Looking beyond the moral panics about youth

Drugs, violence and laziness – if you believe everything you hear in the media, young people have a lot to answer for. However, Newcastle Youth Studies Group co-convenor, Dr Steven Threadgold, is ardent about uncovering the entire picture and contributing to a better understanding of the next generation.

“Newcastle Youth Studies Group has come together to do research with and about young people – and the ‘with’ part is really important. So they’re not treated as objects, they’re actually participants,” Threadgold said.

Through his work, Threadgold aims to inform government, youth workers and educators with a more nuanced picture of the social forces that are producing issues, such as unemployment and underemployment, for young people.

“A lot of the ways that young people are spoken about and treated, particularly in media representations of them, are really just stereotypes. They are often scapegoated for a whole lot of social problems that they have absolutely no control over and often those social problems are pathologised as individual issues.”

“Take the youth labour market as an example – it’s around 15 per cent unemployment and it’s massively casualised. However, if you’re a young person who doesn’t have a job it’s your fault, you’re lazy and you don’t have the right qualifications – which is a distortion of reality.”

Threadgold’s particular area of interest is youth inequality and class. “My previous research has been about how inequality affects young people’s life chances and their attitudes to the future.”

He is currently working on two interrelated projects. The first, Do it Yourself Careers, looks at young people involved in DIY cultures around music – particularly punk and noise styles.

“There are three outcomes – they end up being hobbyists, or they earn a little bit of money on the side of their real job or they make it into their real job,” he said, referring to the young musicians. “I’m doing work around the blurriness of those categories, how these people think of themselves and what kind of strategies they put in place to try and get some kind of income.

“Connected to this is who’s in and who’s out. So my second project is a media analysis of the notions of hipster and bogan and the way these are class categories without talking about class.”

His book on these issues, Youth, Culture and Class, which will be published by Routledge, is due to be released in 2016.

Threadgold hopes his work will inform more realistic policy, rather than policy that doesn’t deal with the reality young people face in an ever increasing precarious labour market.

“Most people are still working on the assumption that you go to school, you go through some sort of tertiary education and then you get a job and that’s the end of the transition.”

“I would like to create a package of information for educationalists and youth workers – so they can get a proper grasp of how the labour market really works today.”

After starting at the University of Newcastle in 2010, Threadgold began to gain international interest for his work in youth sociology. Along with fellow Newcastle researcher and renowned youth sociologist, Professor Pam Nilan, Threadgold was invited to present his findings at a number of conferences and symposiums.

On the back of this activity, Threadgold and Professor Nilan brought together colleagues Dr David Farrugia; Dr Julia Coffey; Dr Hedda Askland; Dr Lena Rodriguez; and Conjoint Professor Andy Furlong, from the University of Glasgow, to form Newcastle Youth Studies Group.

“We all complement each other in the theoretical stuff that we do and in our methodologies, but there is also quite a variety in there as well so we work really well as a team,” Threadgold said.

Through collaborative work, Newcastle Youth Studies Group has established research expertise in issues, such as: young people and social change; identity and belonging; health and wellbeing; geographical and spatial inequalities; intergenerational issues; displacement and movement; and, education and work.

Learn more about UON’s Faculty of Education and the Arts Research Directions in 2015.

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