Youth, risk and identity

Merryweather, Dave (2012). Youth, risk and identity. PhD thesis The Open University.



Recent socio-economic and cultural changes have had major implications for young people's everyday lives: longer periods are spent in a state of youth-hood while more opportunities to engage in youth practices are available. This changing youth landscape has been accompanied by governmental risk discourses which problematise young people, constructing many youth practices as risky and defining broad sections of youth as a risk population. These issues have been the subject of much academic interest. Yet, questions of how young people experience and understand risk are rarely considered: still less is said of how risks are interwoven with their identities. It is these matters that are the central focus of my investigation.

In this thesis I use data from risk narratives generated through focus groups comprising 14-24 year-olds to illustrate the complexity of the relationship between youth, risk and identity. Risk narratives were found to be patterned in different ways according to the material experiences and understandings of risk shared by young people occupying particular social, economic and cultural spaces in Liverpool. Narratives were also informed in a range of ways by governmental youth risk discourses, young people's own culturally related risk discourses and by their age, gender, ethnicity and class. My work shows that, in discussing everyday risks, young people positioned both themselves and others in various subject positions, simultaneously expressing and reproducing a range of social distinctions and hierarchies. Understandings and experiences of risk were, in this regard, found to be closely bound up with social identity.

My investigation illustrates that youth does not constitute a risk population in any simplistic way: nor do all young people experience or understand risk in the same terms. Rather, I demonstrate that material and discursive aspects of risk are intricately interwoven with young people's identities. As such, my thesis contributes to extant academic knowledge by highlighting the complexity of the relationship between youth, risk and identity and advancing new ways of addressing these relations.

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