Perceptions of Risk of Harm and Social Capital in Young People's Lives - PhDData

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Perceptions of Risk of Harm and Social Capital in Young People’s Lives

The thesis was published by Pringle, Jennifer Lisa, in September 2022, University of Stirling.


Contemporary young people would appear to have access to more information than their predecessors in relation to keeping safe by avoiding or reducing risks. However concerns about young people’s perceived increasing risky behaviours have contributed to a growing focus on understanding young people and risk of harm across private and public spheres. This study examines the views, experiences and behaviours of young people and adults in relation to risk of harm to young people and the role of social capital in reducing perceived risk. Using qualitative data with young people and adults in a Scottish community this study develops an understanding of perceptions of the main risks of harm to young people and whether social capital helps to reduce these risks. Social constructions of ‘appropriate’ behaviours for young people to engage in and subsequent constraints imposed by adult-led structures and safety concerns, formed a significant focus of youth theorising in this area.
To a certain extent, the findings from this study challenge the conventional construction of young people as risky individuals, by identifying young people’s negotiation and avoidance strategies for keeping safe. However, young people’s experiences and behaviours in public and private spaces remain significantly structured by age and gender. Young people and adults perceive risks associated with alcohol and public spaces to be high and prominent. The continuing notion of risk appears to be evident in young people’s choices about who to socialise with and where, their safety concerns and ultimately how particular social networks can be accessed in order to capitalise on protective measures. Young people’s safety concerns are overwhelmingly related to the ‘other’ in public spaces, reinforcing dominant social constructions of private spaces as safer than public spaces.
Strong community ties are highlighted as paradoxical: whilst providing trusting social networks which contribute to loyal and safe peers, the intimacy of such networks is perceived by adults as a barrier to young people’s bridging capital and social mobility.
These findings pose difficulties to applying late modernist risk theories which minimise the role of wider social processes in shaping young people’s perceptions. Understanding young people and risk is best served by adopting the sociology of youth and social constructionist perspectives which assert the impact of gender, and in particular the power of age constructions which continue to operate within young people’s lives. Ultimately, perceptions on risk of harm to young people remain infused with gendered and age expectations and constructions.

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