Young People and Risk
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  1. Young People and Risk Troubles of Youth 12th November 2007

  2. Lecture Outline • Perspectives on Risk • Precautionary Principle • The “At-Risk” Paradigm • Attractions of Risk • Risk Aversion

  3. Links • YP as a source of objective risk • Exaggeration of extent and novelty of YP risk • “Insecure Transitions” – individualised, uncertain pathways to adulthood • Infant / Childhood Determinism Also need to consider • Wider approaches to Risk • The appeals of Risk • The impact of Risk Aversion

  4. Theorising Risk • Cognitive Science Perspective • Risk is objective, calculable and controllable • Cognitive Science recognises the public cynicism, and aims to foster an understanding between public and ‘institutions’ • Also aims to provide “correct” knowledge about risk • Rational-choice

  5. Theorising Risk (2) • Socio-cultural perspectives • Address the social and cultural contexts within risk is understood • Risk is • An increasingly pervasive concept • A central aspect of human subjectivity • Seen as manageable • Associated with choice, responsibility and blame • Ulrich Beck • recognises the difference between objective risk and subjective interpretations • Interested to explain why certain risks are given such attention: a ‘symbolic mediation’ of protest

  6. Theorising Risk (3) • Social constructionist perspective • Risk is never fully objective, and can only be identified and managed via pre-existing discourses and knowledge • The distinction between ‘real’ and ‘false’ risks is meaningless • Foucault • The aim is not to calculate risk, but rather to understand its place in a ‘calculative rationality’ • Risk is governed through institutions, technology and knowledge • Importance, criminologically, of surveillance, monitoring, intervention and expert advice

  7. “Our mission is to make Great Britain a country where we don’t have to fear the moment a toddler is out of sight, where teenagers can enjoy themselves without the worry of an attack … where children can go to school without the risk of violence and rape from their classmates” Good Housekeeping ‘Childsafe Campaign’ Cited in Furedi (2002) “The Culture of Fear”

  8. Precautionary Principle • A growing trend for children (esp. middle class) to be constantly under adult supervision -> an erosion of freedom • Evidence • Reduction in weekend activities • More children driven to school • ‘Play’ and unsupervised activities increasingly limited • Independence Curtailed • Unsupervised children / young teenagers problematised / moralised -> groups of young people assumed to be troublesome

  9. Mayer Hillman “One False Move” • “Home habitat” of a typical 8 year-old has shrunk nine-fold from 1970-> 1990 • cars faster, more prevalent • over-reporting of child assault and abduction by strangers • fewer deaths of children on roads, but also serious consequences for their social and mental development – making mistakes, dealing with risk and learning from their experiences • childhood mischief is becoming defined as being on the streets • obesity • lack of investment in child-oriented public spaces – play areas etc. • Removal of educational role of risk • need for statistics to take into account exposure to risk, not just accidents and fatalities

  10. Changing Penological Discourse • Justice / Due Process / Welfare debates becomes over-written by Risk • Early interventions • Risk assessments determine punishment • Any further offending portrayed as avoidable • Risk aversion leads to increased punitive tariff

  11. The “At-Risk” Discourse • Links directly to identification of correlates of risk (e.g. Farrington) • Moralistic • Paternalistic • Interventionist • Expansionist • Any potential ‘bad’ / hazard (e.g. offending and victimisation) • All young people? – “Youth” intrinsically risky? • Over-optimistic • Simon Bradford “By identifying their ‘at risk’ status (that is, their vulnerability), early diversionary or preventative intervention is thought possible. Rather than privileging characteristics which are thought to reside in individuals, the concept of ‘risk’ concentrates attention on abstract factors which constitute an individual ‘at risk’… almost anything can be plausibly incorporated’ (Bradford, 2004)

  12. Vulnerability model • Vulnerability • A catch-all concept • Existing outside the individual – youth are “at risk” • Management and assessment – identification of certain forms of behaviour as potential to generate a risk • net-widening

  13. Dangers of a Vulnerability Model • Does this discourse reflect (at all) young people’s lives and thinking? • A self-fulfilling prophecy? • Does this (at best) treat all young people the same • “adolescence itself is seen today as some awful, incurable disease” • At worst descend to the lowest-common denominator? • Ignores the resilience and resistance of those involved • Disempowering of those involved • paternalistic expert views and preoccupations • Resources and support necessary before young people can really respond to risks – understanding them is not enough

  14. Appeal of Risk • The place of Risk in YP’s own perceptions • A dual standard in approaching risk • Youthful Risk-taking problematised • Adult risk-taking: ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ / excitement, adventure and challenge • Centrality of risk-taking to human development • Much of the risk discourse underplay the appeal of risk in young people’s leisure activities • A reaction against the precautionary principle?