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Lectures: 17.04.03

Lecture One

Theoretical perspectives: early beginnings to present day

Lecture Two

Feminist challenges to youth and trouble: focus on teenage pregnancy and crime

The academic literature on `delinquent youth' arises in part from official concern over young people's activities outside direct adult supervision by parents, teachers or employers.

Griffin, C. (1993) Representations of Youth: The Study of

Adolescence in Britain and America, Cambridge: Polity



A set of concerns about the activities of young people and their supervision by

institutions or individuals representing the social order.

Johnston, L. (1993:96) The Modern Girl: Girlhood and Growing Up, Sydney: Allen & Unwin

Youth and trouble: theoretical perspectives

Biological determinism

Psychological theories

Sociological theories

Blumer's symbolic interactionism rests on three premises:

humans act towards things on the basis of meanings that the things have for them

the meaning of things is derived from, or arises out of, the social interaction that one has with one's fellows

these meanings are handled in and modified through an interpretative process used by the person in dealing with the things he encounters.

Hester & Eglin, 1992.

In relation to criminal behaviour, symbolic interactionists concentrate on processes of social interaction in which:

certain behaviour is prohibited by law, i.e. the process of crime definition through legislation

certain acts and persons become subject to law enforcement, i.e. the process of crime selection by the police

certain acts and persons become fitted with the label `criminal' i.e. the process of crime interpretation by the courts

criminal identity is developed, maintained and transformed (e.g.notion of careers).

Labelling theorists interpret deviance not as a set of characteristics of individuals or groups, but as a process of interaction between deviants and non-deviants.

Giddens, 1997: 178

Deviance is not the quality of the act a person commits but rather a consequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an offender. The deviant is one to whom that label has successfully been applied; deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label.

Becker, 1963:9

Critique of labelling theory

Some acts are intrinsically wrong, such as murder.

There are differences e.g. people from a deprived background may shoplift more than rich people; although deviant behaviour may increase after conviction, there may be other prior explanations for this.

Labelling theory did not fully explain how what came to be seen as deviant was defined - the questions whose definitions, whose interests and why were not explored.

Mainstream vs radical

The mainstream perspective is positivist, empiricist and conservative, presenting itself as an apolitical and objective project. It is characterized by the tendency to investigate young people as both the source and the victims of a series of `social problems', adopting the victim-blaming thesis in the search for the cause(s) of specific phenomena. The radical perspective has been more likely to adopt structuralist and post-structuralist analyses, and to de-construct the association between young people and `social problems', asking different questions and viewing research as part of a consciously political project


Feminist challenge to the sociology of youth

Teenage pregnancy: a social problem or not?

Crime and invisible girls

While we were doing the research ...I was asked hundreds of times what my research was about (as researchers usually are). Almost invariably the response to my explanation was in the nature of `How awful!' `Poor/Silly girls!' Or `I bet you find some problems there!' As the research neared its end I began to reply that actually te women and children were mostly doing fine, that lack of money was their major problem and that given their educational and family background it did not appear that their financial circumstances would necessarily have improved if they had deferred motherhood beyond their teenage years. Many people either simply did not believe me or added `Yes, but...' caveats to my account. Other people were astonished that the stories `young mothers' might have to tell would not simply be full of doom and gloom...

Phoenix, A. (1991:1) Young Mothers, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Reasons Phoenix asserts that there is a perception that young motherhood and poor outcomes for the child are linked:


Ambiguity of adolescents' status.

Perceived to be most common among

groups which are seen to be


Reflects reality i.e. outcomes are

poor (Phoenix argues this is not the


Phoenix, A. (1991:1) Young Mothers, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Contribution of feminist critiques

Made girls and women visible.

Challenged theories which do not take gender into account.

Pointed out the continuity between the pressure to conformity by the CJS and by society



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