Youth, Place and Theories of Belonging showcases cutting-edge empirical research on young people’s lifeworlds. Drawing on interdisciplinary perspectives, the scholars in our new book in the BSA’s Sociological Futures Book Series demonstrate that belonging is personal, infused with individual and collective histories as well as interwoven with conceptions of place. In studying how young people adapt to social change, the book highlights the plurality of belonging, as well as its temporal and fleeting nature across the globe. Throughout we argue that investigating how young people come to belong can open up new spaces and provide critical insights into young people’s changing identities.
Young people’s negotiation of belonging in everyday life remains an emerging area of scholarship, with conceptual overlaps in how youth come to understand their positions in fragmented societies. In the field of youth studies, and sociology more broadly, we have seen an emphasis recently on how youth respond to social changes, contribute to social cohesion/fragmentation, and live out everyday multiculturalism in an increasingly globalised world. On one hand, young people are often depicted as enabling a changing and globally connected world, liberal and multicultural, whilst on the other, they are also paradoxically represented as reverting to nationalism, right wing politics, and individualism. However, the role of place and belonging is often absent in both approaches.
Composed of fourteen chapters from new and established scholars of youth, the collection references key sites and institutions in young people’s lives such as schools, community/cultural centres, neighbourhoods and spaces of consumption. Drawing from diverse areas such as the rural, the urban as well as displacements and mobilities, the international collection enhances our understanding of the theories employed in the study of youth identity practices. Chapters draw on empirical research from both the Global North (Australia, England, Canada, Northern Ireland, Norway, Scotland, US), and the Global South (Latin America, Pakistan, The Gambia) in order to investigate young people’s identities across three themes, agency, place and negotiation. The research presented in the collection also emphasises a process of re-adaptation and readjustment as well as the plurality of belonging, showing how one can both feel a strong sense of belonging but also, simultaneously, feel lonely and alienated.
What comes to the fore in Youth, Place and Theories of Belonging is not a sense of belonging aligned with specific criteria such as long-lasting, positive, stable and affective, albeit this varies from person to person. On the contrary, the scholars we have assembled in this book theorise belonging as a discursive and complex process – a personal dialectic in constant negotiation with one’s surroundings. So, while belonging may often be linked to a linear, developmental process of thinking (acquisition of language, formal legalities, the documentation of the nation-state), many in this collection passionately emphasise that belonging is far from linear and is much more personal, infused with individuals and collective histories, tied closely to the social milieu youth experience daily. Furthermore, belonging occurs not only in reference to place, but is highly relational, closely related to collectives of people. In light of the research presented in this collection, we suggest that it may be most appropriate to conceive of belonging as a process that is negotiated. As young people navigate certain discourses, they moderate and adjust their identity accordingly.
We hope this international collection will enhance our understanding of the theories employed in the study of youth identity practices as they negotiate a sense of belonging. More specifically, the contributors seek to understand the manner in which the practices, discourses and ethos of particular locales, spaces and institutions shape the dispositions and ‘ways of being’ for young people. While youth and belonging has become an important area of study, it is still exploratory and subject to experimentation. Rather than subscribing to one singular theory of belonging, we see an interdisciplinary approach, oftentimes blending different theoretical frameworks. Therefore, in using theory to understand the relationship between identity, power, legitimacy and place, we see how using theories of belonging can enhance our understanding of experiences of youth. In examining the commonalities and differences in the authors’ approaches to studying belonging, we hope this edited collection makes a contribution to an emerging field of studies of belonging in youth studies.
We would also like to highlight that during the final stages of this book, one of the authors Faith Gordon (Chapter 5) informed us of the important impact of Lyra McKee on her work and research site. Lyra was a journalist from Northern Ireland who wrote passionately about young people being let down in the years following paramilitary ceasefires, the Good Friday agreement and the power-sharing government in Belfast. On 18th April 2019, Lyra was fatally shot during rioting in Derry/Londonderry. Lyra’s passing is a huge loss to her community, and she will always be remembered for the impact she made. We dedicate this book to her memory.