Youth Culture and Society

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This project aims to investigate young peoples use of urban space in particular reference to contested spaces within the urban environment and the conflicts that can arise amongst certain sectors of the community around these contested spaces. In tackling such a large subject it is important to narrow the subject area down to be able to cope with it more thoroughly. For this subjects research shopping centres have been chosen as the contested space here due to the fact that it is a key area for youth groups to congregate in urban space.

It is also an interesting area to study due to the conflicts that arise here between consumers shopping and youth groups socialising. This project will also question why these conflicts seem to arise in certain urban areas such as shopping centres. The research and investigation in this project aims to address this question. The area that the discourse is analysing here is the shopping centre and the chosen shopping centre for this study is touchwood in Solihull. This is because it is a site where youths very visibly congregate in large groups and is therefore a prime site to observe conflict between different sectors of the community.

As well as this Solihull is an area that I know very well and am familiar with which therefore gives an advantage when researching and investigating the behaviour in the area. Much of the literature that is related to this subject is based around contested spaces within the urban environment and urban space and young peoples identity. When looking at the way in which young people interact with the urban environment especially in areas such as shopping centres or malls the way in which youth croups apply uses to space must be assessed. Miles and Hall ask the question why do groups of youths congregate in areas such as shopping malls?

They argue that ‘There are a number of important reasons why these teenagers aggravate towards the urban centre. It not only constitutes space in which they fell free from parental jurisdiction but it also provides them with a means of finding and creating a different spatiality. (Miles and Hall, (2002) p68) So Miles and Hall argue that by socialising in an area outside of their locality in places such as town centres and shopping malls youths are able to create for themselves a new sense of freedom. Miles and Hall also argue that by leaving their locality, new experiences and dimensions are added to their lives (Miles and Hall (2002) p69).

It appears therefore that the urban space occupied is not the important to the youth groups but rather that they are outside of their locality. Skelton and Valentine argue in relation to Miles and Halls point that young people use urban space in quite different ways than for the uses they were intended. They argue that in urban spaces such as shopping centres where consumerism is the primary activity youths tend to congregate for different reasons and therefore for these youth groups the ‘consumption of products is made invisible’ (Skelton and Valentine (1998) p. 264).

Miles and Hall go on to say that for young people who congregate in these ‘Cathedrals of Consumption’ that the ‘Opportunity to hang out at shopping centres seems more important than the act of consumption itself. ‘ (Miles and Hall (2002) p67) The context of the literature therefore turns to the conflict between the people who use this urban space for its primary use as consumers consuming, who are mainly adults, and the youth groups who use the consumer area to socialise. Miles and Hall state that ‘urban areas today are no more than sites of consumerism and the whole of the contemporary landscape is geared towards consumption. (Miles and Hall (2002) p71) Therefore it can be argued that youth groups have little option but to cause conflict when socialising. They argue that aside from youth being marginalized from much of the urban landscape they are in fact actively closed off from just for being young people. The fact then that young people use consumer space to socialise creates conflict. It is argued that consumers in these areas create a stereotype of young people as rebellious and oppositional. This stereotype is also reflected in the literature.

Miles and Hall argue that although ‘these young people aren’t actually behaving any differently from any other shoppers who happen to be browsing… they are perceived to be oppositional for no better reason than that they are young people’ (Miles and Hall (2002) p67). The findings in the research in this project appear to show quite clearly a conflict between young people and adults in the consumer environment of the shopping centre. It can also be argued that this oppositional and rebellious stereotyping of youths in urban areas creates certain reactions in young people.

Some argue that the stereotyping of youths actually initially causes the oppositional and rebellious attitudes in youths. Skelton and Valentine in their research of young people and public space in London describe of youths situated in a shopping mall of how ‘Groups would form, break up, regroup with different members all propelled along by the attempts of the security guards to keep the young people on the move and at least to look like genuine bona fide shoppers as opposed to young people just checking each other out on a Saturday afternoon’ (Skelton and Valentine (1998) p255)

This explains how young people react to their marginalisation places such as shopping centres. Using this background contextual information and applying it to the research that was carried out allows for a theoretical view of the situation and is an excellent basis for research The method that I used for the research of this project was to look at different message boards on the internet that have been designed for young people to express their opinions. The message boards researched exist on the website ‘Solihull online’ which is an independent profit making website set up to allow people to express opinions about issues in their local area.

The two message boards that were of particular interest were the ‘Touchwood’ message board were the discussion was based around young people and adults use of a particular shopping centre in Solihull. The other message board was entitled ‘Skateboarding in Solihull’ which was begun by Solihull Council to try to find out young peoples opinions on what they would like in a skate park in Solihull. There were several reasons as to why this approach was taken to research young peoples use of urban space. Firstly using methods such as interviews, direct or participant observation all poses problems.

For this subject of study participant observation would be a lengthy and difficult process, as I have no previous connection to the groups of young people that are part of the focus of the research. Making these areas of research even more difficult it can be also be argued that direct observation as well as interviews has a direct effect upon the subject being researched. In researching large groups of people in public areas such as would be needed for this project there would be a large effect upon the subjects behaviour.

Also although this type of research does yield very rich results the type of information that it would yield would not be suitable for the issues being raise here namely the conflict due to usage of the environment. This type of research is more centered towards studying subcultures etc. As well as this I feel that in both types of observation, direct and participant there is a moral issue to be raised. In the decision not to use these types all these issues were taken into account. The strongest argument is that a researcher observing a situation such as this would too radically alter the setting and subjects activity.

For the subject that I am researching here namely the reasons for conflicts between Adults and Young people in the use of shopping centres it is unlikely that observation will give me the type information that I am looking for. Interviewing is a good possible choice as a research technique here as it gives information about the interviewee’s feelings about the situation. It would therefore provide information into the conflicts surrounding this public space. However several problems arise when using interviews.

The interviewer will inevitably have biased influences upon the subject, the validity of the data expressed to you is questionable and also getting interviewees initially can be difficult. The decision therefore was made to use textual analysis and in this case Internet message boards that surround the subject of young peoples use of urban space. These types of message boards allow people to air these opinions with little influence from external sources and without fear of comeback from others. It can therefore be seen as a good way of gaining a wide array of varied, uninfluenced opinions on the subject matter.

Of course no type of research is perfect and textual analysis is no exception. By using textual analysis it means that the researcher has no control over the content and subject of what is discussed. Therefore much of the content will be of little or no relevance. It also has the disadvantage of being a rather superficial form of research. The comments made by users of the message board are all you have to base your research on. Therefore it is difficult to discover what group the comment comes from unless they state it in their comment.

However although there are these problems the facts that this type of information is easily accessible and offers good insight make it a good method to use. The message boards consist of a number of comments from different people followed by their first name or left anonymous. Any visitor to the site can submit a comment by filling in the form at the bottom of the web page however submitted comments are open to editing by the websites moderator to check that comments are suitable for the web page. In looking at the web page it is initially obvious that two separate conflicting groups emerge.

One group appears to be adults complaining about youngsters in the shopping areas and the other young people defending themselves about the comments made by the adults. Comments such as ‘There are too many teenagers hanging around making a nuisance of themselves’ (Fran) and ‘There are too many children just hanging around’ (Joanna) show one side of the arguments and comments such as ‘The grannies can stop moaning’ (Oasis Fan) and ‘We have just as much right to be here as anyone else, I am completely sick about oldies going on about us’ (Anon) shows the young peoples point of view.

Initially then it is obvious that there is a conflict between to users of the Touchwood Shopping Centre. What is interesting to note is that of the comments labelling the kids as a nuisance not one of them gives a reason for the comment. This seems to tie in with the view of Miles and Hall that young people are seen as oppositional simply because they are young people. Several Comments highlight the fact ‘There are so many young teenagers hanging around sitting in the chairs just doing nothing, generally dosing. I think that it is just a meeting place for young kids. (Bridget) ‘Yes, I wholly agree, something must be done about the gangs of kids who sit around there.

I have nothing against them at all but there really isn’t any shops there that any of these kids could afford to shop in’ (Lin) Although I think the new Touchwood Mall is good I also think that it has created many new problems i. e. somewhere for all the school and college kids to hang out. The mall needs to be policed by some kind of security staff who will question children who are seen to be hanging around the mall and move them on. (Vanessa) These comments appear to highlight the fact that adults have a problem with young peoples use of the shopping centre for socialising. The comments appear to reason that the kids should not be meeting there and that is the reason for their opinions that are even as a serious as to suggest security guards to throw children out of the shopping centre. These comments also raise another issue that the children are essentially barred from the primary use of the mall (consuming), which again creates a conflict.

This issue is also raised in many of the comments from the young people. ‘The shops are a bit overpriced and cheaper shops need to be installed’ (Smithy) ‘I think the planners of touchwood got a little confused. They try and make it a place for everybody but the shops are expensive and not really what we want’ (Chioma) The issue therefore is raised as to young people being forced into social spaces and not being able to consume there. The issue is also raised as to if they cannot shop there they should go elsewhere to socialise.

However is relation to the literature it appears that the entire urban landscape for youths is Consumer based and therefore they have nowhere to go and socialise without being a nuisance. This issue is raised in the comments saying that if they don’t go to touchwood then where else can they go. ‘As for teenagers hanging around, what else is there for them, they have as much right to be in Touchwood as anyone else and if all they do is sit around then may I suggest the planners of Touchwood and such places make sure that their next planning project is something that might be useful for those teenagers.

After all shops are hardly in short supply’ (Cathy) ‘At the end of the day us teenagers need someplace to hang out’ (Jack) These comments point out two important issues firstly that kids initially use the mall as a place to hang out and secondly they often do this because there is nowhere else for them to go. This second point is an entirely new issue in itself. On the ‘Skateboarding in Solihull’ message board youths comment on how they would like a skate park in Solihull. The comments made show somewhat that the young people of Solihull are disaffected from the council.

The message board opens with comments from the council stating that their initial skate park consultation took part on 9th March 2002 with work anticipated to commence in February 2003. The comments then go on update themselves on planning action posted on 18th March 2003 that they hope to commence work by the summer. From the comments that kids have made surrounding these statements they are obviously unhappy. ‘I am not best pleased, it is the Easter hols, I went out at 11am this morning, now 3 hours later I am at home because I got thrown out of eight spots. ‘ (Karl) ‘Solihull Council is a farce.

Screw Solihull they are too busy trying to become the snob capital of Britain to care about the youth of the town. ‘(Jordan) ‘Someone really should build a skate park of some sort bcuz I’m bloody bored of being shooed away’ (Liam Sill) These comments appear to highlight the fact that if the youths did have somewhere to skate then they would go there. However they have little option as to where they can go and therefore if they want to skate they are forced into areas such as the town centre and shopping malls. In Solihull there a few activities for youths to take part in considering the amount of young people there are in the area.

The small amount of youth clubs appears to cater for very young children, the disabled and people who wish to participate in sport. Leaving little option for the majority of youth Many issues have been highlighted and debated within this project. The project developed throughout the research from initially being based around the victimisation and marginalisation of youth in urban spaces and the conflict surrounding this area and then developing to include the causes of this marginalisation mainly due to the lack of urban space for youths to use for socialising.

By researching comments made on the Internet message boards an insight was given into the conflict surrounding the area and the causes of opposition between the two groups involved. This project highlights the importance surrounding the lack of social space available to young people in the urban environment. Namely in Solihull the lack of facilities such as skate parks caused kids to hang around in the shopping centres causing a ‘nuisance’.

It appears therefore that if young people are not provided for in terms of urban space then they have little other choice than to socialise somewhere in the urban environment. It would be interesting to see if problems continued once a sufficient amount of urban space was provided for young people. If a problem can still be identified once social space is provided for young people in an urban environment then this problem can be dealt with. However it is hard to argue that children should not be socialising in urban space when there is little other option available to them.

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