05 SES 01 B, School Dropout and Social Exclusion
Parallel Paper Session
The language of social exclusion is dense with spatial reference. Social exclusion is commonly defined in terms of multiple deprivations affecting particular localities, and the excluded are often discursively positioned as 'outside' or 'disconnected from' an included majority. Although concerns about social exclusion stem from European Social and Christian Democratic traditions and are associated, at least in limited forms, with economic redistribution and attempts to promote social integration, in neo-liberal policy discourse the socially excluded are often constructed as a deficient 'underclass', dependent on welfare and lacking the necessary attitudes, skills and dispositions for the workplace and employment (Levitas, 2005). Such discourses are spatially referenced, with certain practices and cultures ascribed to particular locations - so that the relationship between place and underclass is reified and politically exploited. However, as Wacquant (1999) has argued, the association between 'underclass' behaviours and place is part of a class-based polarisation of space arising from de-industrialisation, macro-economic policies and increasing inequality (see also Simmons and Thompson, 2011). Consequently, researchers working with young people deemed to be 'at risk' of social exclusion must seek to uncover the social, material and discursive relations embedded in the spaces participants inhabit.
This paper reports on the first eighteen months of a three-year longitudinal ethnographic study of young people in a post-industrial urban area of northern England who have been officially classified as NEET (not in education, employment or training). Drawing on structuration theory (Giddens, 1984) and Lefebvre's (1991) dialectical triad of perceived, conceived and lived space, the paper analyses how young people are constrained and enabled by spatial structures relating to family, work, learning and welfare.
The central research questions of the paper are:
- How do social, material and discursive relations enter into the construction of places and spaces for NEET young people - including official spaces (such as learning sites, guidance centres, welfare benefit offices) and informal spaces, both private and public? [Conceived space]
- How do young people encounter these places and spaces? [Perceived space]
- How do young people draw on their knowledge of social space to understand, use and contest spatial structures? [Lived space]
- How are spatialities implicated in reproducing or interrupting marginalisation?
We conceptualise structure as existing in and through the knowledge and practices of historically and spatially situated agents and institutions; drawing on our ethnographic data, we investigate how young people comprehend, use and encounter the places and spaces they inhabit, and the role of spatialities in reproducing or interrupting marginalisation. Following Lefebvre (1991), we interpret lived space as the dialectical outcome of perceived and conceived space - the co-extensive spaces of, respectively, material events and abstractly conceptualised spatial relations. Embodying both of these spaces whilst being irreducible to them, lived space is the arena of Lefebvre's connaissance – “less formal or more local forms of knowledge” (Elden, 2004: 190) and Giddens' (1984) practical consciousness. Within this conceptual framework, we trace how young people negotiate and contest their spaces.
Carspecken (1996) Critical Ethnography in Educational Research. London: Routledge. Elden, S. (2004) Understanding Henri Lefebvre: Theory and the possible. London: Continuum. Giddens, A. (1984) The Constitution of Society. Cambridge: Polity Press. Gulson, K. and Symes, C. (2007) Knowing one's place: space, theory, education. Critical Studies in Education, 48(1), 97-110. Lefebvre, H. (1991) The Production of Space. Oxford: Blackwell. Levitas, R. (2005) The Inclusive Society? New Labour and social exclusion. 2nd Edition. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Raffo, C. (2011) Educational equity in poor urban contexts - exploring issues of place/space and young people's identity and agency. British Journal of Educational Studies, 59(1), 1-19. Simmons, R. and Thompson, R. (2011) NEET Young People and Training for Work: Learning on the margins. Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham. Wacquant, L. (1999) Urban marginality in the coming millennium. Urban Studies, 36(10), 1639-1647. Webster, C., Simpson, D., MacDonald, R., Abbas,A., Cieslik, M., Shildrick, T. and Simpson, M. (2004) Poor Transitions: Young Adults and Social Exclusion. Bristol: Policy Press.
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