18 SES 10 A, Marginalised Young People in Physical Education and Youth Sport
Although sport is an important part of life inside youth confinement, there has been little ethnographic research examining this phenomenon. This ethnography explores pedagogies of sport at two all-male youth detention homes in Sweden.
Scholarship has described youth detention as a “balancing act” or “borderlands” – having a dual mission that is at once correctional and educational (Abrams & Anderson-Nathe 2013; Kallenberg 2016). Although institutions of youth justice (e.g. prisons, young offender institutions, detention homes, probation/reentry programs), persistently function as correctional institutions concerned with controlling, containing, and even punishing placed youth, it is also proposed that they are charged with an essentially pedagogical, social justice mission – concerned with the growth and development of their students in order to form a safer, just society. For youth themselves, youth detention is often experienced as “mixed messages” (Abrams & Anderson-Nathe 2013).
Similarly, Meek (2014) argues that sport in prison can be conceptualized as a practice negotiated within the competing, overlapping functions of corrections – namely punishment, containment, and rehabilitation. Sport in prisons can thereby be characterized as “a way of containing or physically managing prisoners as much as it is increasingly recognized for its rehabilitative function” (ibid, p. 14). Noting that sport is a prominent feature of life for those placed in correctional settings, including in youth detention (c.f. Parker, Meek & Lewis 2014; Roe, Hugo & Larsson 2019), a growing body of research has both drawn attention to and questioned sport as a means for rehabilitating or educating prisoners. Meek (2014) identifies a need for research to unpack the multiple meanings and competing practices of sport in correctional settings. In particular, there is a lack of pedagogical research concerning sport in youth detention.
Aim and Theoretical Framework
The aim of the study is to examine pedagogies of sport at two all-male youth detention homes (ages 16-21) in Sweden. The research question is: How is sport arranged, practiced and, significantly, experienced by youth themselves?
Van Manen (1990) asserts that pedagogical research should be grounded in lived experience and praxis. The theoretical approach of this study is that constellations of discourses (the ideas and structures which guide our practice), practices (pedagogical action) and lived experiences (what young people live through, and what this means for them in their unique lifeworlds) constitute pedagogies, as in significant ways of guiding or forming youth.A strength of this study is that it connects youth justice pedagogies with the experiences of placed youth themselves. As McAlister and Carr (2014) point out, “how [youth justice] discourses are enacted in practice, how multiple and competing rationales circulate within them and most fundamentally how they are experienced by young people is [unclear]” (241).
I frame the research within a struggle of conflicting philosophies: between corrections and education. The analysis thus incorporates concepts from Foucault (1995) and Goffman (1961) in order to understand sport’s role as a correctional technique, contextualized within the routines and rhythms of the total institution (c.f. Bengtsson 2012). I also draw on Swedish research in youth detention homes (Gerrevall & Jenner 2001; Hugo 2013; van Manen 2015) in order to elaborate youth detention as a “pedagogical calling”, i.e. having a mission that is essentially educational.
The study follows a lifeworld ethnographic approach (Hugo 2013; van Manen 1990), where the researcher seeks to participate in the social world of the subjects in order to come to a closer understanding of their lived experiences. A key part of the ethical-methodological approach is to maintain a pedagogical orientation to the life worlds of participants, requiring that the researcher must have a sensitivity for the situations and experiences of the participants (van Manen 1990; 2015). Data was collected via participatory observation and interviews. Across 14 months, 25 adults and 34 youth (ages 16-20) were engaged in the study. The sites for the study - two youth detention homes in Sweden – differ in several important ways, lending to a variety of observable sport arrangements. In Sweden, the majority of youth are placed in such detention homes via the social services, where typical grounds for placement is low level crimes (e.g. simple assault, theft) and addiction. However, although all of the youth participants in this study have a history of criminality, only Institution 1 had placements for youth who are sentenced (in a court of law) for serious, often violent, offenses. Institution 1 is relatively “closed” and “secure”, both in terms of the physical environment and the stated treatment philosophy, whereas Institution 2 is more “open” in these respects. This difference could be seen in how these institutions arranged sport activities. Institution 2, for example, had a close collaboration with a local sports club where some youth could play football (at times outside of the institution), and was able to arrange sport activities (namely football) in larger groups of youth (students). At Institution 1, youth from different residential units were seldom mixed, and sport activities were conducted in relatively small groups. Nevertheless, despite such differences, a similar mix of sport pedagogies could be observed at both institutions, and, although context was significant, these pedagogies were practiced both during school (i.e. during the subject of physical education) as well as outside of school.
The research describes three pedagogies of doing sport at these institutions: withholding sport, busying with sport, and sport as developmental community. Withholding sport involves withholding access to sport activities and the quality of delivery in order to “teach a lesson”. This took shape when sport activities were framed as privileges which could be taken away if students did not comply with certain rules or norms. Implicitly, students experienced punishment by boredom (or mediocre sport), connected to a practiced discourse that questioned the validity of doing sport in a context meant to deter youth from criminality: “they are sentenced for crimes, how good should they have it?” Busying with sport describes a practice of simply “busying youth and staff” or “doing the best with the time”. Busying with sport can be characterized as a pedagogy of containment, “bureaucratic ritualism”, and “filling the time”. This pedagogy was distinguished by absent or weak ambitions to educate or develop through sport. Staff ambitions were mainly to keep things “calm”, whereas youth participated in sport in order to “feel free” and (temporarily) escape pains of confinement. Significantly, some students and staff became frustrated with this pedagogy, and sought other approaches. Yet alternative approaches were difficult to express or otherwise did not materialize, suggesting how the setting has an institutionalizing effect on pedagogy. The third pedagogy is sport as developmental community, where sport was situated as a platform for creating opportunities for students to learn or develop in ways that were experienced to broaden their future horizons. In contrast to the other pedagogies, this pedagogy communicated to students that “you can do this, you have opportunities here”, a message in line with an educational or rehabilitative approach to doing sport. Sport as developmental community involved doing sport with outsiders, but also an “outside” or alternative perspective.
Abrams, L. S., and B. Anderson-Nathe. 2013. Compassionate confinement: A year in the life of Unit C. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. Bengtsson, T. 2012. Boredom and action: Experiences from youth confinement. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 41 (5): 526-553. Foucault, M. 1995. Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. New York: Vintage Books. Gerrevall, P., & H. Jenner, eds. 2001. Kommunikativ pedagogik Och sarskilda ungdomshem. Stockholm, Sweden: Statens institutionsstyrelse. Goffman, E. 1961, 1991. Asylums: Essays on the social situation of mental patients and other inmates. London: Penguin Books. Hugo, M. 2013. Meningsfullt lärande i skolverksamheten på särskilda ungdomshem. Stockholm: Statens Institutionsstyrelse. Kallenberg, K. 2016. Borderlands: Swedish youth care in the intersections of care and punishment. Phd diss. Södertorns högskolan. McAlister, S. & N. Carr. 2014. Experiences of youth justice: Youth justice discourses and their multiple effects. Youth Justice 14 (3): 241-254. Meek, R. 2014. Sport in prison: Exploring the role of physical activity in correctional settings. London, UK: Routledge. Parker, A., R. Meek, & G. Lewis. 2014. Sport in a Youth Prison: Male Young Offenders’ Experiences of a Sporting Intervention. Journal of Youth Studies 17 (3): 381–396. Roe, D., Hugo, M. & H. Larsson. 2019. ‘Rings on the water’: Examining the pedagogical approach at a football program for detained youth in Sweden.” Sport in Society 22 (6): 919-934. Van Manen, M. 1990. Researching lived experience: Human science for an action sensitive pedagogy. Albany, NY: SUNY Press. Van Manen, M. 2015. Pedagogical tact: Knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
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