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Capturing the complexity of youth crime through habitus

Published in Bourdieu, Habitus, Latest Posts by Alan France on June 23, 2015

Image by Terekhova

Image by Terekhova

[part of the launch week for the book: Bourdieu, Habitus and Social Research: The art of application (published this week by Palgrave). My chapter is called: Theorising and researching the youth crime nexus: Habitus, reflexivity and the political ecology of social practice

Throughout history the ‘youth crime question’ and especially why the young commit crime has attracted significant attention from within the social sciences. Criminology, of course has had a major influence in contributing to our understanding of these issues and has in the main been dominated by the search for understanding the individual motivations that drive the young to commit crimes. As a result criminological approaches have been strongly shaped and influenced by assumptions about ‘cause and effect’ seeing the problem of the young delinquent as being either ‘born bad’ or ‘made bad’ as a result of genes or families. Of course a more radical approach in criminology has argued for us to recognise the structural features of these process yet even here criminology tends to see young people’s criminal activities as being ‘over determined’ by structural or labelling processes reducing the individual to some form of ‘cultural (or criminal) dupe’ who is passive in the process

What has been lacking is an approach that explores the complex relationship and motivations of the young alongside an understanding of the political ecological context in which young people operate. It is here where the work of Bourdieu can make a significant contribution. Interestingly, criminology (and sociology in fact) has given little attention to how the work of Bourdieu can help us understand young people’s relationship with crime so it is within this framework that the chapter I have written aims to make a contribution. Drawing on empirical data collected from an ESCR project (Pathways into and out of Crime) the analysis explored the relationship of habitus and young people’s involvement in criminal activity. Once we started analysing the data through a Bourdieuian framework it became clear habitus had much to offer. One of the most important findings that clearly had connection to habitus was that for many young people in our study ‘things happened’ as they always have in their neighbourhoods and communities. There was a sense of routine, habit and normality about the way crime intersected and connected with their everyday lives. This was how it was. The forms of strategies that young people then developed as a way of managing themselves in their neighbourhoods were strongly influenced by idea of ‘knowing the game’ where their social life and forms of everyday social practice were not always consciously or totally planned but were shaped by unconscious and unknowing understanding of the ‘game’ as defined by their habitus. From this, the chapter then explores the tensions and contradictions that can exist in these processes and about the role of reflexivity and how habitus can and is sometimes in ‘flux’ as a result of changing contexts (has more value in some places and spaces than others). The chapter then concludes by reflecting on the usefulness of habitus but also some of the challenges it created as a tool for analysing the empirical question of why the young commit crime.

About


Alan FranceAlan France is Professor of Sociology in the School of Social Science at the University of Auckland. He has been writing and contributing to the ‘sociology of youth and the life course’ for over 20 years. He has published four books and over 40 peer reviewed journal articles and book chapters. His most recent work has focused on developing analytical frameworks for understanding young people’s relationship with crime. This work draws heavily upon the work of Pierre Bourdieu showing how concepts such as habitus, capitals, and fields can help us understand the political ecology of young people’s relationship with crime. He is also presently writing a new book that is using this model to understand how youth policy around the world is re-constructing what it means to be young.

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