In this brief preamble to my thesis I present a number of arguments that I will develop and ground within current theory in the chapters that follow. At this point it is not my intention to justify my views, but simply to identify the focus of this research.
To date, researchers have generally structured their studies of youth cultures around the issues of class, gender race or some other category. This thesis interrogates the validity of such practices. In western societies, the teenager of the new millennium has grown up in a world of rapid communication and exposure to the diversity and difference of many peoples and places that may be accessed at the push of a button. They are increasingly subject to the power of a consumer culture that invites them to buy who they want to be. Optional identities are self-constructing and potentially fleeting. Change is the subtext of the 21st century. In a postcolonial, simultaneously global/local, or ‘glocal’ environment, the boundaries of traditional identity markers (race, gender, class) may be challenged. Coupled with cultural and social changes are economic restructurings that are altering the ways people view ‘work’ and define their life trajectories. In a post-Fordist economic landscape, the drift to contract work, downsizing and constant re-skilling has impacted upon expectations of a lifelong, secure career. The potentially powerful effects of such transformations also imply the limitations of a categorical approach to the study of youth.
In Australia, stories of the apparently escalating misbehaviour and violence of young people have been common throughout the 1990s. Couched in discourses of individual deficit and deviant and/or pathological behaviour, the common response from educational authorities has been to institute more stringent measures of control. However, the potential consequences for young people of the social, economic and cultural changes of the last two decades have been largely ignored. Drawing upon contemporary poststructuralist theory, this thesis thus invites reflection upon popular assumptions about contemporary youth and the ways in which we seek to educate them. It is not an empirical study, but rather a multidirectional dialogue among a diverse group of individuals that includes researcher and researched and reader.
Complementing the data, are visual and written artistic texts that are intended to supplement the layers of meanings that may be derived from this research. In keeping with this thematic approach, I have chosen the words of Bob Dylan’s Hard Rain to accompany this introduction. Such music frequently supplied the background ‘noise’ to the interviews and group discussions conducted for this project. It echoes the tapestry of ‘meanings’ that my students provide in their spoken and written texts within these pages.
This is an open ended ethnographic study of a group of young people in their final years of high school at the end of the 20th century. In conducting this research I have chosen to use a feminist methodological framework. This is consistent with my argument that within contemporary western societies youth are subjected to powerful forced of categorization. Assumptions about the universality of ‘youth experience’ ignore significant economic, racial and cultural influences upon the young. Similarly, the paradigm of ‘youth development’ has been used to justify regimes of monitoring and control of young people. Thus, I argue that as a group, youth have to contend with many social processes of marginalisation that have the potential to deprive them of a ‘voice’. Within the context of schools, the effects are magnified via the traditional power relations of such institutions.
In keeping with feminist methodology, this thesis is grounded in a recognition of the multiplicity of truths rather than a belief in one truth. It recognizes the subjective nature of all research and foregrounds the legitimacy of narrative and dialogic meaning making in the field. The voices of the young people who participated in this study are allowed maximum space. All student texts, whether transcribed or scanned into the document, retain their original spelling and grammatical constructions. Hopefully, the experiences and insights of these young people will make a significant contribution towards framing future sociologies of youth living in New Times.