Youth, Class and Everyday Struggles

Dr Steven Threadgold – Youth, Class and Everyday Struggles

This book is an important contribution to the theorisation of social class today, and a shining example of truly generative scholarship at the intersection of youth transitions and youth cultures research.

Anita HarrisResearch Professor, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University

Youth Class and Everyday Struggles brings together findings from two of University of Newcastle Sociologist Dr Steven Threadgold’s research projects. The first looking at young musicians from the underground music scene of Eastern Australia and another suite of research focusing on the way class is represented in the media via the frequently used terms hipster and bogan. In the book, Threadgold uses these research projects as case studies to look at how class is represented in day-to-day interactions through the concepts of popular sociological theorist Pierre Bourdieu.

“I wanted to bring attention to Bourdieu’s often overlooked concepts related to class and move beyond just describing inequality and to show how emotions are really important as to how inequalities replicate themselves. Particularly notions of illusio and social gravity, they’re concepts that help us think about people’s motivations and why are they drawn to different things,’ Dr Threadgold said.

With the notion of class increasingly sidelined in the last couple of decades, this book delivers a fresh, more culturally focused technique of thinking about class and how it operates in our everyday lives.

“We can think about class as an economic category, as it relates to the things we own, what kind of house we have and how much money we have in the bank.  However, what I’m interested in is the more cultural formulations of class – the notions of taste and creativity,” Dr Threadgold said. “With middle class points of view tending to dominate the media, the effect is that those kind of morals, ethics and values are seen as normal and legitimate, effectively leaving out a lot of people.

Those that are left out have the struggle with attaining those values, morals and ethics; or if not, rejecting them and coming up with their own.

Chapters four and five centre on the rise of the class defining terms hipster and bogan, specifically in the media and comedy. Threadgold says the terms hipster and bogan have become proxies used instead of the traditional class representations. His research in this area saw him cataloging media articles that included the terms hipster and bogan, now used so prolifically he decided to stop his daily routine of adding new articles to the thousands he had already come across.

“People that are writing about hipsters tend to look a lot like hipsters, they stand in for the middle class. They are also the same kind of people from the same class that are writing about bogans but in a much more aggressive and insulting way. The bogan stands in for people that don’t have the right clothes, don’t drink the right beer or coffee.  That’s the background of our everyday understanding about taste and morals and those things inform the way people engage with each other and think about themselves.”

Threadgold extends on this by theorising that those on the peripheries the class system are subject to Bourdieu’s notion of symbolic violence which create a vicious circle of inopportunity.

“If you’re on the pointy end of being told you’re uncool, distasteful or vulgar you often don’t pursue things outside your own social world, which creates a self filling scenario of people not striving to do other things. This gives us a better understanding of how people adapt, make choices and strategise around what they’re going to do in life,” he said.

Two chapters of the book are dedicated to examining the ‘do-it-yourself creative’ or ‘punk’ scene. Dr Threadgold’s initial interest in this area was about the creative processes that people were undertaking in these scenes, however he stumbled upon a novel finding about how these people were rejecting cultural norms and using their punk morals and ethics to make decisions about their careers. Even after having invested in university degrees, which Threadgold says are often seen as the panacea to inequality, the DIYer’s are increasingly deciding to get off the corporate career treadmill.

“When young people transition from school to work they are assumed to be making decisions about getting a good career and trying to earn as much money as they can. However what I found in the young people I was talking to was they seemed to be using the punk attitude to make decisions about their careers. They were rejecting working for multinational corporations for ethical reasons, they weren’t worried too much about money and they wanted jobs that allowed them time to pursue their creative activities. They were rejecting a lot of the norms but seemed to be quite happy about it even though it was putting them at economic risk. Some were living below the poverty line and were deliberately choosing to do that based on decisions about ethics, morals and values rather than money,” he said.

Dr Threadgold’s says his interest in class is motivated by the fact that it’s a concept that is largely denied in our public discourse, the media and politics and his work on hipsters and bogans is a way to try and get an understanding about what that looks like in everyday life.

“My interest in class is about showing there are systematic inequalities that can’t necessarily be overcome by trying harder or making the right choices. The ways things are distributed in society are endemic and horridly unequal and it seems to be getting worse.”

Youth, Class and Everyday Struggles is published by Routledge.

Reviews

‘Struggle’ is one of those over-used words we use to evoke a political ‘feel’ to analysis. In Youth, Class and Everyday Struggles, however, Steven Threadgold takes the idea of struggle seriously, and develops a multi-layered understanding of struggle to provide an exciting and insightful analysis of the challenges young people negotiate in everyday life. Drawing together a thoughtful reading of Bourdieu through theories of affect, risk and reflexivity, Threadgold shows that struggle is fundamental to the constitution of young people’s classed and gendered existence in a world shaped by precarity. Through an examination of hipsters, 'bogans' and DIY music, the book argues not only that there are modalities and temporalities to struggle, but that struggle is creative and mundane, agentic and oppressive. It offers an original and thought-provoking contribution to the field of youth studies.

Greg NobleProfessor, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University, Australia

A smart, sensitive and sophisticated analysis of how youth figures in the ways class is produced and contested in conditions of precarity. Centring the concept of struggle, Threadgold incisively addresses the cultural politics and quotidian material realities of new and old class relations through careful attention to the everyday lives of young people. This book is an important contribution to the theorisation of social class today, and a shining example of truly generative scholarship at the intersection of youth transitions and youth cultures research.

Anita HarrisResearch Professor, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Faculty of Arts & Education, Deakin University, Australia

This is an excellent book that pushes the boundaries of theorising in youth studies to another level. By using the notion of ‘struggle’ and other Bourdieusian concepts, Steve Threadgold is able to create a more nuanced understanding of the contemporary forms of class social reproduction and youth reflexivity. As such this book is a must read for all students and scholars interested in the youth question.

Alan FranceProfessor of Sociology, University of Auckland, New Zealand

Youth, Class and Everyday Struggles is a masterfully researched and compellingly written book. Casting an expert eye over an increasingly diverse field, Threadgold has produced a much needed synthesis of key ideas relating to youth cultures and youth transitions that will be of seminal value to both experienced youth researchers and students in search of a critical introduction to youth studies.

Andy BennettProfessor, School of Humanities, Griffith University, Australia

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