The University of Newcastle, Australia

Online seminar: contemporary approaches to race, class and youth cultures

29 Sep 2020 at 4:00pm

Group of young friends

The Newcastle Youth Studies Network and the Consortium for Youth, Generations and Cultures facilitate this seminar hosted by Sherene Idriss, Rose Butler and Anita Harris. Register to recieve the Zoom link for this online seminar.

Young people’s lived experiences, sense of personal agency and collective expressions, often theorised through the loose frame of ‘youth cultures’, always take shape in relation to intersecting forms of structural inequalities around race and class. Yet while ubiquitous to young people’s experiences, race and class are not always foregrounded in analysis. This seminar offers an opportunity to reflect, both conceptually and using empirical case studies, on how youth researchers in different contexts are theorising race and class in relation to contemporary youth cultures. We are prompted by the observation by Gary Younge, that “To try to understand race and class separately is to misunderstand them both completely. I think class is important, but in a multiracial country, it would be impossible to understand it without understanding race. Similarly race is important, but trying to understand it in a capitalist country without understanding class is impossible”. Key questions animating this seminar may include:

* How does youth culture research contribute to productive ways of theorising race and class today?

* How is COVID-19 making more visible the often-hidden ways that race and class, in intersecting ways, produce systemic disadvantage in young people’s lives?

* How do the complexities of current race-class conditions, such as popular discourses of the post-racial, deepening social and economic polarisation, and the burgeoning of activism shape the ways youth cultures are expressed, represented and theorised?

* How might we think through this race and class axis for young people and youth cultures in distinct contexts where the production and experience of ‘class’ and ‘race’ identities may differ significantly in relation to colonialism, place and power?

“Undesirable immigrants”: Black Africans in Australia and New Zealand

By Mandisi Majavu

Research about black Africans in both Australia and New Zealand often uses either a resettlement paradigm or an integration paradigm to describe the lived experience of Africans. These resettlement discourses used to understand black Africans are theoretically flawed due to their Eurocentric nature. Thus, for instance, the experience of black Africans is understood through a psychologisation narrative that conflates the reality of traumatic pre-settlement refugee experiences as a debilitating factor in the lives of a fraction of Africans, with the assumption of that traumatic experience to define and to shape the lives of the majority (Cross, 1991). Through this narrative the label “African refugee” becomes a category that signifies the deviant, aggressive, mentally unstable “other” in the Australian public imagination (Kumsa, 2006). It is against this discursive backdrop that African youths in Australia are portrayed as perpetrators of crime and violence. It is this paradigm that emboldened Kevin Andrews, the former Immigration Minister, to question the ability of some African immigrants to “integrate” into Australia in 2007.

This study is based on interviews conducted with thirteen research participants who reside in Melbourne, Australia, as well as eleven research participants who live in Auckland, New Zealand. All the research participants in this study settled in Melbourne and in Auckland via refugee programs. The African diaspora in Australia and New Zealand is largely made up of Africans from a refugee background. It is worth noting that the research participants in this study are not ethnically homogenous but come from different African countries including Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. The age make-up of the research participants is between the ages of 25 and 75. The data shows that although the age range of research participants is wide, the participants’ lived experience is similar. At the time of the interviews, the majority of participants had been living in their host countries for more than three years.

One of the major findings of this study is that dominant resettlement and integration paradigms have proved to be woefully inadequate for the task of understanding anti-black racism that African youth have to endure in Australia. These Eurocentric paradigms do not have theoretical tools to deconstruct the full meaning of the anti-black racist expressions in Australia. Meanwhile, African youths have to confront a racialisation process that structurally positions them as black (Saucier, 2015). They are cast via a cultural deficit discourse as deviant, hypermasculine, and criminogenic (Saucier, 2015).

Speaker Bio: 

Dr. Mandisi Majavu holds a PhD from the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Dr Majavu is senior lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Studies, at Rhodes University. Majavu’s research ranges widely across political histories of race in settler societies such as Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. He is author of the book ‘Uncommodified Blackness’ (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).

Theorising the intersections of race, class and gender through research on youth and social mixing

By Sumi Hollingworth

My presentation focuses on young people’s friendships and subcultural affiliations in multi-ethnic, socially mixed schools in London, England. In my work I outline a sociology of ‘social mixing,’ where I work theoretically with race, social class and gender simultaneously. I argue that both the institutional structures and processes of education, and young people’s subcultural affiliations within schools, reproduce normative raced, classed and gendered ways of being, which constrain the possibilities for social mixing. Exploring the idea of the self as a system of exchange (Skeggs, 2004), I argue that identity positions of race, class and gender, are embodied capitals which produce young men and women as subjects of value/ without value. Different raced, classed and gendered embodied identities accrue more or less value, which shore up boundaries of friendship groups and constrain opportunities for mixing. Through analysis of three minority ethnic students in my study, Damian, Tyler and Lara, who all attempt to ‘cross borders’ (Bunnell et al., 2012; Hey, 1997; Thorne, 1993; Walkerdine et al., 2001) into White middle class subcultures, I explore the differing capital value embodied in their raced, classed and gendered identity positions. Indeed, the possibilities for mixing are unequally experienced by different bodies, as certain bodies are more ‘sticky’ (Ahmed, 2007). What I show is that friendships across this border are characterised by ‘semi-investments’ on both sides, and promise only partial possibilities for social mobility via social mixing, though limited access to academic capital and embodied Whiteness.

Speaker Bio

Dr. Sumi Hollingworth is a sociologist of youth and education who works freelance. Her research explores intersecting inequalities of social class, race and gender in the context of educational transitions. For twelve years she worked in university academic research in London and undertook a PhD in sociology of education. Her doctoral research explored social mixing and friendship formation amongst urban youth. She travels and blogs about community, identity, parenting and education for social justice at Waiting for the machine to stop. She is currently visiting researcher at the migration research center (MirReKoc) at Koç University in Istanbul, and at the Centre for Research into the Marginalisation of Children and Young Adults (CREMCYA) at St. Mary’s University Twickenham, UK.

Theorising Race and Class in Australian youth culture studies

By Sherene Idriss

Young people in Australia are growing up in a society where racist discourses are pervasive and widespread. Some intensely experience racial discrimination and prejudice in their everyday lives, compounded by their class, geographic, gendered and sexualised social locations. Others, who may be white or are interpellated as such, experience the world and make choices without this particular burden to reckon with. The capacity to experience leisure, pleasure and develop youthful communities is politicised, curtailed and under surveillance in differentiated ways for those who are marked as Other in the settler colonial nation. At the same time that eugenicist thinking has re-entered the mainstream, young people are bombarded with brand and entertainment cultures in which whiteness has been superficially decentred and where diversity is often celebrated. In Australia, as in other contexts, race thinking has been wielded to expand capitalist projects at the same time that diversity initiatives obscure the very inequalities that race produces. In this context, this paper traces the historical origins of an Australian-specific youth culture studies and its contribution to understanding how coloniality, race and class operate in tandem to organise society and produce difference. I review the key concepts and literature that underpin an Australian-specific youth culture studies and consider how race theorisation – from a critical Indigenous framework and a postcolonial tradition – can be better incorporated to illuminate how young people occupy particular racialised locations that shape the very experience of youth itself.

Speaker Bio

Dr. Sherene Idriss is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Alfred Deakin Institute of Citizenship and Globalisation. Her work examines the everyday lives of diasporic young people, vocation and aspirations, youthful consumption and identity practices. Her current research examines the intersections between labour, community, gender and personal style among migrant young women. Sherene is the author of 'Young Migrant Identities: Creativity and Masculinity' (Routledge, 2018).

  • Online via Zoom