The terrifying abyss of insignificance: Marginalisation, mattering and violence between young people

Billingham, Luke and Irwin-Rogers, Keir (2021). The terrifying abyss of insignificance: Marginalisation, mattering and violence between young people. Oñati Socio-Legal Series, 11(5) pp. 1222–1249.



The concept of mattering can be a helpful for understanding the ways in which structural and historical factors affect individual psychologies. There is substantial evidence to indicate both that mattering is a fundamental human need, and that its lack can have very significant consequences, including the perpetration of physical harm against the self and others. This paper lays out the usefulness of mattering as a lens through which to examine why a small minority of young people in Britain commit serious violent acts against one another. We do this by first exploring what it means to matter and the empirical evidence linking the quest to matter with violence, and then examining the various factors in contemporary Britain which can diminish a young person’s sense of mattering, using recent community-based research which has amplified the perspectives of young people in London. We then contrast the insights that can be gained from the lens of mattering with some recent attempts on the part of the British government to effectively tackle violence between young people, including Knife Crime Prevention Orders and the curtailment of individuals’ social media usage. We conclude by suggesting that policy-makers would gain substantial insight from investigating the connections between marginalisation, mattering and violence between young people, rather than focusing disproportionately on the music they choose to listen to or create, or the specific weapon that they opt to carry.

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