Responding to Youth Violence through Youth Work 9781447323129

This book draws on the findings of a two-year European research project to offer answers to the 'problem' of h

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Table of contents :
A European and political context
Our aims
Overarching theme and structure of the book
Part 1. Literature review, theoretical frame and researching youth violence
1. Youth work and youth violence in a European context
Defining youth work
Mapping out the youth work paradigm
Youth work in the UK
Youth work in Austria
Youth work in Germany
Street-based youth work in Europe
Defining youth violence
Gang violence
Youth work and youth violence
2. Our theoretical frame
Post-structuralism and intersectionality: a critique of identity politics
Discourses and defences: a psychosocial frame
Gender and masculinity
Introducing a psychosocial lens on masculinity
‘Race’, racism and racialisation
Desistance theory
Worker relationships and generativity
Structural and symbolic violence, surveillance and developing ethnopraxis
A model for meaningful responses youth violence: PCSE
3. Using participatory methods to research youth violence
Participatory research: an overview
Project Touch
Phase 2: data gathering
Using participatory research to understand youth violence
Part 2. Meaningful responses to youth violence
4. Responding at the personal (P) level
Violence as a way of meeting needs
Empathy, collusion with neutralisation and ‘constructive confrontation’
Working with teachable moments
Removing young people
Personal reinvention
Reciprocal identification, worker thresholds and sub-cultural capital
Worker ‘stories’
Epiphanies and generativity
5. Responding at the community (C) level
Violence as a community ‘habitus’
Tall poppy syndrome
Racial and ethnic conflict
Elder ambivalence, community ‘respect’ and duplicity
Community-learned helplessness
Intergenerational and community cohesion: bonding and bridging social capital
Community development and action
The ‘home-grown’ youth and community worker
Long-term, embedded community work that does not ‘chase’ violence
Targeting through universalism
Developing ethnopraxis
6. Responding at the structural (S) level
Direct state violence
Symbolic violence and territoriality
Immigration policy as state violence
Political education and pro-social responses
A cycle of violence
7. Responding at the existential (E) level
Existential hopelessness and lack of choice
Worker inertia
Alienating policy regimes
Passionate, real ‘in the moment’ responses
Crises and epiphanies
Symbolic resistance and small choices
Making meaning
New choices and narratives
A final word on existentialist philosophy: Sartrean and Christian approaches
Part 3 Rethinking youth work practice and policy
8. Rethinking some youth worker ‘tales’
Critically engaging with the nature of relationships
Self-respect and status
Avoiding organisational defensiveness
9. Working with intersectional identities
Masculinities: breaking down ‘cultural fictions’
Young women: internalising oppression
Young men defending against powerlessness
Avoiding worker collusion
Father absence?
Internalising racialised discourse and ethnocentricism
Ring-fenced services
Decentred identities
Local intersectional responses
10. Creating policy for good practice
Can policy be co-produced?
The worker as researcher
Structural threats to good practice
Process matters, deeply
Socialising the practice
Social and public space
A final comment
Part 4. Youth work responses in action: case studies of praxis
11. Responding to structural and symbolic violence: a comparative case study
Case Study 1: exemplifying structural and symbolic violence: Islington, London
Case study 2: A youth work response to structural violence: Jugendstreetwork, Graz, Austria
12. A sports-based response to youth violence
Rheinflanke, Köln, Germany
A hook for change with masculine currency
Self-control: from hostile to instrumental aggression
Social learning theory
Sport, self-esteem and masculinity
Moving to a psychosocial perspective on masculinity, violence and sport
13. Exploring ‘confrontational pedagogy’
An overview
A note on language and conceptual clarification
Theoretical basis
Observations, discussion and analysis
14. Embedding community work
The ‘home-grown’ worker approach
Near peer and the artificiality of the bonding/bridging capital divide
15. Ethnopraxis in action
Relationships and community ties
Seeking out role models who have commonality
16. Imagining realistic alternatives
Key findings and recommendations
Area youth work team meeting, 9 July 2017, 10 am
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Ross Deuchar, University of the West of Scotland This book draws on the findings of a two-year European research project to offer answers to the ‘problem’ of how to respond to violence involving young people that continues to challenge youth workers and policy makers. Responding to youth violence through youth work combines elements of critical theory, psychosocial criminology and applied existential philosophy to present a new model for responding meaningfully and effectively to these issues, demonstrated through a series of case studies and insider accounts generated through peer research. Mike Seal is Principal Lecturer and Head of Criminology and Youth and Community Work at Newman University, Birmingham. He has worked in the field for 25 years and worker, manager, trainer and consultant. He has written five previous books on homelessness and youth work. Pete Harris worked for 15 years as a youth worker, was Chair of the Federation for Detached Youth Work and is now Senior Lecturer in Youth and Community

ISBN 978-1-4473-2310-5

Mike Seal Pete Harris

Social work / Social studies

Responding to

youth violence through youth work

Work and Criminology at Newman University, Birmingham.

Responding to youth violence through youth work

“Impressively steps outside of the norms associated with existing youth work scholarship, making an important, wideranging contribution to our knowledge of youth work’s role in responding to youth violence.”

mike seal pete harris @policypress

Seal-YouthViolence-Cover.indd 1

PolicyPress Policy Press

9 781447 323105

15/08/2016 16:24


First published in Great Britain in 2016 by Policy Press North America office: University of Bristol Policy Press 1-9 Old Park Hill c/o The University of Chicago Press Bristol 1427 East 60th Street BS2 8BB Chicago, IL 60637, USA UK t: +1 773 702 7700 t: +44 (0)117 954 5940 f: +1 773-702-9756 [email protected] [email protected] © Policy Press 2016 British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book has been requested ISBN 978-1-4473-2310-5 paperback ISBN 978-1-4473-2309-9 hardback ISBN 978-1-4473-2313-6 ePub ISBN 978-1-4473-2314-3 Mobi The right of Mike Seal and Pete Harris to be identified as authors of this work has been asserted by them in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved: no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without the prior permission of Policy Press. The statements and opinions contained within this publication are solely those of the author and not of the University of Bristol or Policy Press. The University of Bristol and Policy Press disclaim responsibility for any injury to persons or property resulting from any material published in this publication. Policy Press works to counter discrimination on grounds of gender, race, disability, age and sexuality. Cover design by Andrew Corbett Front cover image: Gregory Olsen / iStock Printed and bound in Great Britain by CMP, Poole Policy Press uses environmentally responsible print partners

Contents Acknowledgements v Foreword by Professor John Pitts vi Introduction


Part 1: Literature review, theoretical frame and researching youth violence one Youth work and youth violence in a European context two Our theoretical frame three Using participatory research methods to study youth violence

11 13 27 47

Part 2: Meaningful responses to youth violence four Responding at the personal (P) level five Responding at the community (C) level six Responding at the structural (S) level seven Responding at the existential (E) level

69 71 91 109 121

Part 3: Rethinking youth work practice and policy eight Rethinking some youth worker tales nine Working with intersectional identities ten Creating policy for good practice

135 137 149 165

Part 4: Youth work responses in action: case studies of praxis eleven Responding to structural and symbolic violence: a comparative case study twelve A sports-based response to youth violence thirteen Exploring ‘confrontational pedagogy’ fourteen Embedding community work fifteen Ethnopraxis in action sixteen Imagining realistic alternatives

181 183 195 209 219 227 237

References 247 Index 269


Acknowledgements This book is a product of collaboration with our peer researchers, Saboor Ali and Richard Campbell. It reflects their insights as well as our own, and the data was gathered mainly as a result of their ability to build relationships with young people and conduct interviews often in very challenging circumstances. We would like to thank them for all their efforts over two years and for sharing their personal journeys with us. The youth workers and managers from all the project partners are too many to mention here but they have all become trusted friends and colleagues. Special thanks though go to Frank Paffendorf, Helmut Steinkellner, Christine Kyriacou and Haqueeq Siddique for their leadership. Their commitment throughout the process was integral to the project’s success. Thanks also to our friend and colleague Graeme Tiffany, without whom the project partners would never have reached our attention and whose philosophical perspective and research/youth work skills enriched the whole project. As well as his own written material his input to the editing process in the early stages, along with Tamsin Constable, was considerable, and we feel greatly improved the final product. Thanks also to Andy Turvey for agreeing that we could butcher and then include his action research project. The advice and support of the Touch steering group (Judith Aldridge, Deborah Jump, Simon Bradford, Diane Willems, John Pitts, Mick Hurley and Michael Whelan) was helpful throughout and much appreciated. The film company (Chocolate Films) somehow managed to capture the story of the research and of youth work, despite highly challenging working conditions and we are grateful for their patience and perseverance. Finally, a big thank you to all the young people who through their participation helped make the project such a success. Pete would like to thank Christine, Finley, Anthony and Alisha for putting up with a grumpy husband/dad when things weren’t going well and Mike would like to thank Pete for making him write properly.


Responding to youth violence through youth work

Foreword With tens of thousands of migrants and refugees on the move throughout Europe, many of them children and adolescents, there has never been a better time to publish a book that considers how we can make and sustain contact with troubled and sometimes troublesome young people on the streets of our European cities; and how we can engage them in a crucial conversation about the kind of adults they want to become and the kind of world they want to bring into being. This book is one of the very few that has attempted to think seriously about how youth work, or informal education, can be used to enable young people who hover apprehensively on the margins of our societies to become active, reflective, citizens, confident in their emerging identities and ready to play their part in making the world a better place. While this book is ostensibly about young people and violence, it is centrally about how young lives can be transformed by the intervention of appreciative adults, the parameters of whose involvement grows out of their dialogue with these young people, individually and in their peer groups. It is at least ironic that although there has seldom been a time when workers with the skills and knowledge articulated in this book were needed more urgently, funding for such work is being systematically axed. One of the rationales for the cuts is that youth work’s flimsy ‘evidence base’ does not justify its continued support. And yet this is the other reason this book is so important; because the work reported here has been meticulously studied by an international team of researchers who demonstrate clearly that this way of working is effective, for both the young people and the communities in which they live. It is my hope that this book will serve to remind those policy makers and service providers charged with dealing with our most disadvantaged, sometimes troublesome, young people that there is an evidence-based mode of social intervention out there that can make a significant difference to the lives of the young people who most perplex them. Professor John Pitts, University of Bedfordshire June 2016


Introduction The ‘problem’ of youth violence, and what could be effective responses to it, continues to occupy the minds of policymakers and other stakeholders. In this book we wish to approach the topic in a way that treats it as real, knowable, and of concern to society. We aim to provide a distinctive addition to what has become a protracted debate over youth violence and whether it is a growing ‘problem’ at all. This debate, in our view, risks appearing irrelevant to the people who live and work in neighbourhoods affected by youth violence. Hence, this book and the two-year research project it describes, is based on the premise that while the phenomenon of youth violence needs to be continually and critically analysed, significant numbers of young people continue to be drawn into violence as perpetrators, witnesses or victims, with damaging consequences for young people and the communities in which they live. We also have a sense, partly as a result of our own experiences as youth workers and now as pedagogues in the field, that youth workers could occupy a prime position in terms of their ability to understand and prevent youth violence. However, there are many complex issues around the use of youth work as a response to violence that we felt warranted further investigation through research at grass-roots level. Social policy, funding, managerial and evaluation regimes may be acting as inhibitors of innovative youth work practice and many of the youth workers whose work involves responding to violence report being poorly funded, coordinated, trained and evaluated. Inter-agency collaboration presents real challenges (Harris, 2005; Tiffany, 2007). We do not seek to demonstrate the impact of youth work interventions through experimental methods, to maximise generalisability through the use of surveys and control groups, or produce a study of the prevalence, frequency and nature of youth violence. Instead, we have deliberately chosen to use qualitative data and detailed case studies – insider accounts – that look closely at the subjective experiences of those involved because we feel that in this way, we will be better placed to understand how processes of intervention, prevention and desistance work. The book uses direct evidence gained from young people and youth workers from three European countries talking to us and our peer researcher colleagues over two years about their experiences of violence and of each other. We believe we have been able to glean some principles for good practice. In this sense we could be said to


Responding to youth violence through youth work

be arguing that the devil really is in the detail and the exception may well prove the rule.

A European and political context We are particularly interested in how the ‘problem’ of youth violence, and potential solutions to it, are conceptualised across Europe. With research partners in the UK, Germany and Austria we naturally looked to literature from those countries as the basis of what we hoped might eventually be, at least in part, a comparative analysis. One such report produced in Germany illustrated how the issue of youth violence can be understood in different ways, and how this can lead to different political responses. The educational attitude and the many different forms of cooperation have contributed to a situation in Germany in which, in contrast to other countries in international comparisons, violence by children and young people has for a long time demonstrated no dramatic increase. Unlike Germany for example, the New Labour government under Tony Blair above all has pursued a much more rigid course against ‘youth crime’ in England and Wales. The reactions, with their strong emphasis on criminalisation and their extension of punishable ‘offences’ to include anti-social behaviour, have led to a loss in significance of educational reactions. The results of such a policy are to be observed rather in the image of ‘being tough on crime’ directed at the public rather than in a fall in youth crime and violence – and moreover with dubious consequences. (Deutsches Jugendinstitut, 2009, p 191) It was within this heavily contested political context that we began our research, a context that inevitably loomed large in our activities. In this sense, we saw our project as, in part, an exercise in raising awareness across Europe as to how different political climates can act to empower or oppress young people already struggling against real disadvantage, and enable or disable the meaningful response to youth violence through good youth work practice.



Our aims The book is designed to be an accessible, research-based monograph with clear practice relevance. We hope the book will be a valuable, practical introductory resource for youth workers across Europe and globally, but also of relevance to policymakers, students and academics in the fields of youth and community work, social work, probation, youth justice and criminology. The aims of the book are: • to disseminate the findings of a two-year European research project that examined youth work responses to youth violence; • to plug a knowledge gap by giving accounts of young people’s own experience of violence and of youth work practice that seeks to respond to it; • to develop new thinking among youth workers, academics and policymakers as to how to respond meaningfully to youth violence.

Overarching theme and structure of the book There was one dominant theme that cut across all the territories and forms of youth work intervention we examined. Our findings led us to strongly believe that for youth work to have an impact on youth violence it needs to challenge and not collude with violence in all forms – physical, psychological, material and structural. For us this means that any meaningful response to youth violence therefore needs to be aimed at individuals, the communities in which they live and at the state itself when it is a perpetrator. This deliberately wide perspective on violence shaped how we chose to structure the various parts and chapters that follow. But before outlining the structure of the book in detail, we want to raise two notes of caution we would ask the reader to keep in mind. First, we want to stress the ethical nature of the questions we sought to examine, and avoid a wholly instrumental analysis of them. By this we mean that questions of effectiveness, or simply ‘what works’, may fail to recognise the moral nature of the interventions or the problems they seek to address. Put simply, just because an intervention appears to ‘work’ does not mean it is necessarily ‘right’. Second, we are dealing here with diverse causes of violence – entrenched problems of cultural and social division that are multi-generational and multi-dimensional. The ability of youth work to affect barriers within the wider system and socioeconomic factors (poverty, inequality, racism, housing, education and unemployment, immigration) is limited. Social realities


Responding to youth violence through youth work

(such as the proximity of affluence to real deprivation, the lack of legitimate opportunities for young people, the influence of the media, family and neighbourhood subculture) mean that although all young people have choices as to how they behave, some young people have more choices than others. The pull of peers may be so strong that no force can reverse it. Moreover, existing evidence from other research suggests that desistance from crime is also a function of maturity; that is, most young people simply ‘grow out’ of offending (Laub and Sampson, 2003). Through developing relationships with partners (as long as these partners are not also criminally involved), getting a job, or simply moving away from a geographical area, young people often simply gravitate away from offending as they grow older. Any attempt to somehow distil out the specific impact of a youth worker would be a fruitless and meaningless task. All forms of intervention in people’s lives interact with processes that are happening within or around the young person over which the worker has limited control. At the most extreme levels of violence, young people may well be beyond the reach of youth workers, and the focus of the worker may then need to turn to the protection of other young people. But there are many instances (and our research has identified some) where it seems some meaningful and permanent movement towards change has occurred and it is at least possible that this has been brought about, at least in part, by the interventions made by youth workers. It is these instances, along with some theoretical underpinning that we feel helps explain the processes at work, that we present in this book. The book is formed in three parts. Part 1 provides some necessary context, selecting from existing literature to describe how methodological and theoretical approaches to youth work vary across Europe, before outlining our own theoretical frame and methodological approach to research. In Chapter One we present an outline of the philosophical underpinnings of youth work practice and discuss how youth work is conceived, organised and delivered in different member states, and specifically in those we encountered in our study (Germany, Austria and the UK). We then introduce our working definition of youth violence. We were keen to move beyond the narrow confines of conceptualisation of youth violence as ‘gang’ violence, partly because this is a heavily populated area of enquiry, but also because we recognised that youth workers will be engaging with young people whose experience of violence falls both within and outside of the bounded and contestable phenomenon of the ‘gang’.



In Chapter Two we set out our own distinctive analytical frame that combines elements of critical theory, psychosocial criminology and applied existential philosophy to produce a practical conceptual basis for work with the young people that youth workers will encounter on a daily basis. This involves us seeking to augment the existing youth work ‘canon’ with some key concepts from criminological thought, primarily around the study of desistance and masculinities. In Chapter Three we outline our chosen research methodology. The chapter is primarily intended as an introduction to participatory research methods for practitioners working with young people. We set out why we chose a participatory methodology for our study and why we feel it should form part of a meaningful response to youth violence. After outlining in detail the methods we employed, we present some ideas that we feel make a contribution to the existing literature on participatory research. Part 2 presents in detail our typology of meaningful responses to youth violence at four levels – the personal, the community, the structural and the existential. Chapter Four, ‘Responding at the personal (P) level’, outlines how workers can respond on a personal, individual level to youth violence. We illustrate how the unpredictable nature of the physical and social space in which youth workers operate requires them to capitalise on and privilege spontaneous encounters and not be afraid to use them, in teachable moments, to begin to challenge or constructively confront violent behaviour. We show how these behaviours are meeting deep needs and that youth workers need to find ways to get young people to understand and acknowledge that, and identify how they may be able to meet these needs in other less destructive ways. Part of this process may involve presenting oneself as a blueprint for change, in the context of a relationship that needs to be characterised by warmth, trust and respect, but which should not collude with neutralisation of violence or abandon the young person in the face of structural forces. We illustrate how workers with their own personal experience of violence may be less ‘phased’ by the circumstances they encounter (operate with a higher threshold) and young people may more readily identify with them. This may act as a lever to create the potential for desistance within young people. We argue that supporting young people to move into voluntary and paid roles where they can help and support others creates the opportunity for them to move into a generative phase of their own life cycle. This then forms the starting point for our more critical analysis that we present later (in Chapter Eight) of these worker–young person relationships where we show how without some


Responding to youth violence through youth work

reflexive recognition of how worker identity affects young people there is a danger of reinforcing rather than deconstructing violent identities. Chapter Five, ‘Responding at the community (C) level’, explores how the community can become a part of a culture of violence, both resisting and exacerbating it. Young people may feel condemned or tolerated for their violent activities. Members of the community have mixed feelings about whether to escape from, or try to work with, the violence in their communities. We show how the concept of ‘learned helplessness’ may be useful to explain the ‘habitus’ of some communities around violence and argue that initiatives aimed at preventing violence should focus on developing community selfefficacy and self-belief. Workers need to help communities explore their understanding of violence and the part it plays in their culture. We coin the term ethnopraxis to capture this activity. We stress how workers need to be embedded and visible in the community for a number of years before they become truly effective. This finding forms part of our recommendations for policymaking in Chapter Ten where our colleague and co-contributor Graeme Tiffany recommends that funding and evaluation regimes should reflect this temporal aspect of youth work. Youth workers with a long history and presence in an area should, we argue, be valued in policy formation for their understanding of the dynamics of violence in the area. We introduce the notion of homegrown workers as valuable assets within youth and community work and debate the pros and cons of such worker identities. We discuss the challenges inherent in multi-agency work, illustrating the need for other agencies to understand that there is a need for youth workers to professionally distance themselves from some aspects of partnership working where it facilitates the development and maintenance of relationships with young people involved in violence. We argue that an emphasis should be placed on building bridging social capital as well as bonding social capital (a distinction we then go on to problematise in Chapter Fourteen). Chapter Six uses critical theory to explore how, just as with violence at the personal and community level, youth workers need to consciously seek to avoid collusion with structural violence. We suggest meaningful change is possible, if not perhaps in terms of immediate and fundamental social change, but certainly at the local level, and at the symbolic level too. Our data suggests that many young people across the EU feel they are, in effect, situated within a violent relationship with the state and the police. There is strong evidence that large numbers of young people are being caught up in anti-crime



measures that penalise them in terms of their freedom to gather in public spaces, irrespective of their involvement in crime or violence. We show how this is resulting in a deepening of young people’s sense of exclusion from the rest of society, and how others who may have had some involvement in violence in the past but have now desisted from that behaviour also feel the impact of legislation that is not conduct-dependent, but applies to young people as a homogenous group. Moreover, the young people whose behaviour is problematic are simply moved on and efforts to control violence, such as intensive and intrusive surveillance, simply end up displacing it to other areas. We argue that youth workers should be facilitated within managerial structures to challenge this structural and symbolic violence, and we provide some theoretical concepts such as sousveillance to equip youth workers with some tools to do so. Chapter Seven posits that existentialist philosophy may present youth workers with an alternative framework for understanding some aspects of their practice when working with young people involved in violence. While acknowledging the daunting psycho-social and structural constraints that bear down on these young people’s ability to make different choices, we argue that youth workers who surrender to these forces merely abandon young people to a state of existential meaninglessness and hopelessness. An existentialist perspective on choice, relationships and personhood could help to sustain workers facing the daunting challenge of bringing about some discernible change in offenders’ behaviour and ultimately their desistance from crime and violence. Workers should also encourage young people to take some solace from small, and again, symbolic achievements. Building on Baizerman’s (2001) work, we explore how workers need to encourage young people to look less at the chronology of their lives or events, as that is something they have little control over, and instead emphasise the meaning that they put on their experiences. In the process we highlight the possibilities presented to workers of two theoretical trajectories within existential practice, one rooted in Christian existentialist thought that emphasises the unique, infinitely valuable nature of the human person, and the other, less theistic in hue, that would place an emphasis on the responsibility that radical freedom brings. Part 3 looks in more depth at some identified themes, and attempts to rethink current youth work practice and policy. Chapter Eight begins by challenging workers to critically interrogate what we see as some archetypal youth work ‘tales’. We highlight how some youth workers can over-privilege and idealise their own relationships with young


Responding to youth violence through youth work

people and need to be wary of over-identifying with them to such an extent that challenging their violent behaviour falls off the agenda. We also argue that youth workers need to develop greater conceptual clarity, especially around notions of respect and trust. With the former, for example, workers may need to make distinctions between earned, intrinsic respect that we should give to all, and respect that is based around fear. The chapter explores how workers might encourage young people to reflect on self-respect and how status is constructed in their community and culture, working on alternative attainable and sustainable ways to develop it. We then highlight the value of workers investing what we call therapeutic trust in young people, even when the evidence seems to be against them doing so. We see value in workers sharing their own histories/experiences, and at times, vulnerabilities also. This forms part of a wider argument we make for workers being freed up to show flexibility in interpretation of boundaries where it aids the building of trust and for the reconfiguring of risk assessment policies to facilitate this. We then cast a critical eye over the relationships between youth workers and professionals from other agencies, arguing that youth workers should not develop a crab mentality towards these agencies but rather seek to present the distinctive, but not unique, contribution they can make. In Chapter Nine we employ a post-structural theoretical frame to make sense of young people’s evolving and hybrid identities in late modern European societies. We explore how notions of race, gender, class and sexuality intersect with each other and how this demands a similarly intersectional response to youth violence from workers. We discuss how worker training needs to stay within reach of community members but provide the necessary time and space for the development of the reflexivity and critical thinking skills such an intersectional context demands. Youth workers whose own biographies have exposed them to the dominant world-views of the communities in which they grew up need to be constantly on the look-out for how that world-view is colouring their approach to their work in diverse, changing communities. We warn that the impact of a poorly trained and unreflexive worker could be minimal at best and, at worst, risks exacerbating the problem of youth violence. In Chapter Ten Graeme Tiffany discusses the impact of current trends within policymaking at national and European level. He posits that policymaking around youth violence should occur at a macro (national) and micro (local) level, employing regular ‘round tables’ to discuss the contribution of youth work. Youth workers and young people should be actively involved in these as part of a culture of



research and reflection. We see this as necessary to balance and prevent an over-reliance on external monitoring in evaluating effectiveness. Contracting and commissioning regimes should be minimised in order to facilitate strongly collaborative (rather than competitive) partnership-working cultures and other professional training courses should include sensitisation to youth work methodologies. Policy needs to be underpinned by a recognition that youth work offers a socioeducational approach to violence prevention that can respond at all the levels outlined in our model, including the structural. Youth workers’ job descriptions should reflect this broad remit and enable managers to actively support young people’s engagement with the social issues that affect them, thereby directing their frustrations into democratic activity. Finally, the chapter explores the politics of public space, arguing that policy should formally recognise the positive value of young people’s social mixing, especially in public space, and re-evaluate policies that discourage this mixing. Graeme concludes with a rallying call for a clear political commitment as to the rights of young people to be in public space and the protection of the street as an important place of socialisation and learning. Part 4 seeks to provide some clear illustrations of how the themes and approaches to work outlined in Parts 2 and 3 manifest in practical work on the ground through a series of detailed case studies. Chapter Eleven identifies how workers in London are struggling to combat dominant modes of structural violence and then details a street-based youth work project in Graz, Austria that specifically targets symbolic and structural violence directed at young people in public space, through the use of symbolic acts of resistance. Chapter Twelve critically examines a project in Cologne, Germany that exclusively uses sport to engage with young people and employs innovative delivery methods to respond to violence, such as the use of football and, notably, street based-boxing activities. Through the use of a detailed case study we illustrate how sports such as boxing can, when delivered by a reflexive youth worker, create opportunities for young people to ‘play with the moment of escalation’ and become more reflexive too, thereby opening up possibilities to construct alternative identities. These themes are picked up and developed further in Chapter Thirteen, which details a therapeutic method developed in Germany to illustrate some of the contested theoretical and practical issues involved in violence reduction, especially the potential pitfalls of an overly person-centred approach. Through an analysis of some of the therapeutic and educational methods employed we try to provide a stimulus for further debate as to what ‘constructive confrontation’ might look like within the context


Responding to youth violence through youth work

of youth work practice. Chapter Fourteen details a community-based project in Bradford that through the use of ‘home-grown’ workers manages to deliver meaningful responses to youth violence with Asian young men, despite prevailing policy regimes in the UK. We offer an alternative lens on such work, introducing the idea of ‘near peer’ youth work and international exchanges, where workers and young people are purposely situated in peer relationships and environments close enough to build affinity and rapport, but sufficiently different so as to expand horizons on aspects of their identity. We make the argument that the most effective youth work will simultaneously work on building bonding and bridging capital and recognise the dynamics and tensions between these two concepts. Finally, Chapter Fifteen presents a worked example of an active youth worker’s research-based practice with young people involved in violence, thereby providing a tangible case study of the activity we call ethnopraxis. We conclude the book with a chapter entitled ‘Imagining realistic alternatives’. We first gather together the insights and policy recommendations generated by our research and then, through a fictional narrative, present an imagined alternative vision for worker attributes, training and supervision, project structures and policy environments. We hope this provides some kind of summative and accessible vision for what might constitute a more meaningful youth work response to youth violence.


Part 1 Literature review, theoretical frame and researching youth violence In this introductory part we first clarify and contextualise the two concepts that are integral to our study – youth work and youth violence. We recognise from the outset that readers who may be unfamiliar with the historical and ideological development of the youth work profession may need this set out, although we anticipate that those immersed or well versed in the management and delivery of youth work might welcome revisiting this as a way to challenge and revitalise their own practice and understanding. So we cover, in considerable depth, what we feel is distinct about youth work from other professions that engage with young people and how youth work is currently conceived (theoretically) and practised in the different geographical and cultural contexts we have spent time in. We hope this provides a conceptual basis as our arguments develop and we begin to illustrate how different national political structures can affect youth work practice on the ground. In order to augment rather than simply reproduce established theoretical perspectives, we then set out some distinctive theoretical ideas that we feel became central to our analysis, incorporating ideas drawn from other disciplines such as psychology, philosophy, sociology and criminology. Finally, we present a detailed exposition of our research methodology; that is, how we gathered the findings that populate the subsequent chapters. We feel strongly that any meaningful response to youth violence needs to be rooted in an effort to understand how it is manifesting within people’s lives and communities. So we set out our research method in detail in order to provide both academic researchers and youth work practitioners alike with a model on which they can construct their own attempts to understand the problem of youth violence from the ‘inside out’. This is integral to our overarching case – that practitioners need to conceive of themselves as researchers too – and manifests in concrete form in Chapter Fifteen where we include a worked example of such ‘ethnopraxis’ provided by a youth worker working on a gang prevention project. Through this, we hope to show how methodological approaches to research can mirror a general stance


Responding to youth violence through youth work

on knowledge creation in line with the critical principles that form the bedrock of youth and community work practice.



Youth work and youth violence in a European context Defining youth work The study that forms the basis of this book was conducted in three European Union (EU) nation states: Germany, Austria and the UK. As such, we were keen to root our analysis in an understanding of how youth work is conceptualised in Europe and to consider the commonalities and divergence between the partner countries. Youth work policies and practices across Europe are not homogeneous but rather celebrate the rich cultural, ethnic, religious and political heritage of a diverse continent. While there is broad political recognition of the value of youth work in Europe (Davies, 2009; Verschelden et al, 2009; Coussée et al, 2010; Taru et al, 2014), there are also tensions: concerns about measuring quality, significance of the contribution to the life trajectories of young people, and legitimacy in difficult financial contexts. Ideological differences, demographic change, and rising inequality both between and within generations, contribute to a potent cocktail of potential misunderstanding. In April 2015,  the 2nd European Convention on Youth Work, sponsored by the Council of Europe, brought together 500 participants from across the EU to seek to establish some common understanding of youth work. In the preface to Finding Common Ground, Howard Williamson concedes that those unfamiliar with youth work might conclude that ‘it can give the impression of … a rather chaotic and disputed field of practice’ (2015, p 3). The declaration seeks to unify what remains a ‘contested ideological and theoretical space’ (Grace and Taylor, 2016) and provides the following definition of youth work as conceived in Europe: Youth work is about cultivating the imagination, initiative, integration, involvement and aspiration of young people. Its principles are that it is educative, empowering, participative, expressive and inclusive. It fosters their [young people’s] understanding of their place within, and critical engagement with their communities and societies. Youth work helps


Responding to youth violence through youth work

young people to discover their talents, and develop the capacities and capabilities to navigate an ever more complex and challenging social, cultural and political environment. Youth work supports and encourages young people to explore new experiences and opportunities; it also enables them to recognise and manage the many risks they are likely to encounter. (Council of Europe, 2015, p 4) Over and above this broadly emancipatory and educational conceptualisation, we want to highlight one feature of youth work that delineates this form of engagement with young people from other related professions, such as teaching. Youth work has traditionally sought to remain voluntary and ‘open’ in terms of access. Young people choose to engage or not: they ‘possess and retain a degree of power which is intrinsic to the practice ... the young person can just walk away’ (Davies, 2005, p 8). This concern for youth work to remain voluntary and ‘open’ in terms of access lies at the heart of a debate currently circulating within the youth work profession across Europe and is a feature of the practice that the profession is currently seeking to defend.

Mapping out the youth work paradigm Implicit within the European declaration, and other attempts to define youth work (Batsleer, 2012; NYA, 2013), is an ongoing attempt to set out a distinctive paradigmatic position on a number of epistemological, pedagogical and ontological questions. Youth work is strongly rooted in a dynamic, dialectical view of knowledge creation (Aristotle, 1976) and a commitment to professional practice that is reformulated as evolving praxis (Carr and Kemmis, 1989). The creation of this evolving knowledge entails ‘reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it’ (Freire, 1973, p 12). This commitment to reflective practice as a means of mediating and developing praxis is an idea present in the work of John Dewey (1933) and was coined as a method by Schön (1983). Schön describes reflective practice as ‘the capacity to reflect on action so as to engage in a process of continuous learning’ (1983, p 34). Many others have developed these early formulations (Gibbs, 1988; Johns, 1995; Brookfield, 1998; Rolfe et al, 2001; Gänshirt, 2007). Bolton describes it as ‘paying critical attention to the practical values and theories which inform everyday actions, by examining practice reflectively and reflexively’ (2010, p 56).


Youth work and youth violence in a European context

In this sense youth work can be conceived as primarily a critical and social pedagogic practice (Hämäläinen, 2003; Petrie et al, 2006). Giroux describes critical pedagogy as an educational movement, guided by passion and principle, to help students develop consciousness of freedom, recognize authoritarian tendencies, and connect knowledge to power and the ability to take constructive action. (2010, p 23) A foremost exponent of critical pedagogy was Paulo Freire, who introduced ideas such as ‘conscientisation’, and favoured ‘transformative and democratic education’ over traditional ‘banking’ forms of education (1973). Youth workers, as critical pedagogues, seek to enable young people to become increasingly aware of how the ideological apparatus of the state creates a ‘common sense’ that reinscribes dominant elites’ social positions as natural and inevitable. This involves the interrogation of received wisdoms and reaching ‘beneath surface meaning, first impressions, dominant myths, official pronouncements, traditional clichés, received wisdom, and mere opinions’ (Shor, 1992, p 125). We wish to make the claim therefore that youth and community work is, in effect, a project of the political left in that it believes that a prevailing hegemony persists that needs to be countered, and that the building of community is one of the means of achieving this. It believes that existing economic structures maintain poverty and discrimination, and that the political state uses its apparatus, sometimes bolstered by fellow travellers such as the media, to maintain a delusion about the ethical and non-discriminatory nature of its operation. (Seal and Frost, 2014, p 124) As a result of this ideological and political stance, youth work has primarily positioned itself within a tradition of political action. As agents of social change, youth workers seek to promote these critical and Freirian tenets of practice as being central to their primary aim of not simply re-engaging young people in the mainstream (social control) but as the means by which they enable young people to gain an insight into their limited circumstances and challenge how they are marginalised within society too (social action). Accordingly, youth workers are not just interested in doing something to solve social ‘problems’ but are also keen to problematise social issues, that is, to ask whose interests are served by solving the problem, and what


Responding to youth violence through youth work

has produced the ‘problem’ in the first place. The use of ‘generative themes’ (Freire, 1973) that emerge from the young people’s own reality and are raised by them is therefore both practically and ideologically wedded to youth workers’ professional identity. Finally, but importantly, the youth work profession has traditionally privileged and sought to remain wedded to the concept of community, seeing the strengthening of communities as the means by which to build more cohesive and socially just societies (Jones and Mayo, 1974; Popple,1995; Twelvetrees, 2001). As such, it is allied to communitarian principles, in other words the belief that the individual flourishes best through the collective, but that the collective should not be sovereign over the individual. Some within the field have argued that this has led youth work towards a tendency to somewhat romanticise community (Belton, 2015, p 12) and to underestimate the conservative, limiting and discriminatory tendencies of communities, especially as experienced by those not in the ‘in’ group, or who do not conform within the group. It is in its valuing of critique, dialogue and the importance of autonomy that youth work practice seeks to keep these tendencies in check. Youth workers therefore seek to avoid adopting a binary position towards either individualism or collectivism, for both are needed. They are in tension, and should be so. Within these broad philosophical paradigms, a number of more specific theoretical influences are given emphasis, such as Marxist, feminist and post-colonial sociological analyses. Among favoured authors within the reading lists for youth work training programmes are those who draw on critical and post-critical theorists in their examination of culture, ideology and the state, in particular Althusser for his account of ideology and the state (1970) and Bourdieu for his concepts of cultural capital and symbolic violence (1990). Fanon (2001), Gilroy (1987), El Saadawi (1997) and the work of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Birmingham are also prominent. The weight given to these seminal texts has led to the development of an emphasis on anti-oppressive practice in the form of work with young women, with Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transexual/Transgender/ Queer young people, black and Asian young people and latterly Muslim young people (Belton and Hamid, 2011 Khan, 2011). bell hooks’ (1994) development of Freire’s ideas into the idea of the ‘engaged’ educator has also been influential breaking down barriers between the personal and the private and stressing the need to look again at practice and everyday personal interactions, as the ‘personal is political’. A countervailing influence of postmodern and post-structural thinking has increasingly come to the fore in more recent times, redirecting


Youth work and youth violence in a European context

youth work towards an emphasis on meaning contestation and fluidity. This corresponds with an evolving version of youth work praxis that questions all boundaries, binaries and essentialist claims, including those related to identity such as gender, sexuality, race and class (Lyotard, 1984; Rosie, 2007). This broad sociological analysis sits alongside another pervasive influence on youth work – that of phenomenology and existentialism. Later, in Chapters Two and Seven, we develop two broad conceptualisations of existentialist philosophy that we recognise within the youth work canon, Sartrean and Christian. Common to these two is an emphasis on the primary importance of the development of personal agency, interpersonal encounter and meaning making. Key ideas include the relativity of experience and the importance of trying to understand the perspective and ‘life world’ of others (Noddings, 1984, 1992) and being ‘present’ in the moment with people within an ‘encounter’ (Buber, 1958). Baizerman (2001) notes that central to this encounter is a desire to aid young people to understand and escape their biographies and their common-sense notions, in a way that is akin to the countering of hegemony and development of conscientisation highlighted earlier. Here, though, the stress is laid on how young people have agency; that is, the freedom to create their own meanings. This is closely related to another bedfellow of youth work – humanistic psychology (Maslow, 1968; Rogers, 1961, 1980). Maslow’s and Rogers’ analyses of human motivation and effective ‘helping’ within relationships have been important in defining the nature and conditions of youth workers’ relationship with young people, and providing a framework for what is meant by their ‘needs’. They also stress the importance of education, not instrumentally, but in becoming a fully ‘self-actualised’ human being – an idea picked up by later UK authors writing specifically on youth work such as Smith (2001) who stress the importance of association, and of understanding others and ourselves, if we are to reach our full potential.

Youth work in the UK In the UK, the concept of ‘informal education’ lies at the heart of academic and professional discourse. This presents learning through youth work as an active, experiential and associative process and values the small group as a resource for development and learning as well as an aspect of citizenship with many potential (and potentially conflicting) contributions to political democracy. Youth work in the UK retains a desire, in theory at least, to draw on the strength of group collaboration


Responding to youth violence through youth work

to facilitate critical enquiry. As across Europe, youth work in the UK still stresses the importance of remaining voluntary/free: young people are engaged on the basis of informed choice and consent. They take part because they want to and can leave without penalty. This principle underpins the democratic nature of the curriculum, although there have been strong debates as to the suitability of the concept of curriculum within a youth work context (Harris, 2005). This vision is increasingly threatened by wider strategic and political changes. To set these in some context, it is worth briefly outlining the history of youth work in the UK, which has been well documented (Young, 1999; Davies, 2008; Gilchrist et al, 2009) from its early development in the charitable, voluntary and faith-based sectors such as Sunday schools and the Scout movement, through to its gradual establishment as part of the range of state-funded ‘professions’. The basic tenets outlined so far have been subject to the changing policy imperatives of successive governments. Under the New Labour administration, funding for youth services was increased, but social policy directed towards youth work and other professions took a technocratic turn as part of the newly favoured regime of ‘new public management’ (Boston, 1996; Davies, 2008). Much has been written elsewhere with regard to this current instrumentalist, ‘performative’ policy climate within which youth workers are operating, the impact of which is not restricted to that profession alone. Several themes emerge – the privatisation of education generally, bourgeoning managerialism and bureaucratisation (Davies, 2008), an increasing focus on targets and the promotion of an outcome-based curriculum for youth work (Harris, 2005), pressure for evidence of effectiveness and direct causality of interventions (Brent, 2004) and a stifling of professional judgement (Munro, 2011). The new coalition government and then the majority Conservative government elected in 2014 have followed this with a series of severe cuts, which in many parts of the country have radically reduced, or in some cases eliminated, statutory youth services. As argued by the campaigning organisation In Defence of Youth Work (IDYW, 2012), this prevailing culture has shaped how both state-funded and voluntary sector youth work practitioners and managers operate. While some local authority youth services have now disappeared, despite their efforts to reinvent their work in terms favourable to austerity and the new political imperatives, voluntary sector organisations have become increasingly dependent on state contracts and adaptation of methods/missions to accommodate the new funding regime. With the Conservative government’s continued emphasis on the voluntary


Youth work and youth violence in a European context

and charitable sector as preferred service providers – the so-called ‘Big Society’ – it seems highly likely that youth work practitioners will continue to be subject to conducting and evaluating their work within these performative parameters.

Youth work in Austria Youth work in Austria can be traced back to 1962 with the introduction of the first budget plan by the state (the Bundesjugendplan) and then 1983, when the Federal Ministry for Family, Youth and Consumer Protection was founded. This established a government department with responsibility for youth work at a national level. Current youth work in Austria is broadly divided into what is classed as ‘open’ youth work (akin to the informal education model in the UK) and youth associations, institutional youth work and commercial youth work. In their handbook (Handbuch der offenen Jugendarbeit) Braun and Wetzel (2005) provide a comprehensive picture of ‘open’ youth work in Austria as consisting of youth centres, mobile youth work and regional youth information services as well as regional and local initiatives. This strand of youth work essentially focuses on providing young people (usually aged 15-19) with space to structure and organise their leisure time on their own, and is generally open to all young people – hence the name. There is no membership required or regular participation expected (Vyslouzil and Weissensteiner, 2000). Youth associations in Austria are quite diverse and have different political or religious backgrounds. In the past, a distinction was made along ideological lines, meaning that there were two different political camps with distinctive cultures and ideologies: one associated with trade unions and the Socialist Party (SPÖ), the other with the Catholic Church and the People’s Party (ÖVP) (Kargl, 1997). Young people grew up in one or the other and joined organisations affiliated with their ‘camps’. Due to socio-structural and cultural change in Austria, this system has somewhat changed over the past 10 to 20 years, but there are still a number of organisations that can be characterised as part of this system. Institutional youth work refers to that carried out by state or municipal youth departments. Each one of the nine states of the Austrian Federation has its own youth department that coordinates youth work in the state and offers services and activities for young people. There are internet portals affiliated with the Federal Government that provide information on various topics related to young people and a range of


Responding to youth violence through youth work

‘youth initiatives’ offered by young people to young people. These youth organisations also target 20- to 24-year-olds. One of the most important ‘fields’ of action in Austrian youth work is currently the prevention of social problems. Many youth organisations identify prevention as their main focus and seek to offer activities to help young people gain more self-confidence and more self-control – something generally perceived as a preventative measure. The topics covered include drug abuse/addiction (Uhl and Springer, 2002), violence, sexual abuse, AIDS/HIV, racism, criminal behaviour, sexuality and ‘hazardous’ leisure time activities. Over 70% of youth institutions offer counselling services to assist young people with issues such as occupational choices and work-related questions in general, school-related issues, family problems and questions about relationships and sexuality. As is the case in Germany, youth workers in Austria often engage with these issues with sub-cultural groups of young people, conceptualised as ‘scenes or cliques’ that revolve around music and media interests (Heinzlmaier, 2000).

Youth work in Germany Political responsibility for youth work (Jugendarbeit) in Germany lies primarily with the local regional authorities and youth welfare departments at municipal level. As subsidiarity operates as a key principle, the Federal Government provides no centralised regulatory structure and assumes responsibility only when the work extends beyond local or state level (BMFSFJ, 2002). Non-governmental organisations and projects therefore often seek to build on the skill sets of local providers and are influenced by local circumstances and traditions (Bjørnåvold, 2000). Although youth work in Germany is a highly professionalised and legally regulated sector, it benefits from cooperation between professionals and volunteers. There is no uniform type of youth work, rather a pluralist approach to service delivery that seeks to respond to the varying needs of young people. The public youth welfare departments offer leisure activities for young people conceived as ‘open’ youth work in youth clubs, projects, centres or youth ‘houses’ (Keppeler, 1988). But, as in the UK and Austria, voluntary youth associations or welfare and religious associations also offer services. Youth work has traditionally been understood as a sector of nonformal education designed to support autonomy, participation and integration. Youth workers work primarily with young people aged 12-19 but sometimes older through a number of modalities of


Youth work and youth violence in a European context

delivery: Jugendsozialarbeit and Hilfen zur Erziehung (socio-educational provision), Beistandschaft (curatorship), Vormundschaft (guardianship), Konfliktbehandlung an Schulen (conflict management at school), Heimvolkshochschule Frille (residential educational facilities) and Mobile Jugendarbeit (street-based work) (Holthusen and Schafer, 2009, p 8). As with the UK, the distinction between open youth work and social work for children and young people is gradually diminishing because of the growing perception that there is a need to more directly and urgently address the problems of disadvantaged groups of young people such as drug use, drug-related violence and the activity of far right groups (Steffan 1988; Krafeld, 1996, Sting and Blum, 2003). While club-based and group work is seen as critical and stresses the importance of peers in the socialisation process, there is also a strong tradition of individual work (Thiersch, 1977). This is more akin to what in the UK would be viewed as social work and could involve personal counselling. A broad distinction can be drawn between this individual case-work designed to prevent exclusion and social pedagogy, which is more group- and community-based (Braun and Wetzel, 2005). Social pedagogy is grounded in work begun in Stuttgart 35 years ago and draws on community-based approaches inspired by Alinsky (1973). It stands in the tradition of approaches developed in the Netherlands (Bolz and Boulet, 1973). As in other countries in the EU, a tension persists between this social pedagogic and more individual, non-voluntary approaches, which is sometimes perceived as repressive or controlling (Mamier et al, 2002). As with Austria, in Germany this tension has given rise to a concern with protecting the ‘open’ nature of youth work. Despite this direction of travel, the primary task of youth work in Germany as articulated by its professional bodies remains to lead young people towards determining their future and taking more responsibility for their actions. Therefore, participation by the child or young person in shaping youth services is seen not merely as a procedural requirement, but also an essential element for the effectiveness of the service itself (Specht, 1990; Jordan and Schone, 1992; Lukas and Strack, 1996). This concern with young people participating in, shaping and organising the content and delivery of youth work is also mirrored across Austria and the UK. Like its counterpart in the UK, youth work in Germany has also seen a decline in funding and faces many challenges, among which is the need to hold onto the of ideas around what Böhnisch and Münchmeier (1990) describe as the spatial approach of youth work. This approach is focused on youth work acting as the mediator between young people


Responding to youth violence through youth work

and social spaces. It acknowledges that young people cannot be seen as separate from their ecology/community as they are connected to social movements and spaces.

Street-based youth work in Europe Our study included a focus on one distinct form of youth work – streetbased youth work. Street-based youth work is far from homogenous in its theoretical and methodological approaches across Europe, although there are growing efforts to increase mutual understanding and develop meaningful guidelines for it as a form of social pedagogy (ISMO/ Dynamo International, 2009). Street-based approaches to working with young people have been developed in almost all the member states of Western Europe, including Great Britain, where it is referred to as ‘detached youth work’. In France, street workers are referred to as travailleurs de la rue; in Germany, this approach is referred to as Mobile Jugendarbeit. Street-based youth work is a distinct form of work with young people that uses the principles of informal education to engage young people in constructive dialogue. It seeks to engage young people on their territory but in the case of street work this is defined geographically – street-based workers work where young people choose to be, whether this be streets, cafes, or shopping centres. This highlights that in many cases youth work occurs not solely in buildings, but on the street and in other places frequented by young people, mainly in public space. We define public space as that which is accessible to all, often in an urban context, and owned by the local government (for example, streets, squares and parks), as opposed to land owned by private landlords, individuals or companies. The key distinctive feature of street-based youth work is that the work occurs in this (initially at least) mutually negotiated space. Often workers are seeking to be invited into what young people perceive as their space. This creates distinctive power dynamics between workers and young people with implications for the nature of their relationship and how it develops over time.

Defining youth violence An extended discursive summary of the literature around violence is beyond the scope of this book, and could threaten to overwhelm a project such as ours that seeks to provide a practical, pragmatic resource rooted in empirical data for those engaged in youth work on the ground. In this section we provide the reader with some pointers


Youth work and youth violence in a European context

towards the extensive literature on gang violence and set out our own distinctive position around what we see as the most relevant theory concerning the aetiology (causes of) youth violence in the following chapter, along with a number of ideas drawn from criminological theory that seek to explain processes of desistance (cessation of offending behaviour). For now, though, while recognising its inevitable limitations, we provide here a working definition of youth violence that we feel provides a framework around which we can structure our study and findings. We define youth violence as physically, psychologically, socially or materially damaging behaviour that is exerted by, or against, children and young people. This (admittedly wide) definition has allowed us to examine a gradation of forms of violence in young people’s lives. This incorporates: • physical violence – including the use of physical force, knives, guns, sexual attack and fights; • psychological violence – including verbal threats, bullying, intimidation, humiliation, ridicule, stalking and ostracising; • material violence – including damage to property or inanimate objects; • structural violence – the systematic failure of the state to provide for the basic needs of individuals, or harsh or discriminatory treatment at the hands of state bodies. We were keen to avoid an analysis based solely on young people’s involvement in violence as perpetrators as we recognise that many young people may also be victims or witnesses of violence. We deliberately made this explicit throughout our interactions with research participants. In addition to our overarching definition, we wish to highlight a distinction between two forms of aggression and violence (identified by Berkowitz, 1993) that have differing underlying aetiologies and therefore may need different responses. Instrumental violence we define as oriented to a specific goal, such as obtaining money by threats or keeping competing dealers off one’s territory, and will therefore be used up to the point where the goal has been attained. Expressive violence we take to refer that which is performed for intrinsic gratification and might express an underlying emotion such as hate, or gratify a desire for a ‘high’ from violence. In practice this distinction may be blurred as, arguably, violence will always involve a heightened state of affective arousal even if it is aimed at instrumental gain. However, as we began to analyse our findings we found drawing this distinction was at times helpful in seeking to understand how to respond meaningfully to violence on the ground.


Responding to youth violence through youth work

Gang violence Historically, the theoretical (especially sociological) understanding of gang violence is reasonably well established.1 More recently, much work has been done both in the UK2 and other parts of the EU3 on the nature of gang violence, its effects on communities, people’s experiences of it, how and why it emerges, and how it manifests in certain geographical areas. An established literature also exists on defining, describing and delineating gangs.4 This work reveals that youth violence is a stratified phenomenon and there is a need to draw a clear distinction between the wider phenomenon of youth violence and that associated with ‘gangs’. Recognising this, we sought to focus on youth work as an intervention with young people who are not yet involved in violence as well as those who already are, to different degrees. This allowed us to examine youth work as an educative and political intervention with potential to impact on the factors that may lie behind the phenomenon of youth violence, but only when allowed to do so within policy and managerial regimes.

Youth work and youth violence Our overarching project aim – to explore how youth work can respond meaningfully to youth violence – required engagement with a number of factors that we believe are connected to young people’s involvement in violence. This meant we were also interested in how youth work can have an impact within neighbourhoods on levels of social exclusion and immobility, social capital and interracial tension, and how young people can become more connected to socio-political networks. Potentially, we saw youth work as a way of meeting the emotional and developmental needs of young people and a means by which they can develop alternative cognitive landscapes. Beyond this, we also sought to examine how youth work may ameliorate effects of ghettoisation, reduce stigmatisation, and ultimately strengthen a community’s ability to challenge criminality itself. Within this, we saw youth workers as potential ‘privileged witnesses’ to youth violence able to understand social reality locally and respond quickly and flexibly to that reality. We were interested in the potential for youth work to bring about the permanent cessation of young people’s violent behaviour (a process coined as desistance in criminological parlance). However, we also felt that youth work could contribute meaningfully to efforts to prevent the emergence and eruption of violence. Almost any intervention either made by professionals or even members of the general public


Youth work and youth violence in a European context

in the lives of young people could, in theory at least, be claimed to be potentially contributory to violence prevention. Such interventions could be directed towards the young person’s social environment or aimed directly at individuals themselves. Everything from work with parents, early intervention in families, activities at school and in youth work settings, even casual conversations between peers, could be feasibly argued as contributing to the personal and social development of young people and thereby mitigating the ‘risk’ of involvement in crime or violence. Activities of the police and judicial system in combating violence (prosecution, detection, stop and search, legislation), could, and do, make the same claim; that is, prevention can be understood as referring to action to address the underlying causes of violence before it occurs as well as that which seeks to control its occurrence. All of these activities need to be recognised as part of the package of crime prevention measures undertaken by the state and other stakeholders in society. As has been noted, some within the youth work profession are seeking to resist moves to classify their activity as social problem solving as opposed to the socio-educational pedagogical approach outlined earlier. We agree there is a risk that in focusing on ‘interventions’ with the potential to ‘solve’ the problem of youth violence, the primary educative aim of youth work is lost. Indeed, paradoxically, as has been argued elsewhere, making violence or crime reduction an explicit aim of youth work may have the perverse effect of reducing its ability to do so, by virtue of tacit pressure for crime reduction outcomes, which therein alter a delicate balance within the work’s methodological approach (Harris, 2005). However, mindful of these tensions, we take the position that educative youth work and violence prevention are not mutually exclusive as long as careful thought is given to how these contrasting conceptualisations of youth work are mediated. As such, youth work can legitimately seek to offer a distinctive response to youth violence and represents a valid area for study as a violence prevention measure, and as a means to promote desistance, even though violence per se may be only one of its many concerns. Notes 1


Park et al, 1925; Zorbaugh, 1929; Shaw and McKay, 1942; Bloch and Neiderhoffer, 1958; Cloward and Ohlin, 1960; Yablonsky, 1962; Pitts, 2008a; Goldson, 2010. Bennett and Holloway, 2004; Smith and Bradshaw, 2005; Sharp et al, 2006; Youth Justice Board, 2007; Heale, 2008; Pitts, 2008a; Pritchard, 2008; Squires et al, 2009; Centre for Social Justice, 2009.


Responding to youth violence through youth work 3 4

Gatti et al, 2005; van Gemert et al, 2008; Klein, 1971, 2006. Hallsworth and Young, 2008; Pitts, 2008a; Centre for Social Justice, 2009.



Our theoretical frame In order to supplement the existing and extensive body of literature surrounding youth work and youth violence, we felt we needed to set out a distinctive theoretical grounding for our enquiry. This involved selecting those theoretical perspectives we believed most insightfully illuminated our data. While seeking to remain open to the potential explanatory power of a wide range of perspectives, we opted to build on the broad conceptual and philosophical undercurrents of youth work and youth violence outlined in Chapter One. We wished to retain a politically engaged standpoint that seeks social transformation, but to augment this with perspectives drawn from other fields that we felt were most relevant to our enquiry. From our own professional experience as youth workers as well as our ongoing academic analysis, we wanted to avoid absolutisms that could essentialise the phenomena and individuals we were working with. We felt strongly that the circumstances surrounding these young people and the choices they face were more complex than some traditional binary conceptions and disciplinary boundaries imply. Such binaries include those around social categories such as race, class and gender, and the relative primacy of psychological, sociological and criminological perspectives. So in the limited space available to us here, we have set out in summative form how we have sought to incorporate this multidisciplinary approach into our analysis. Mindful of the need for youth work to be able to convincingly occupy the terrain of anti-violence work and to respond to violence as it manifests in contemporary society, we offer a critique of existing conceptualisations.

Post-structuralism and intersectionality: a critique of identity politics Throughout its history, the youth and community work academic and professional community has engaged in challenging stereotypical and discriminatory social constructions of groups of young people (Seal & Frost, 2014). Such efforts led to the identity politics that dominated youth and community work in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s. Unity was found between those groups that were pathologised, and there was much emphasis on the formation of counter-hegemonies


Responding to youth violence through youth work

through allegiances to black, women’s and LGBT movements. In youth and community work this manifested as ‘anti-oppressive practice’ that sought to challenge how people within oppressed groups were discriminated against and build alliances between them. However, more recently post-structural analyses have come to the fore and have critiqued these counter-hegemonies as themselves in danger of becoming essentialised (Butler, 2004). We agree that an over-emphasis on identity politics is in danger of reifying (and reinscribing) identities that themselves are products of oppressive structures; of falling into an essentialised, mythologised, binary view of people, ‘communities’, and the pathologised ‘other’. While it may give a temporary illusion of partial solidarity, it runs the risk of becoming factional and retreatist and in its polarised opposition, reinscribing the mainstream. Most importantly, as several authors note (hooks, 1994; Heyes, 2007), identity politics does not acknowledge identity situatedness, and, practically, has decreasing resonance with young people, riding roughshod over their subjectivities in the name of being critical. We feel such approaches are in danger of ignoring community subjectivities and labelling young people as colonised neoliberal subjects in need of ‘liberation’. Those offering any critique of such approaches can then be assumed to not ‘understand’ because of their essentialised otherness. When such positions espouse a rhetorical radicalism (Alinsky, 1973) with vague reference to social action, or to the only real solution (the ever-postponed revolution), young people can be left abandoned to structural forces beyond their control. So, although our analysis remains rooted in the critical tradition in social theory, we sought also to incorporate a post-structural analysis, which we see as more pertinent to the current temporal juncture in ‘late modern’ European societies. This insists that such societies are characterised to varying degrees by fragmentation, technocracy and concerns around risk (Baumann, 1988; Beck, 1992). We believe youth workers working with issues of identity (a key factor in their efforts to engage meaningfully with young people) need to recognise that those identities are not unified, but multiple and multi-dimensional. While no word can fully capture all the complexities of difference, over recent decades the study of difference and power has come under the rubric of ‘intersectionality’ – an analytic paradigm that seeks to avoid reducing people to one category, treat social positionings as relational and make multiple subjectivities visible. Originally formulated in the work of black feminist social and legal theorists such as Crenshaw (1989, 1991), intersectional theory rejects the over-stabilisation of identity politics and one-dimensional conceptualisation of inequalities on the


Our theoretical frame

basis of categories such as gender, race, sexuality and so on. The notion that, rather than one category being dominant, many groups of young people may sit at an intersection of two or more identity categories, chimed with our own experience, and was increasingly borne out as the research progressed. In her work on discrimination against black women (1989) Crenshaw used the metaphor of intersecting roads to describe how racial and gender discrimination compound and interlock with each other to produce multiple oppressions. We believed that to truly understand the experiences of subjects of our enquiry we needed to reveal the fluid, complexity of lived experience within such groups and how inequality operates within, as well as between them. Although we recognised that this could have the disadvantage of moving our focus from larger social processes, the conceptual space of intersectionality did allow us to avoid the reification of these social categories as wholly deterministic and reveal something of the complexity of the categories themselves. We see this critical, post-structural and intersectional analysis as being central to the process of democratic, dialogical social pedagogy in which youth workers are engaged with young people. As Collins (1990, p 229) explains, ‘An individual may be an oppressor, a member of an oppressed group, or simultaneously oppressor and oppressed.’ Acknowledging this avoids what Dhamoon (2011) called the ‘race to innocence’, where subjects marked by one form or multiple forms of Otherness claim their own marginality is the worse one and fail to interrogate their complicity (however manifest) in the position of other Others. (p 235) We sought therefore to use our data to explore how processes such as racialisation and gendering function in a specific context (in our case youth subcultures) to produce both penalties and privileges for young people and workers alike, and then suggest practical strategies whereby youth workers can disrupt the location of power and offer alternative world-views, especially where these include toleration and promotion of violence. For us, this first entails a self-reflexive critique of how the worker is implicated in the matrix of power relations followed by strategies that actively seek to produce real material change in the young people’s lives.


Responding to youth violence through youth work

Discourses and defences: a psychosocial frame In order to fully understand the processes at work within youth violence and responses to it, we also saw merit in considering the subjectivities that emerged through our research (both of the young people and the youth workers) through a psychosocial lens (Hollway and Jefferson, 2013), that is, an interpretative and socially literate psychoanalytic frame that could act as an adjunct to our critical, post-structural analysis. We felt that adhering too rigidly to disciplinary splits such as those between sociology and psychology could have hindered our processes of inquiry into the social relations in which individuals are enmeshed. Psychosocial studies emerged from the University of East London in the early 1980s. What distinguishes much psychosocial research is its practical orientation. Psychosocial researchers are interested in making sense of research subjects’ experience in the late-modern world, for the purpose of influencing that experience. Distinctively, advocates of psychosocial theory argue that doing justice to the complexity of people requires examining the intersection of structural causes with individual biographies and the dialectic between the inner worlds of research subjects and their outer lives. Therefore, a psychosocial approach seeks to build on matters of concern to sociologists – structure, culture, poverty, social control and politics – but understand research subjects as simultaneously psychic and social. The key difference between a psychosocial approach and most discursive cultural studies, literary studies and sociology, is in the use made of the work of Melanie Klein and the British ‘object relations’ school. Whereas other disciplines have largely turned away from clinically based psychoanalysis, psychosocial studies concerns itself with the theoretical and practical consequences of privileging (a particular) psychoanalysis. Within the psychosocial paradigm subjects of study are theorised as ‘possessing an unconscious dimension of subjectivity’; social subjects ‘with agency, though not necessarily in a position to exercise this reflexively’ (Frost and Hoggett, 2008, p 438).This attention to psychoanalytical ideas suited the exploration of both the psychological and social dynamics of relationships and the complex, defended nature of subjective selves, including their unconscious motivations – something we felt was important to our understanding of expressive forms of violence especially. That said, we were mindful also of the criticism such a theoretical lens might attract for its Freudian orthodoxy and as a product of ‘therapeutic culture’ (Richards and Brown, 2002; Furedi, 2003), and whether it – and such a culture – is potentially emancipatory, or constraining and


Our theoretical frame

pathologising. We acknowledge that taking psychoanalytic perspectives seriously does involve a number of risks, not least when seeking to augment analyses of youth violence through which a powerful current of structuralism runs. If unchecked, it can come close to a position that assumes superiority over the other’s ability to perceive their own reality and the very phenomenon of cultural superiority that critical theory seeks to dislodge. This risk, along with that of pathologising young people’s struggles in deprived and sometimes brutalising environments, in our view needed to be balanced with that of divorcing individual motivation from the analysis, which could have resulted in a picture of over-determined subjects. Uncovering individual motivations for violence and marking points of convergence and divergence, was, we felt, a way to understand possibilities for change within youth work interactions, whereas other structural and even post-structural analyses might tend to foreclose it. Moreover, a psychosocial analysis allowed us to consider also how young people and youth workers’ own biographies allowed or prevented them from mediating the competing discourses in which they located themselves or were located by others. As agents, young people involved in or affected by violence can still choose to what extent they are shaped by these discourses, seek to shape them differently, or even make psychic investments in them (either linguistically or in embodied form) as they form their identities. Embracing this aspect of identity formation is perhaps especially relevant when considering how young men’s identities are drawn from range of discourses of masculinity, an aspect we will return to in more detail later. In the light of the disproportionality of rates of violent offending within the male population, we felt that a consideration of how masculinities are performed and ‘invested in’ would be a key factor in the efforts of youth workers to understand and ultimately respond meaningfully to youth violence. Key to this was a sensitivity to how young men (and women also) may adopt defensive strategies to ward off anxieties and feelings of vulnerability that may have their root in earlier childhood experiences. A further inherent danger of bringing psycho-dynamically informed theoretical precepts to the data in this way is that of over-interpretation, that is, the making of associations not explicitly present in the data, which risks imposing these notions and preventing others from emerging. This echoes critical concerns with pure phenomenology that highlight how dominant discourses permeate social life and come to frame how research participants view the world – concerns that have resulted in moves towards critical discourse analysis within


Responding to youth violence through youth work

sociological study. We engaged in critical discourse analysis too, but the point we would wish to make here is that the application of preset psychodynamic concepts might arguably be viewed as a form of hermeneutic interpretation no more or less valid than any other. So while recognising the inherent dangers of this ‘take’ on subjectivity, we hoped the psychosocial frame would precipitate the emergence of a nuanced account that keeps intertwining structural factors such as class, racism, Islamaphobia, sexism, poverty and inequality in sight but also uncovers vulnerabilities that lie beneath the surface of both young people and youth workers allowing for differences to emerge within social categories. This is not at all to say that a structural or post-structural analysis is no longer relevant (indeed we saw both as embedded in our analysis), but that we saw also a value in articulating the contradictory elements of experience of all those involved, which can constrain, undermine or strengthen their ability to make the most of the opportunities they are presented with. Put plainly, for some young people the indomitable face of hegemony and violent subcultures appeared insurmountable; for others, this was less so, and we wanted to understand why.

Gender and masculinity As Bartusch and Matsueda (1996) have shown, gender is the strongest and most consistent correlate of crime and delinquency. This has drawn attention from feminist criminologists (Daly and Chesney-Lind, 1988), feminist psychoanalysts (Chodorow, 1978), psychoanalytically influenced attachment theorists (Bowlby, 1969) and control theorists (Gottfredson and Hirshi, 1990). Masculinity researchers such as Messerschmidt (1993), Jefferson (2002) and Gadd (2002) have attempted to explain the range of male violence, for example face-toface fighting, domestic violence, homophobic attacks and rape. We acknowledge that a wide-ranging study such as ours could never do justice to the multi-faceted nature of this one specific aspect of our study. However, we sought to foreground those aspects of research on gender and violence that informed most directly the question of meaningful responses to youth violence. By way of an example of the difficult decisions this involved, a body of research is emerging in the area of teenage girls’ involvement in violence in North America (Miller, 1998, 2001; Fleisher, 2000) and in the UK (for example, Chesney-Lind et al, 1997; Batchelor, 2009; Young, 2009). Although crime statistics show that female rates of offending are lower than those for males, a number of reports, such as


Our theoretical frame

those produced by the Centre for Social Justice (2009), have instigated claims that women are becoming more violent. Much of this work focuses on girls’ involvement in, or affiliation to ‘gangs’, a phenomenon that we were open to exploring but as the project developed did not emerge directly as part of our empirical work. We recognise this as a significant gap in our study. As highlighted earlier though, we sought to retain an interest in aspects of youth violence beyond that delineated by the term ‘gang’, and as such we encountered many young women who were experiencing violence as witnesses and victims. Their stories are presented throughout the book and in more detail in Chapter Nine, ‘Working with intersectional identities’. Turning directly to masculinity, in the context of inner-city America, Elijah Anderson (1999) describes how the concerns of many young men relating to respect and identity come to be expressed in the concept of ‘manhood’, which means ‘assuming the prerogatives of men’ and implies ‘physicality and a certain ruthlessness’ (p 91). Inner city men associate manhood with this concept in large part because of its practical application in terms of physical safety but also an ‘existential link’ between the idea of manhood and one’s self esteem. For many inner city young people, manhood and respect are two sides of the same coin; physical and psychological well being are inseperable, and both require a sense of control, of being in charge. (Anderson, 1999, p 91) Thus, Anderson argues, on the streets of inner-city Philadelphia to fail to be a ‘real man’ is to be diminished as a person. As it is generally perceived that everybody has an equal opportunity to be so, victims with subordinate status can be held responsible for their fate, and the respect garnered by those with dominant status can be intensely alluring to others. We suggest that for some young men in the UK and Europe too, often situated in relatively deprived urban neighbourhoods, certain masculine practices, either in linguistic or embodied forms, such as competitiveness, muscularity, athleticism, attraction to risk and danger, territoriality and even physical violence, form part of an emergent or established identity. This often is a response to what Dolovich (2012) calls the ‘hyper-masculine imperative’. Dolovich suggests that this imperative can feed a culture of belligerence, posturing, emotional repression, and ready violence that rewards both indifference


Responding to youth violence through youth work

to others and the willingness of the strong to victimize the weak. (p 971) As Whelan (2013) points out, for many young men situated in such local subcultures, constructing more masculine, and therefore more locally ‘successful’ identities, might be having, or claiming the propensity for, dominance or violence over other young men. Body form or size, confidence, muscularity, or prowess in contact or combat sports can therefore either help or hinder young men’s ability to construct a credible masculine identity (Messerschmidt, 1993). Whelan highlights how for some young men, the desire to construct such an identity might extend to carrying a weapon – an important resource in constructing the credible threat of violence Les Back (2004) argues that the perception of young black men as ‘undesirable, violent, dangerous and aggressive’ (p 32) may also form a significant part of their identity constructions and work to further constrain the subject positions that they might adopt. In order to make sense of this process, and how it might operate within contemporary communities in late modernity, we felt we needed to make use of more contemporary theorising around masculinity in order to illuminate not only the gender ‘ratio’ question but also the ‘within gender’ differences that mean that not all young men’s experiences are the same. Haywood and mac an Ghaill (2012) provide a useful analytical overview of how research and theoretical understandings of gender and masculinity have expanded, diversified and developed, but also begun to be revised in recent years, leading to more generationally specific forms. This raises questions as to how these revisions affect the ways in which we understand power, patriarchy, homophobia and misogyny to be at play and how this then might figure as part of a meaningful response to the violent activities of young men. Haywood and mac an Ghaill’s tour of masculinity theory starts with the work of Raewyn Connell, who sought to ‘pluralise masculinity’ as part of a critique of sex role notions of gender. In Masculinities (1995), Connell sought to connect the hierarchy between genders with that between men and construct a hierarchical typology – consisting of ‘hegemonic’, ‘complicit’, ‘subordinate’ and ‘marginalised’ masculinities. In that early seminal work, hegemonic masculinity was conceived as including physicality, muscularity, aggression and violence, misogyny, homophobia and heterosexuality. Hegemonic masculinity, we would argue, is inextricably tied (as in Connell’s formulation) to white, middle-class, heterosexual males, although since its conception it has become somewhat ambiguous. Batsleer (2014) cites how the


Our theoretical frame

performance or valorisation of hegemonic masculinity can involve the inflicting of ‘symbolic violence’ on those subjects subordinated or marginalised through the imposition of a normative discourse that socially and discursively constructs a way of being a man in relation to which all other men must position themselves. Connell defines ‘complicit’ masculinities as those ‘constructed in ways that realize the patriarchal dividend, without the tensions or risks of being the frontline troops of patriarchy’ (1995, p 79). ‘Marginalised’ or ‘protest’ masculinities (Poynting et al, 2003) refers to a pattern of masculinity constructed in local working-class settings, sometimes among ethnically marginalised men, which embodies the claim to power typical of hegemonic masculinities but which lacks the economic resources and institutional authority that underpin the broader patterns. Haywood and mac an Ghaill supplement this with more recent research of a post-structural hue where gender dominance is reconfigured to be more fragile and fragmented, and to include other alternative contextual positions, outside the normative space of hegemonic masculinity. Using the tension between ‘materialist and post structuralist approaches’ (p 578) and queer theory, Haywood and mac an Ghaill argue that there may be ‘discourses outside of traditional patriarchal masculinity where boys and young men can make their identities male’ (p 578). This might be very important for both young people and youth workers seeking to respond to violence today and youth work pedagogy generally. Despite the undoubted continuing prevalence of this feature of gender relations between young people, we came across masculinities that contained elements of the hegemonic (for example athleticism or a sporty persona) but did not incorporate the wish to subordinate others. As masculinity is reconfigured within society with changes in childcare practice and changes in how homosexuality is publically perceived through the media and other mainstream cultural norms, this may be having the effect of neutralising the marginalising force of homophobia, which is increasingly seen as an immature attitude among some groups of young people (McCormack, 2010). Haywood and mac an Ghaill point out that despite these theoretical and practical strategies of refusal, gender does still remain defined by a dualistic logic of artificial, naturalised polarities that, although destabilised, are not severed entirely. We can now begin to perceive the complexity that a post-structural account of gender generates. It highlights how geographically and temporally specific forms of individual gendered subjectivities can emerge, a feature that we feel is pertinent to the work of locally situated


Responding to youth violence through youth work

youth workers engaged with local subcultures. It links with the more post-structural accounts of identity construction highlighted earlier that open up the possibility of more fluidity within the local construction of identity and therefore some room for manoeuvre within pedagogical approaches, as long as practitioners are able to avoid pre-reflexive complicity with hegemonic forces.

Introducing a psychosocial lens on masculinity We seek to augment this analysis of masculinity further with the psychosocial theoretical frame we outlined earlier. This involves reconfiguring the more customary behaviourist, social learning theory of role models to consider further the psychodynamic processes and apparatuses of defence and identification at play in the formation and maintenance of young men’s subjectivities, perhaps most powerfully among the poorest and most marginalised and oppressed young people. Gadd and Dixon (2011) highlight the insecurity and powerlessness that many young people feel in their daily lives, in their case among young white men involved in violence and race hate crime. They illustrate through dense case-study work how these young men experience their reality and how this is at odds with how that reality is perceived by others. They argue that research needs to engage in a detailed, qualitative, phenomenological analysis of how individuals construct meaning and do or do not ‘identify’ with those seeking to enter into relationships with them. This is of interest to the youth work field as so much emphasis is placed on the interpersonal relationship between the worker and the young person as the mechanism through which transformative change occurs. Seeking to move beyond more deterministic accounts of behaviour, Gadd and Dixon argue that for these young men to become receptive to the idea that their violent behaviour is detrimental to society (and themselves) they need to develop a degree of meta-cognition or reflexivity, that is, an ability to reflect on their own thought processes and view of the external world. The extent to which this occurs will lead some young men in the same social circumstances to react differently to the huge obstacles they face through social disadvantage. Anxiety can result in them becoming intensely ‘defended subjects’ – that is, young men who are unable to see how their behaviour, often characterised as respect seeking, is triggered by unconscious motivations to gain control and mask their own weaknesses. This is exemplified in Chapter 12, which discusses how some stereotypically masculine activities that incorporate violence (for example, combat sports) seem


Our theoretical frame

to provide the extra self-confidence and a sense of personal security that might mitigate against the anxieties triggered by their need to construct locally viable masculine identities. For some young men, a relationship with a youth worker and the social (and psychic) recognition this engenders might compensate for these feelings of impotence and inferiority and mean they can begin to develop new cognitive skills such as reflexivity. This leads us to a formulation of reflexive practice for the male or female youth worker working with hyper-masculine young men, where the employment and embodiment of some elements of socially constructed masculinities, such as physical strength and presence, or not showing fear in the face of danger, forms part of a more general valuing of sub-cultural capital (Thornton, 1995; Jensen, 2006) within these gendered spaces. If we accept the unhinging of gender from its ontological presence in the body, we can see how a female or male worker might temporarily, and within a certain community context, embody or employ certain gendered practices on a micro level that fall in line with those practised within the subculture while at other times actively seeking, provocatively even, to transgress and disrupt such gender norms. As such, the boundaries around Connell’s pluralised forms masculinity might necessarily need to become more porous, both conceptually and practically.

‘Race’, racism and racialisation ‘Race’ is framed within our study through the critical, post-structural and psychosocial lens outlined earlier. Thus the focus of our analysis shifted from the identity of the young people (for example, black or Muslim) and the categories of difference to which they belong (race and gender) to the processes of differentiation (racialisation and gendering). We see the over-representation of young African-Caribbean men in the custodial system as a consequence of their racialisation as ‘other’, and, alongside their Asian counterparts, being positioned as members of a ‘suspect community’ (Kundnani, 2007) and a social problem for the state. Although we were keen to acknowledge the complexity of the changing landscape around ethnicities within a European perspective and the increasing prominence of discourses of religious ‘extremism’, we knew that to do this justice would have required a more extended focus than the constraints of our study could provide. We did feel, though, that we had room to explore the intersection of race with other identity categories such as religion, as well as class and locality.


Responding to youth violence through youth work

For the Asian young men we were to encounter in Bradford for instance, the ascribed image of ‘dangerous brown men’ (Bhattacharya, 2008) loomed large, a discursive shift that meant their notion of identity had also shifted to centre more on religion as opposed to ethnicity. How these young men self-identified, however, was heavily imbued with notions of neighbourhood, community and place as much as race and religion, something that was then read by others involved in the Touch project as a form of self-segregating behaviour. Still faced with discrimination, high levels of unemployment, poor housing and low levels of social mobility, but not bounded by fixed notions of ethnicity, the Asian young people we met were also facing a resurgent English nationalism, which had directed its racialising fervour violently at Muslim communities in relatively recent history. This continuing attack, combined with the structural constraints that limited their possibilities for agency, had created a lasting legacy experienced in generationally specific ways, for instance in the shape of violent conflict with far right groups and intrusive state surveillance.

Desistance theory We also wanted to augment the theoretical basis of youth and community work with a number of concepts drawn from criminological literature, as we increasingly recognised this as a potentially useful resource for youth workers whose work context brings them into the terrain of crime and violence prevention. Any attempt to meaningfully examine youth workers’ engagement and relationships with young people involved in violence needs to consider the aim of that engagement. Put plainly, this is that those young people involved in persistent and serious violence will permanently cease that behaviour and that levels of violence within communities will therefore reduce. In criminological parlance, this process is termed desistance, or more accurately secondary desistance, whereby an offender permanently changes how he or she sees him/her self (as opposed to primary desistance – a lull or crime-free period) (Maruna and Farrall, 2004). We use the term ‘desistance’ to refer to both – the process through which young people avoid continued involvement in violent behaviour, up to and including permanent termination of that behaviour. This field within criminology, we suggest, is relatively untapped by the youth work profession, probably as a result of the youth work’s more generalist, informal education ethos and concern to avoid professional modalities that have connotations of social control.


Our theoretical frame

Youth workers meet a range of young people, from those who may have no involvement in violence at all, but may be perceived as likely to move into that form of behaviour, through to those deeply embroiled in serious criminal lifestyles, and those seeking to maintain crime-free lives. It is the latter – young people with established criminal and violent identities – to which the desistance literature most directly applies. We see desistance as a process that will always involve the pervasive influence of others in the young person’s peer group and community, as well as the structural forces that constrain some young people more than others. A number of key themes in the desistance literature have relevance to our study, the first of which is that of age and maturity. Desistance does seem to be related to getting older, or events such as marriage or finding employment, not in and of themselves, but more in the sense that these events might change how young people view themselves and provide compelling reasons to change behaviour. According to Laub and Sampson’s classic study (2003), most young people simply grow out of criminal behaviour. This introduces a warning to be wary of over-emphasising the impact that youth workers are having on young people, over and above a process of maturation that is continuing irrespective of their input. Research within the desistance field has also attempted to identify the cognitive basis of desistance (the thought processes that lie at the heart of identity change), beginning with individual readiness and motivation to change and followed by processes that stimulate cognitive dissonance – that is, incompatibility between thought and action, and short- or long-term goals for instance. A key contribution here is that of Giordano and colleagues (2002), who identify the metaphorical notion of a ‘hook for change’ as part of a four-part theory of ‘cognitive transformation’ whereby the offender moves towards a ‘replacement self ’ based on an original ‘blueprint’ that transforms the way he/she views deviant behaviour. Other theorists have attempted to create similar typologies of the agentic and cognitive elements in desistance whereby offenders attempt to deal with their past such as ‘discernment, deliberation, and then dedication’ (Vaughan, 2007) and ‘readiness to reform, opportunity, and resilience’ (Rumgay, 2004). Race and desistance One notable addition to the desistance field is the recent work of Martin Glynn, whose book Black Men, Invisibility and Crime (2014) traces the contours of desistance through the use of critical race theory (Delgado and Stefancic, 2001) and classic American sociological work such as


Responding to youth violence through youth work

that by Du Bois (1938) and Ralph Ellison (1947). Working as what he calls an ‘insider researcher’, Glynn gathers together narratives of black men that detail their trajectory through desistance. He illustrates the dilemmas and barriers facing many black men as they try to leave behind engagement with crime and violence. One of his first challenges is creating space for these black young men to speak and then be heard in the first instance and the difficulties they have ‘gaining a foothold in the social structure’ (2014, p 6) in the face of the ‘continuing onslaught of racialised processes’ (p 8) and the persistence of stereotypes as they seek to develop a new ‘template for living’ (p 64). This, for Glynn, is at the heart of the nihilism he encounters with the young black male offenders he interviews. He identifies a number of barriers to black young men’s desistance, notably the challenges of ‘arrested fatherhood’. Glynn claims this deficit in young black men’s own biographies arises from the bypassing of childhood caused by the need to take up the reins of masculinity in a family, which then feeds into difficulties faced in fathering children themselves. We argue that for black young men a discourse of cultural deficit still predominates in terms of an assumed pathological structure of the African-Caribbean family. However, we did encounter young men who seemed to be expressing feelings of loss triggered by father absence and we remained open to the idea that this may be related to how they articulated their masculinities in different ways in different contexts. These young men also employed collective referents (such as ‘nigger’) in ways that showed they had reconfigured their meaning to suit their own purposes. Again, within the limited space available to us, we aim to introduce these subtleties in the light of the data we gathered throughout the project, especially in Chapter Nine. Glynn also identifies a ‘general desire of black men not to engage with the social structure on a range of levels’ (2014, p 78) and a concomitant desire to find ‘solace’ in the confines of gangs, seduced by the lure of the ‘code of the streets’ or being ‘on road’ in the face of blocked pathways to full status. For some young men another alternative lies by way of religious conversion that provides an opportunity for rebirth and a new sense of meaning and purpose as well as a new network of relationships that support desistance. Glynn suggests that the system must do more to ‘foreground racialisation and its impact on desistance’ and details how therapeutic interventions can be tailored to black men, especially in prison to counter the effects of invisibility (Franklin, 1997) – a kind of external negation of cultural heritage and self which then becomes internalised.


Our theoretical frame

Existentialism These observations of the relationship between desistance, the self and a search for meaning and purpose led us to develop another of our overarching theoretical frames. A key feature of existentialist philosophy is the stress on human freedom (in the personal, metaphysical, as well as the political sense), individual experience and responsibility, and the importance of human agency. We do have, according to the existentialists, a degree of control over our own lives. A broad distinction can be drawn between the atheistic existentialism of Jean Paul Sartre and Friedrich Nietzsche and the Christian existentialism that could be said to originate in the musings of Soren Kierkegaard and developed by philosophers such as Gabriel Marcel, John Henry Newman and Karl Jaspers. For Sartre and Nietzsche, we have no ‘soul’ or essence, but simply ‘turn up’ and create ourselves, day by day, decision by decision. This involves a project of self-production undertaken by what Sartre describes as a ‘being for itself ’, as opposed to a ‘being in itself ’ (Sartre, 1958, pp 73-84). This capacity to choose and the reassessment of human being as fundamentally rooted in ‘nothingness’ that results, can lead to feelings of ‘nausea’, angst and ontological insecurity. Similarly, Christian existentialist philosophy maintains that each of us is a self-determined subject, not just a determined object. However, rather than seeing the self as solely something, this inner self is conceived as a unique, inviolable and unrepeatable someone, that is, a person, above humankind as more than an instance of it. This, as might be expected, is an idea rooted in a belief in a ‘God’ or transcendent reality, conceived either as a divine being, or the ‘ground of being’ (Tillich, 1951) or some form of transcendent principle who/which is present as we struggle to make sense of our place within the world, and provides a sense of meaning and purpose to human existence. The most exhaustive attempt to examine how existential philosophy might be applied to criminological theory can be found in the work of Lippens and Crewe (2009). In their substantive and scholarly edited volume, the authors explore the explanatory purchase of existentialist thought for criminology, primarily in the guise of Sartre, Nietzsche and Heidegger. Existentialism has made a limited appearance in criminological desistance literature (Douglas and Johnson, 1977; Kotarba and Fontana, 1984; Adler, 1985; Cusson and Pinsonneault, 1986; Kotarba and Johnson, 2002). As Farrall and Calverley (2006) note, few of these theorists ‘have explicitly tied existentialist concerns directly to the issues confronting contemporary criminological enquiry’


Responding to youth violence through youth work

(p 84), despite their view that the existential perspective is ‘especially insightful when applied to the concept of changes in the criminal career’ (p 84). We take this existing work as a point of departure for our study, extending the focus on the existential to one of the ‘self ’ more generally and its relation to desistance, self-efficacy and hope, but also the dangers of over-generalising practice approaches. Building on the work of Buber, Noddings and Freire outlined in Chapter One, we place an emphasis on the importance of improvised encounters in the moments when young people might be experiencing profound shock, or experiencing what we characterise as existential crises. These moments present youth workers with an opportunity to exert some influence on young people as and when they begin to question their own self-construction. Maruna (2001) argues that choices to refrain from offending are guided by an understanding of self, recalled retrospectively as offenders move into adulthood as a ‘narrative’ and which then forms a new sense of identity. He theorises these narratives as ‘redemption’ scripts because they are characterised by a search for direction, meaning and purpose, and because they often result in the young offender’s desire to engage in ‘generative’ (Erikson, 1959) activity as they mature, such as helping others embroiled in criminal lifestyles. He contrasts these with ‘condemnation scripts’ that contain little or no sense of hope. Offenders feel fatalistic, pessimistic and doomed to only ever remain in their present condition, unable to take advantage of any positive opportunities for change or personal growth. This process is further exacerbated by the challenges faced by young people in late-modern societies where transition to adulthood is increasingly protracted and precarious. A strong sense of identity, self-efficacy, temporal continuity and faith in their own ability to make change are indispensable if young people are to navigate the constraining social terrain in which they are embedded. Maruna argues that even if this faith is illusory, it is necessary to sustain the motivation to change, especially when the offender may be sacrificing excitement, fast money and status for less immediately attractive or gratifying rewards, such as peace, wisdom, contentment and companionship. The ability to imagine a new self, and find meaning and purpose, therefore may be central to the desistance process and involves moving out of a permanently ‘liminal’ space into one oriented around future possibilities. If this identity change is to be an active reorientation on the part of the young person, the question arises as to how a youth worker can contribute to this process, which can often involve a degree of experimentation, failure, disillusionment and slippage back


Our theoretical frame

into old ways and the old self, before a new solidified, crime-free self can emerge.

Worker relationships and generativity In the light of these uncertain, halting trajectories through transition, again the attitude of the worker becomes central. Sometimes those in professional roles accompanying young people on this path will need to keep alive hope for change when the young person may not have the capacity to do so him-/herself. Once a young person has successfully made the transition into secondary desistance, the task then becomes one of maintaining that desistance in the face of considerable pressures to return to crime and violence. This relates also to the need to overcome the despair and fatalism that can befall many young people involved in violence and living in communities where crime is endemic. Youth workers can accompany young people as they attempt to reconstruct a narrative about their past and build a new vision for the future, but as they know too well, such inner, psychological activity needs to happen in tandem with the necessary changes in outer social conditions. This, as Farrall (2002, 2004) outlines, incorporates the acquisition of ‘social capital’ through reconnecting with families and friends, and, we would argue, economic and cultural capital too. When young people are making large amounts of money and accruing a form of respect (albeit often rooted in fear), they have little motivation to relinquish such capital if they cannot find alternative sources form elsewhere. One such alternative might be via generativity – a term first coined by Erik Erikson to capture a moment in the life cycle where in a search for meaning and purpose, adults (typically in mid-life) look for opportunities to help others, and make good any harm they may have created in the past. This altruistic desire may well be part of the decision made by ex-offenders to move into a youth work role and form relationships with young people with whom they can identify, that is, who reflect parts of themselves. The development of a meaningful relationship between worker and young person is critical to understanding how youth workers seek to respond to youth violence. We explore this relationship in more depth in the chapter on working at the ‘P’ level and in our attempt to critically analyse such relationships in Chapter Eight. This critique makes use of our psychosocial perspective to illuminate how aspects of these often warm and empathic relationships may be operating outside the worker or young person’s conscious awareness and include unconscious processes


Responding to youth violence through youth work

such as repression and over-identification that can skew practice or cause certain issues to fall off the agenda.

Structural and symbolic violence, surveillance and developing ethnopraxis Notwithstanding our wish to avoid a wholly structural analysis, we still chose to hold two materialist concepts in a productive tension with our post-structuralist frame. One notable example of this is to be found in our use of Bourdieuan and Foucauldian analyses of structural violence and surveillance. Symbolic violence can be defined as the ‘subtle inculcation of power relations upon the bodies and dispositions of individuals’ (McNay, 1999, p 99). It is a mode of dominance, often unrecognised, that serves to maintain structural inequality. When part of everyday interactions between people it can create a climate of fear. If young people feel constantly observed and monitored, they, much like a woman in a domestically violent relationship, will experience powerful and pervasive feelings of threat that will habituate them to perceive certain situations in a certain way, and then dictate how they respond. However, we also think such Bourdieuan analysis can over-emphasise the hegemonic power of the ideological state aparatus that communities are subject to. We seek to reveal the subjective positions and epistemologies of communities with regards to violence. While many of these accounts are partial, contradictory and reinscribe prevailing hegemonies, there is also potential for resistance and subversion. In our account we sought therefore to emphasise the autonomous aspects of communities and where these can take the form of symbolic resistance, which, like symbolic violence, is nevertheless a powerful response. In seeking to develop a meaningful response to this form of structural violence, we found the term ‘sousveillance’ (Mann et al, 2004) useful, as it emphasises, again, where young people and communities resist and subvert the surveillance they are subject to. We argue that increased surveillance may not be as instrumentally effective as a violence reduction measure as is often claimed and that it does have ethical implications around accountability, civil liberty and the construction of communities as a threat. This requires youth workers to engage in the problematisation of such measures. We offer an alternative to these forms of state control that seeks to enable communities to understand and articulate the place that violence plays in neighbourhoods. We believe it is from this understanding of a how a community constructs itself that initiatives designed to impact


Our theoretical frame

on violence need to stem, so that they are culturally situated. We call this activity ethnopraxis. As Truscott (1992) notes, the meaning and amelioration of violence varies from community to community. We have drawn on studies of conflict and violence such as Lederach (1996) and Avruch and Black (1991, 1993) that criticise traditional top-down approaches to working with conflict. They criticise the imposition of methods and solutions that are not within the cultural understanding of the parties involved in it, only those who are trying to ‘solve’ it. Avruch and Black (1991, 1993) proposed that culture, as a concept, is more than something to ‘take account of ’; it is a powerful analytical tool. Individuals and groups from different cultures may have different understandings of what causes conflict and violence and of what responses are appropriate. Since conflicts are a form of human activity, we need to understand the relevant cultural variables or ‘grammar’ if we are to grasp the meaning of violence for young people (Avruch and Black, 1991, p 133). These cultural variables over time influence the cognitive functioning and behavioural patterns of the individuals within the particular context. Once youth workers understand this ‘grammar’ of violence for a community they can then co-produce the corresponding, culturally determined, responses to violence that arise from these understandings.

A model for meaningful responses youth violence: PCSE This tour of theoretical perspectives needed translating into a practical resource for us as researchers and an easily understandable framework for practitioners. The reality of both young people’s and youth workers’ lives is that they are, at one and the same time, exposed to macro-level, historically established structural forces but also engaged in micro-level inter-personal interactions and intra-personal introspection too. We therefore wanted to consider relationships between young people as well as those between them, their communities and the state. We chose to adapt Neil Thompson’s PCS model of discrimination (1997) (P = personal, C = community and S = structural) to frame our discussions with young people and youth workers. Following our data analysis we then added another (the ‘E’ or existential level) and asked how both the phenomena of youth violence and workers’ interventions operate at each level. At the ‘P’ level we were primarily concerned with psychological models of human behaviour and violence. Here we focused on the individual needs and biographies of young people and the relationship between them and the worker as a means for violence reduction.


Responding to youth violence through youth work

At the ‘C’ level we were more focused on young people’s interactions with peers, parents, families and other local organisations and networks. Here we explored how cultural norms and shared expectations and values within communities operated to exacerbate or mitigate against violence within that community. At the ‘S’ level we were more concerned with how violence was sewn into the fabric of society and institutions. This accommodated a more sociological, structural analysis, and we were able to ask how treatment at the hands of the state and its representatives, media discourses, and government policy around immigration and unemployment were related to youth violence. At the ‘E’ level we were concerned with matters of choice, meaning making, purpose and hope, and how these related to young people’s construction of self and their continual involvement or desistance from crime and violence.



Using participatory methods to research youth violence For readers not familiar with research or perhaps our specific approach to it (participatory action research) we want to illustrate what this looks like in practice and why we feel this methodology is well suited to studying youth violence. We feel that youth workers need to develop research skills as part of their practical response to violence – an activity we call ethnopraxis. To support them in doing this, we want to provide a detailed chronological account of how we prepared and then worked through our project, gathering data with not on our participants. We hope this will provide some ideas for fellow researchers and youth workers to follow or adapt to their own contexts. We also want to spell out some distinctive additions we made to traditional participatory research methodology such as the use of community philosophy, peer researchers and critical discourse analysis. This all forms part of an attempt to make a contribution to the existing participatory research literature. To this end, we conclude the chapter with some broad ideas borne out of our own experiences on this project.

Participatory research: an overview Over the past 20 years, various forms of participatory research (such as participatory action research, participatory rapid appraisal, rural rapid assessment and participatory learning in action) have been applied all over the world. Such methodologies have become mainstream in international development agencies such as the World Bank, although some see this as a negative sign (Cooke and Kothari, 2001). Participatory research is increasingly being applied in sectors including environmental assessment, health, urban regeneration and social care. It was originally developed in the 1970s and 1980s as an alternative to large-scale survey studies that were perceived to give insufficient attention to people’s local knowledge (Petty et al, 1995; Kumar, 2002; Cooke and Kothari, 2001). Participatory research does not sit easily within the traditional research paradigms (Chambers, 1994, 1997). It shares with interpretive research a desire to break with positivistic, scientific approaches, and


Responding to youth violence through youth work

the belief that many phenomena are socially constructed (Cohen et al, 2000). However, it differs significantly in its epistemology from interpretative approaches (Lather 1986; Morley 1991) and in its aims (Smith, 2011). Participatory researchers maintain that the self cannot be separated from research or practice (Cole and Knowles, 2000; Cochran-Smith and Lytle, 2004; Cuenca, 2010). The knowledge created in participatory research is not seen as objective or neutral, as with positivism, nor does it seek to document life-worlds and allow voices and perspectives to be heard, as interpretive researchers may wish to do. Participatory research is about actively creating knowledge with a particular moral stance. In doing so it may uncover unheard voices, but it will also seek to act on these voices, interact with them, and even change them. Participatory methods are intended not just to enable the voice of local people (especially those who are marginalised) to be heard, but also to enable them to develop an analysis of their own conditions. As such, participatory researchers seek to accurately represent the constructions of research subjects, while also uncovering and ameliorating possible power relations between all parties involved in the research process. Process in participatory research As well as its distinctive epistemology and orientation towards action, participatory research differs in its processes, which are conceived as evolutionary. Common principles in participatory approaches include: • opening up the design of the research process to include those most directly affected; • negotiating between stakeholders to reach agreement about what will be monitored and evaluated, how and when data will be collected and analysed, what the data actually means, how findings will be shared, and what action will be taken; • a focus on cumulative learning by all the participants as the basis for subsequent improvement and sustained action, including local institution building or strengthening, thus increasing the capacity of people to initiate action on their own; • flexibility in adapting the research to local conditions and actors, as these factors change over time (Petty et al, 1995).


Using participatory methods to research youth violence

‘Mindset’ in participatory research Chambers also identifies a key component of participatory research to be the cultivation of a ‘mindset’ – a set of attitudes and behaviours – within all the stakeholders involved. This revolves around the valuing of sharing and reflection, and leads to the development of specific research methods, which Chambers sees in a symbiotic relationship. Figure 3.1: Participatory action research

Behaviour, attitudes and mindset

Specific methods

Sharing and reflection

Kumar (2002) lists what he sees as the necessary ‘attitudes’ as follows. Self critical awareness of one’s behaviour, bias and shortcomings; respecting others; not interrupting, not lecturing, but being a good, active listener; not hiding but embracing error; passing initiative and responsibility to others; having confidence in the ability of others and open–ended flexibility. (Kumar, 2002, p 45) These components are integral to the development of a learning environment as a precursor to, and the context in which, open, critical and democratic dialogue is fostered.


Responding to youth violence through youth work

Reliability and validity in participatory research The organic nature of the participatory approach, with its orientation towards experiential learning, can liberate the researcher from any external authority that imposes a predetermined process. However, the responsibility for research integrity, reliability and validity does not disappear as a result of this freedom. The question arises as to how this integrity is determined. Several authors (Lincoln and Guba, 1985; Key and Kerr, 2011) view trustworthiness or accuracy as more relevant concepts than reliability and validity. Others (Kemmis and McTaggart, 1998; Altricher et al, 1993) argue that criteria for reliability and validity have to emerge from the subjects in the research, the most important criteria being that they are ‘locally valid’ (Cunningham, 1983, p 405). As Clarke (2000) and Waterman (1998) believe, participatory researchers do need therefore to present a detailed analysis of all decisions made during the conduct of the study to facilitate a judgement of ‘reflective’ rather than scientific validity. Critiques of participatory research Feminist action researchers such as Brydon-Miller et al (2003) and Reid et al (2006) interrogate the idea of ‘action’ in participatory action research, saying it is often used interchangeably with the notion of ‘social change’. Reid in particular sees a danger in people becoming disillusioned if such social change does not materialise. In their seminal book, Participation: The New Tyranny (2001) Cooke and Kothari refute much ‘participatory’ practice as either leaving structural inequalities unchallenged or over-privileging the local, which is often itself structured through the prevailing hegemonies. They accuse researchers of manipulating findings (Mosse, 2001), underestimating the power of relationships, ignoring cultural difference (Hailey, 2001) and treating communities as homogenous entities. Further, they accuse them of simplifying the dynamics of structure and agency in social change, questioning the transformative claims of much participatory research. Hickey and Mohan (2004) in Participation: From Tyranny to Transformation attempt to rescue the participatory research project and reconceptualise participation, empowerment and development. Adopting a Foucauldian theoretical frame that sees power as stratified and differentiated, they argue that to judge participatory research as a failure or manipulative unless it affects structural change reinscribes a binary view of power. We need, they argue, to recognise that


Using participatory methods to research youth violence

marginalised people have limited control, influence and access but there is power and significance in local action and resistance. Supplementary methodologies: community philosophy and peer research In the light of some of these criticisms, we opted to supplement a participatory approach with other methods designed to maximise the transformative and pedagogic potential of the research process. Community philosophy is an approach to community learning adapted from an educational programme called Philosophy for Children. Community philosophy facilitators use a stimulus, typically an image, but also a word, as a starting point for a community of philosophy enquiry. This forms the basis for a deep conceptual analysis and exploration of the issues affecting participants. Participants determine the questions to be examined and are encouraged to engage with each other in a critical and collaborative manner. The method lends itself to social action, and is thus allied to the interests of participatory researchers. As Graeme Tiffany (our colleague and facilitator) explains: Community Philosophy as an intervention is capable of stimulating critical reflection on community issues and problems. An aim is to use the understanding that emerges – the learning – to inform action and seek resolution of these problems; hence the methodology’s ‘practical’ orientation and its aspiration to act as a ‘transformational practice’. (2010, p 3) Participants are asked to make links to wider issues, but without resorting to generalised statements about ‘we’ and ‘they’. The method is Socratic, in that it asks the group to build an argument together, questioning its own assumptions and statements, and expanding on ideas. The group tries to logically and rationally build an idea or argument, and then interrogate it. It is the role of the facilitator to keep the group on track. As Tiffany explains: Its systematic use has the capacity to objectify and neutralise the issues being explored, thereby shifting the focus from the psychological to the philosophical, from feelings to reasoning. The dialogical process is made real and tangible. (Tiffany, 2009, p 21)


Responding to youth violence through youth work

Another distinctive feature of our research was our use of peer researchers. In our case these were two people local to our own community and known to us and who we knew had recent experiences close to the topic under investigation. We recognised from the outset that implicit in the use of peer researchers is that they may choose to reveal these experiences to the research participants. This possibility immediately raises questions of bias. Traditionally in research it is accepted that the observer and the observed should not ‘contaminate’ the other. However, the legitimacy of self-revelation has a long tradition in feminist research. Du Blois argues that ‘The knower and the known are of the same universe, they are not separable’ (1983, p 111). Thus, for her, any attempt to polarise objectivity and subjectivity is a false dichotomy. Oakley (1981) argues that principles of commitment and egalitarianism should guide interviews, and that intimacy and self-disclosure were key features of this. Lather (1985, pp 23-4) suggests that the most emancipatory approaches to research include interactive interviews with selfdisclosure. Mies argues that we need to take our own experiences as a place to start and use these experiences to guide us (1983, p 122). Duelli Klein speaks of ‘intersubjectivity’ (1983, p 94) within a dialectical relationship between subject and object that permits the researcher to constantly compare their data with their own experiences and to share this with the researched, a notion Mies describes as ‘conscious partiality’ (1983, p 123). The mutual identification that occurs between researchers and participants requires serious reflection on the vulnerable position this can create for researchers (Reinharz, 1992, p 234). Stanley and Wise (1983, p 21) argue that this vulnerability is essential, as it is part of building trust with research participants. To ameliorate worries about this, they highlight the need for appropriate support and supervision to be made available.

Project Touch As our project was time-limited (two years) with a Europe-wide geographical remit but a limited budget, it was decided to focus on four project partners. We chose these because there were existing links in place with youth workers engaged with young people involved in violence. It was hoped that the opportunity for detailed examination of each project would allow for lessons to be learned that could then form the basis of meaningful guidelines for youth workers across the EU. (For the guidelines produced and a link to a full film documenting the project, see We wished to inform youth work


Using participatory methods to research youth violence

practice and policy to see what youth workers and the policymakers that frame their interventions could learn from the emergent understanding we produced. We did not wish to discover any objective ‘truths’ but instead hoped that the research could serve as a point of reflection for others on their own work and illuminate their practice (Cherry and Higgs, 2009). The research was conducted in four iterative phases. An initial phase involved selecting partners, building relationship with youth workers and young people, and orienting stakeholders to participatory research methods. In the second stage we began empirical research and developed some initial themes. These were then presented to workers and some ‘core’ young people (phase three). The final phase involved a larger residential conference with workers and young people where workshops and discussion were held on the project findings. These then formed the basis of a final report incorporating policy recommendations and guidelines for practice. The research sought to consider youth work practice from a range of professional perspectives (volunteers, part-time face-to-face workers, middle and senior management) and identify a range of interwoven issues that impact on the quality and efficacy of responses to youth violence. For example, the policy and legislative context varied considerably across Europe (Tiffany, 2009) and youth workers across member states understoood the influence of social policy differently. For some, it helped; for others, it was seen more as a hindrance. Organisations, teams and individuals were finding different ways to make policy fit to the circumstances they found themselves in. Organisational arrangements of projects and programmes (what might be called the human resources context) were another dimension of this policy–practice relationship, as were the specific training needs of workers tasked with responding to violence. Ethical concerns All project participants signed consent forms prior to engaging in the project, and those under 16, or those deemed not able to give informed consent, had to provide proof of parental or guardian consent. Eurogang guidelines (Weerman et al, 2009) acknowledge that obtaining parental consent may increase the risk/danger to young people who have been involved in gangs, for example from parents who are unaware of their child’s gang activities. They cite employing an uninvolved knowledgeable person (a sort of parent ‘surrogate’) to oversee the consent process, talk with the young people involved


Responding to youth violence through youth work

about the study, answer their questions and make sure their rights are protected. The youth workers were able to operate in this capacity and assist us in this. We explained as fully as possible, and in terms meaningful to participants, what the research was about, who was undertaking and financing it, why it was being undertaken, and how the research findings were to be disseminated. Participants had the right to refuse permission or withdraw from involvement in research whenever and for whatever reason they wished and they were afforded full anonymity and confidentiality. We were aware that the subject area could have brought up distressing past, or potential future, issues for participants. We provided information about sources of appropriate support to research participants including the peer researchers. We made clear the circumstances in which we might be required to divulge information to legal or other authorities, such as a serious risk to life or suspected child abuse, and made such circumstances clear to participants when seeking their informed consent. The situation with regards to other criminal activities, such as knowledge of past, present or intended violence towards a third party, was less clear. There is no legal requirement for any member of the public to inform the police either that a criminal offence has been, is about to be, or is in the process of being committed. We took note of this and the guidance provided by the Federation for Detached Youth Work in the UK below, and acted accordingly. It is a matter of social and moral judgement whether you feel you have a duty to inform the police. Your judgement will be based on your knowledge and relationship with the young person, your development plan for that young person, the seriousness of the offence and the danger or harm that it presents to the young person, themselves or to others. (Harris et al, 1997) Sampling and demographics The youth workers and young people were selected via a process of purposive and snowball sampling. First, we identified key workers in each partner organisation, who then introduced us to their teams. In London the youth worker team (n=8) included five men and three women, and was ethnically diverse. In Bradford the team (n=4) was entirely Asian and male; in Graz the team (n=4) was split evenly male and female, but entirely white Austrian; and in Germany the team


Using participatory methods to research youth violence

(n=8) included seven men and one woman and was ethnically mixed. Throughout the research we talked to other workers from within and outside the organisations, some who attended the conferences. As a result we eventually met approximately 50 youth workers. Overall we recorded meeting over 170 young people during the lifetime of project. We made a distinction between ‘core’ young people, who were, to different degrees, actively involved in the planning and delivery of the research, and those who were simply interviewed or had a more peripheral involvement. The only deliberate targeting we engaged in was to actively encourage the participation of women – particularly in recruitment for participants in the final project residential weekend. In Austria we worked with eight ‘core’ young people, five women and three men (n=8). Of these, two men and three women were present throughout the project including the final residential weekend. They were all aged between 16 and 25, white, and of Austrian origin. We also worked with a larger group of around 20 young people, again aged 16-25 (n=20) with roughly equal gender balance. One of the young men was of Afghanistani origin and another two of Moroccan origin. In Bradford we worked exclusively with British Asian (Pakistani heritage) young men. There was a core group of 12 (n=12) aged between 16 and 28, but only two who participated throughout the whole project. In Germany we worked in one area with 15 young men and seven young women aged 16-20 from a Siberian-German background (n=22), of which six young men became part of the ‘core’ group and attended the final residential weekend. In another suburb we worked with seven Turkish men and two Albanians (n=9), who also became part of the core group. We also engaged with a peripheral mixed-gender group of predominantly Moroccan young people (n=30-40) aged 12-14, who were involved in sport. Case studies were produced on a number of individuals, including one older Turkish participant involved in a boxing programme organised by a youth worker. In London, where the young people were hardest to access, a group of young people (n=11) including seven black women, two black men, one white woman, and one mixed-heritage woman were involved in film making. Four more young black men aged (18-25) later became involved in a music project initiated by a peer researcher. Two further white young women and two young men, all aged 16-25, attended the final residential conference.


Responding to youth violence through youth work

Phase 1: peer researcher/partner recruitment and preparation The four project partners selected were Islington Targeted Youth Support Team London; West Bowling Youth Initiative, Bradford, UK; Caritas Jugendstreetwork, Graz, Austria; and Rheinflanke, Koln, Germany. Some decisions were made before these partners came on board. These were to document the whole research process via a fulllength film documentary, to use community philosophy as part of our method, and to employ two peer researchers. The decision to use peer researchers was based on research that suggested a general mistrust that young people and those involved in violence might have towards perceived authority figures and educational establishments (Decker and Van Winkle, 1996). We selected two peer researchers (one black male aged 35 and one Asian male aged 25, both from Birmingham, UK). Both, we felt, had insight into youth violence based on their own biographical experiences and would be seen as credible and legitimate by those involved in it. We then set up a steering group that included the peer researchers, academics from within the youth work and criminological fields, and policy advisers to the UK Home Office. Other than these initial unilateral decisions, how we were to conduct the research was to be negotiable with all participants at all times. We regarded the cultivation of a participatory ‘mindset’ of those involved in the research, and the principles of sharing and reflection, as more important considerations than the traditional privileging of methods. We anticipated that this mindset would be familiar to the youth workers who are encultured into this way of thinking through statements of youth work values (NYA, 2013), teaching practice (Kitto, 1986) and professional association, all of which maintain and develop this approach to learning. However, in keeping with Kumar (2002), we also undertook some introductory exercises that explicitly looked at the attitudes we all wanted to inform the research. At our first meeting with the partners we explored the workers’ hopes and fears for the project. This also served to allow people to get to know each other and develop some trust, something participatory approaches stress as important for the sharing process later (Petty et al; 1995; Kumar, 2002; Chambers, 2007). While partners had some familiarity with each other, they did not in the context of the research. Participants were asked to reflect on the following question: ‘What fears and preconceived ideas did you have about research in general, and this piece of research in particular, before coming here today?’ Some workers, such as in Bradford and Graz, had had positive experiences, while others (such as in London) less so. The German


Using participatory methods to research youth violence

workers for whom this was one of the first pieces of research in which they had been involved, also expressed some fears. In response we negotiated ground rules for conduct during the research (Petty et al, 1995). However, we were concerned that ground-rule setting might have lost some meaning as an exercise (Seal, 2005). Cooke and Kothari (2001) criticises the sometimes ‘ritualistic’ ways of conducting participatory research, particularly with those who have some familiarity with it, and advocates ‘breaking’ some if its conventions. With this in mind we made it a detailed point of discussion, following which all parties agreed on a set of ground rules as demonstrated below. Table 3.1: Project Touch Workshops Kumar’s principles of participatory research

Ground-rules set in the workshops

Self critical awareness of one’s behaviour, bias and shortcomings

People will be critical, but open and respectful towards others about their own and others opinions

Respecting others; not interrupting, not lecturing, but being a good, active listener

People will not talk over each other and give each other space but also take responsibility to not hog the space.

Not hiding but embracing error; passing initiative and responsibility to others

People are allowed to make mistakes, but have to accept challenge, including the lecturers!

Having confidence in the ability of others

We all have a contribution to make and should support each other in bringing these ideas out

Open–ended flexibility

People will take responsibility for their own learning and behaviour in the workshops and lecturers will allow the group to influence the direction and content of the sessions

We filmed all these meetings and then presented the videos along with written minutes of meetings to the independent evaluator, who then made a judgement as to the degree to which our research was valid in participatory terms. We needed a process of managing the reflective, sharing process identified by Chambers (2007) in our earlier overview of participatory research. This required having a common theoretical framework for reflection and providing formal scheduled sessions for it, so that groups did not make knee-jerk or instinctive changes to the direction of the research process. Boud and colleagues (1985) identify three aspects to reflection: returning to experience – that is to say, recalling or detailing significant events; attending to (or connecting with)


Responding to youth violence through youth work

feelings (which has two aspects, using helpful feelings and removing or containing obstructive ones); and evaluating experience. This involves re-examining experience in the light of one’s conceptual framework, integrating this new knowledge into it. Reflective models such as this inform much of the teaching (Kitto, 1986) and practice of youth and community work (Young, 1999; Jeffs and Smith, 2005). However, the whole group of workers and young people were continually reminded of these principles and the research team set aside time for a reflective session after formal workshops or other activities ended for the day. This was not focused on the content of the day, for that territory remained, rightly, with the group (Chambers, 2007; Petty et al, 1995), but on the process and the degree to which we had adhered to participatory principles (Kumar, 2002)]. Cooke and Kothari (2001) and Guijit and Shah (1998) recommend that facilitators should reflect independently from participants because it allows the facilitators to challenge any groupthink tendencies (Janis, 1982) and explore the dynamics of the group. We felt it was especially important to consider who dominated the workshops and group activity and to make any latent or emerging issues of gender and race explicit. Chambers (2007) also recognised the importance of reflection in the moment, something Schön calls reflection in action (1987). Chambers (2007) sees parallels between this approach to research and theories of chaos (Gleick, 1988), complexity (Waldrop, 1994) and emergence (Johnson, 2002). He describes how a few simple ideas, as in the shared principles stated above and the minimal role given to the facilitator/ researcher, underlie the complex, dynamic and unpredictable nature of participatory research and the methodologies employed. We feel this approach remains under-theorised, and the skills needed to do it under-articulated. We provide some examples later of what this more improvisatory approach to research can look like in practice. Throughout phase one the whole research team including the peer researchers spent a significant amount of time getting to know the workers. We spent recreational time with them, explaining our motivations for being part of the project, and, particularly, though not exclusively, in the case of the peer researchers, talking about our own experiences of violence. Before we began any data gathering both peer researchers received extensive training and supervision that focused on research methods as well as the need for a thorough understanding of the demands made on the researcher and the implications of this kind of self-disclosure.


Using participatory methods to research youth violence

Phase 2: data gathering The youth workers in each of the partner agencies were invited to identify five key questions that related to their work with young people involved in violence. These were then written on a flipchart. Workers then voted on what they felt was most pertinent and wanted to discuss most. The facilitator then introduced our conceptual model to organise the participants’ ensuing conversation into personal, community and structural aspects of violence. These issues were then explored through a series of participatory workshops. In London, the group relied heavily on community philosophy methods, but less so in Bradford. In Graz and Germany, we tended to use more visual methods such as diagramming and role play within workshops, as the community philosophy approach was less suitable when working in the second language of the participants. Our access to groups of young people was negotiated by ‘brokers’ from the partner organisations, these being people (either the youth workers or older young people) who were identified, supported and developed by each partner, had insight into the subculture of violence in the respective localities and were seen as credible by those involved in it. The brokers’ input helped to ensure that communication across language and cultural barriers was effective. The brokers and the peer researchers explained the underlying aims and mindset of the project. The young people then designed, with the research team, a number of participatory activities that investigated, collaboratively, their experience of interventions from youth and community workers with regard to issues of violence. These included workshops, semistructured interviews, community philosophy-type activities, use of music, media and film and case study-type activities. Initial sessions with young people in London were based around participants directing and creating short films of their own. These centred on their perceptions of the area where they lived and what part violence played in their lives. Young people interviewed each other following a brief from the researchers regarding the research topic and some basic training from the film company in interview techniques. Using flip cameras, a group of young women recorded their experiences of the psychological violence exerted on them by young men and the reality of living with the constant threat of violence. A number of other groups of young people were identified with whom the youth workers were meeting regularly. Due to the sensitive nature of the experiences and circumstances of some other groups of young people (and in particular how they perceived cameras), it was


Responding to youth violence through youth work

agreed that the peer researchers would conduct informal interviews and then complete field notes. The workers introduced the peer researchers to several groups of young people over a period of three days. This came to fruition over time, with one peer researcher returning several months later to work closely with a small group of black young men to produce an album of songs about their experiences that then formed part of the data. Towards the end of the project the second peer researcher gained employment within the Islington team and developed relationships further. Week 1 in Germany consisted of visiting a range of groups in order to identify a possible target group. Conversations were captured through the use of flip cameras. Week 2 involved a three-day residential experience with a core group in a youth hostel along with a number of activities, including canoeing, and a high-ropes course. Conversations were captured through a series of interviews and informal group discussion around a barbeque or while walking to and from pubs and cafés. In Graz the first visit predominantly focused on building relationships, although a number of preliminary interviews were conducted with young people. Young people participated in film-making workshops facilitated by the film company and agreed to make a promotional film about their lives in Graz. We also had some meetings with a project aimed at marginalised young people. The week culminated in an outdoor event challenging people’s perception of the street. The young people from the project agreed to be interviewed but did not want to speak to us, or the workers. They agreed to speak to the young people who had become involved in film making. We trained their youth workers in interview techniques, and they then helped the young people design questions and make a film about their findings. The peer researcher also ran a workshop with some young people on violence and one recorded a rap for the album. The week culminated in a round-table discussion with policymakers and services focusing on violence. In Bradford a group of young people created the project logo in a workshop and were also involved in some preliminary film-making workshops. Another core group then took part in an outdoor activities weekend that included abseiling, caving and hiking. Peer researchers captured interviews on flip cameras, often during the activities. After each day’s activities, the group returned to a hostel for a series of workshops and discussions facilitated using community philosophy techniques.


Using participatory methods to research youth violence

Phase 3: sharing preliminary findings In January 2011, the mid-point of the project, we held a conference where we presented our preliminary findings and the young people presented their films. All the teams were asked to present their approach to working with young people and the barriers they felt they faced when seeking to respond to violence. The conference culminated in workshops that examined questions such as: • To what extent should we be driven by educational and/or antiviolence issues? • Should our approaches be universal or targeted?When does empathy and a structural analysis become collusion with neutralisation? • What is the nature of trust in the context of illegal activities? • What is the nature of care within a professional relationship? • How can/do workers engage with existential issues meaning, purpose, connectedness and hope? • What are the limits to effective practice? Where does youth work stop being able to effect change? • What vision of community are we working with? • What dimensions do gender, race and Islamaphobia have in our work? Phase 4: final conference and production of worker guidelines The final residential session in Essex, UK brought together all the workers and young people who had been involved in the project (and some more). We suggested possible workshops that were then allocated to workers and could be run either formally or informally (for example, around a campfire) or at any opportune moment. On the first night Graeme Tiffany facilitated a discussion on ‘What is violence?’ out of which six topics emerged: ‘taking responsibility’, ‘loyalty’, ‘respect’, ‘having a sense of purpose’, ‘money’ and ‘public space’. On the following day, the groups of young people were asked to design and build a physical model of their own neighbourhoods and then to look at issues around public space, surveillance, and violence. The groups took it in turns to explain their models to the other groups and the ensuing discussion was captured on flip cameras.


Responding to youth violence through youth work

Data analysis All data was then analysed using open and axial coding with qualitative data analysis software. In keeping with other action research approaches (Kemmis and McTaggart, 1998), we tried to keep the data analysis grounded (that is, not formulate hypotheses in advance) and to focus on the concerns of young people and workers. The research team began, first individually and then collaboratively, to analyse all the data gathered, extracting over 130 sub-codes. We were keen to avoid workers simply reproducing ‘tales’ about their work that simply justified current practices. We also sought to avoid a wholly uncritical acceptance of the young people’s voices and recognise how those voices might be shaped by the limits of young people’s own awareness and the influence of hegemonic discourses. With this in mind, and at the suggestion of the steering group, we employed critical discourse analysis to focus on the ways in which social and political domination are reproduced in text and talk (Caldas-Coulthard and Coulthard, 1996). This analysis looked at the micro level of repeated phrases and concepts that did not have detailed exploration, and at any unspoken assumptions between researcher and those researched. This involved studying the peer researcher journals, the young peoples’ videos and practitioner responses, and all the materials generated in workshops.

Using participatory research to understand youth violence Following reflection after project completion, and with the help of our steering group and an external evaluator (Professor Simon Bradford), we identified five significant areas for the practice of participatory research in contexts such as youth violence: • the need to continually affirm the epistemological stance of participatory research to all parties; • the need for critical analysis of local ‘expert’ knowledge; • the need for participatory researchers to cultivate an improvisatory disposition; • recognition of the contingent nature of self-disclosure by peer researchers, and how their use engenders ‘proxy trust’ and has symbolic as well as instrumental value; • the need for notions of ‘action’ and ‘impact’ in participatory research to be understood in contexts other than the achievement of structural social change and to include recognition of the pedagogic


Using participatory methods to research youth violence

and personally empowering products engendered through the research process. Epistemological stance The distinctive stance towards the nature of knowledge taken with participatory research needs to be continually articulated and affirmed to participants throughout the research process and built into its design. As we illustrated earlier, participatory research is an evolutionary process of creating knowledge, rather than just of discovering or uncovering it, and participants have a right and the ability to be active partners in its creation. Participants such as young people involved in violence can come to trust researchers if assurances are given and the stance is explained from the outset, but it takes time for participants to believe and invest in the process. We have a number of testimonies from workers, and young people, to this effect. One worker talked about how our extensive preparation and orientation phase gave him enough assurances to engage, but it was not until some way into the project that he believed that we were genuine in our approach. Young people told similar stories of initial skepticism followed by gradual acceptance as the project unfolded. As our process evaluation noted: The dominant and guiding metaphor that represented the Touch Project and which was offered throughout the conversations and interviews with partners was that of the ‘journey’, emphasizing process, connection, transition and change. (Bradford, 2013, p 6) This metaphor of a journey constituted a framework in which to embed our epistemological stance, ‘forming a progressive narrative structure that confirms, for partners, a setting in which young people’s strong involvement is assured’ (Bradford, 2013, p 13). Critical analysis This affirmation of the importance of process also served to send another message: that we considered the young people to have knowledge that was not necessarily accessible to us or to the workers. The evaluator conducted several interviews with project partners in which they


Responding to youth violence through youth work

argued strongly that young people are experts in their own circumstances and lives and that their knowledge should be regarded, therefore, as ‘expert knowledge’. For example, their understanding of the processes and dynamics of street violence was something to which young people have privileged and unique access in a way not possible for professional workers. (Bradford, 2013, p 8) However, there are also potential dangers in this privileging of local ‘expert’ knowledge. It can lead to an excessive focusing inwards so that results become subject to the tyranny of the group (Cooke and Kothari, 2001) and groupthink (Janis,1982). Our use of critical discourse analysis was, we feel, a meaningful attempt to address the danger of simply reproducing tales that youth workers and young people tell about themselves and youth work. We would recommend that this critical analysis should feature in participatory research seeking to uncover professional responses to social issues such as youth violence. However, in keeping with the principles of participatory research, the results of this critical analysis need to be shared with research participants, and explored; something we did in phases three and four of the research. An improvisatory disposition Chambers (2007) identifies how participatory research involves an element of unpredictability that requires a willingness and ability to improvise. We saw this in action during the final residential in Essex when a football match was spontaneously suggested between the young people (UK v Germany). At one point during the game there was a testosterone-fuelled flare-up, which could easily have got out of hand. It was the peer researchers and workers who had experience of such incidents who responded immediately. As well as calming down the young people, they recognised that this was potentially interesting in terms of the research objectives. There and then, they held interviews with several young people involved in the incident who also recognised the significance of the events and who then instigated further discussions that evening. Similarly the next day, after recognition of the relative invisibility of young women’s perspectives in the research, young women came together of their own volition to discuss issues, inviting some female youth workers to act as researchers in the workshop. As Bradford notes, a culture had started to develop that was pedagogical and transformative in that it ‘opened up research and practice spaces’ that added to ‘the


Using participatory methods to research youth violence

possibilities for young people thinking about violence and its place in their lives’ (Bradford, 2013, p 6). This culture may have arisen via the influence of the overall youth work ethos that permeated the whole project. But the valuing of ‘in the moment’ responses in youth work led to us cultivating the same ‘in the moment’ responses as researchers. We suggest that more research is needed on how these reflective, improvisatory and empowering spaces and approaches can be cultivated within wider research contexts. Peer researchers, self-disclosure and ‘proxy trust’ Bradford’s evaluation cast a critical eye over our use of peer researchers and focused on the benefits and shortcomings inherent in their use. The Touch Project’s deployment of peer researchers seems to be a serious attempt to mediate the social distance created by established professional/client relations, establishing respect between young people and providers and in so doing legitimating the work of the Touch Project. (Bradford, 2013, p 5) The peer researchers did disclose their own experiences as they gathered data, but this was contingent on context and changed over time. Although useful in certain stages in the project, and in particular ways, there were other times when the perceived differences between the wider research team and the young people aided the production of meaningful data too. Simmel (1921) contends that people will share confidences with a ‘stranger’ that they may not share with friends and acquaintances. The Touch peer researchers in some contexts, such as in Germany and Austria, were substantially older than the research participants, came from a very different culture, and spoke different languages from those spoken by the young people. The ‘peer-ness’ between them and the young people was more about a certain experience of the street. In some cases the young people seemed to see in the peer researchers a possibility of personal change. At other times the peer researchers issued challenges to young people, particularly when the young people were minimising violence or glorifying it, having first earned the trust to do so. This all highlighted the importance of the structures we put in place for the peer researchers to be supported and supervised which minimised their vulnerability and built critical awareness of knowledge outside of their locality, so that were not bound by it.


Responding to youth violence through youth work

Perhaps the most effective outcome of our use of peer researchers was the development of ‘proxy trust’. For instance, one Asian male participant in Bradford cultivated a strong relationship with co-author Mike Seal, commenting that he wanted to talk to someone completely outside his experience. This was his longest ever conversation with a white man, and his only conversation about Islam with a white man. The peer researcher who brokered this opportunity acknowledged how the conversation was substantively and qualitatively different. However, the participant also expressed that he had only engaged in this conversation, and in doing so extended trust to Mike, because the peer researcher, whom he trusted, trusted Mike. In this way Mike had gained ‘proxy trust’ through the peer researcher. This is linked to a more overarching finding that emerged from the research process as a whole. As well as the clear instrumental value of employing peer researchers, we feel that an equally significant impact was its symbolic value. That we had recruited the peer researchers and valued their local knowledge sent a powerful message that we also valued the young people’s knowledge too. ‘Action’ and ‘impact’ What do action and change really mean in participatory research? In line with Hickey and Mohan (2004) we agree that these notions need reconceptualising and assessments of success or failure need to take account of more factors than simply wider structural change. Bradford (2013) outlined the areas that the Touch project sought ‘action’ on or change in, those involving the participants, the partner projects and the services of which they were part, as well as local, national and international strategy. In his independent evaluation he identified a number of discernible ‘products’. The project has drawn together a substantial body of knowledge that helps to map the ubiquity, meaning and significance of violence in many young people’s lives. These data show the complexity, normality and solidity of the problem of street violence. (Bradford, 2013, p 2) Furthermore, he noted: The Touch Project worked in a way that realigned power relations between ‘experts’ (often professionals) and ‘nonexperts’ (local people, community representatives) in


Using participatory methods to research youth violence

the attempt to recognise and promote the authority and authenticity of participants’ local knowledge in defining and designing solutions to what are understood as ‘community problems’. (Bradford, 2013, p 3) As Bradford argues, participatory research has an aspiration to create new knowledge, not simply unearth that already in existence. In this sense it can be a genuinely educational process. Overall, this approach has the potential to create tensions between local knowledge and universal knowledge forms (e.g. those aspects of knowledge codified in aspects of professional discourse). Arguably, in the context of educational initiatives, young people should be introduced to knowledge that can enable them to ‘think the unthinkable’, to support them in imagining beyond the immediate and local. (Bradford, 2013, p 4, emphasis in original) Participatory research also has the bold aspiration to impact on the wider world, or at least create the conditions that will help enable this. Bradford recognised the potential impact of a participatory project such as Touch on the agency of the young people and communities involved in the project. By recognising the potentially oppressive consequences of the social institutions, social relations and social processes that shape people’s lives in marginalised neighbourhoods, they can, through engaging in praxis, identify and extend their own agency and capacity for inducing individual and social change through collective action. (Bradford, 2013, p 3) We hoped that practitioners would begin to see that academic study, and the rigours of research, are beneficial to all. This is vital if practitioners are to start seeing themselves as ethnographers engaged in developing ethnopraxes. Bradford saw the seeds of this being sown in the Touch project. Practitioners involved with the Project have found their relationship with the academy to be valuable and, indeed, have found the link with academic discourse to be a generative resource in their work. (Bradford, 2013, p 4)


Responding to youth violence through youth work

While we never sought to demonstrate these outcomes in a positivist sense, we do feel that our project participants were engaged in a process that for many was transformative; we believe the data that forms the basis of the ensuing chapters supports us in making that claim. As Reid and colleagues (2006) argue, some ‘actions’, while not actualised now, remain hopes for broader actions in the future. There is power in symbolic resistance that gives people hope. The participants in Project Touch appeared to us to have begun to see that they have legitimate claims to power and for them personally this was an empowering and meaningful experience. This kind of personal transformation is a meaningful form of action and change too.


Part 2 Meaningful responses to youth violence In this part we present the cornerstones of our research findings. We hope these chapters will be of particular relevance to those youth professionals practising in the area of youth violence prevention who may be seeking to find a language to capture their ongoing activity or looking for new ideas and approaches. We employ our theoretical framework to produce a multi-level practice model that incrementally moves from ‘micro’ to ‘macro’ responses to youth violence, supporting our suggestions with qualitative data gathered from young people and youth workers. We show how psychosocial criminological perspectives, including desistance theory, can help inform the understanding and practice of relationship-based work with young people, and how existentialist philosophy can generate useful perspectives on those relationships, the self, and individual meaning-making in the face of hopelessness. Utilising community work literature and critical theory, we then widen the vision of youth work responses to include responses that seek to challenge, not collude with, violence that originates in and is mediated through communities and wider society. This all amounts to an admittedly wide conceptualisation of youth work practice that encompasses one-to-one work within relationships, community work, efforts to challenge structural oppression and the struggle to find hope and meaning within the daily lives of young people.



Responding at the personal (P) level Our aim in what follows is to make some practical suggestions as to how youth workers engaged with individual young people might maximise the desistance-promoting potential of their responses to youth violence. For now, we are deliberately seeking to avoid a deterministic reading of these young people’s lives. Although we recognise that structural forces (such as chronic poverty) have a massive impact on young people, the evidence we present here suggests that young people are not entirely determined by those forces. Their ‘agency’, or freedom to act, is bounded but not eliminated by the social environment around them. The reality is, we contend, that although some young people clearly have a wider range of choices than others, young people involved in violence either as victims, perpetrators or witnesses do still have hard, but real, choices as to how to act. Inevitably, when dealing with such micro-level notions of interpersonal relationships and individual choices the analysis will have a psychological bias. As Abraham Maslow highlights, psychologists could be accused of: … not stressing sufficiently in their systematic thinking the great power of autonomous social and environmental determinants, of such forces outside of the individual as poverty, exploitation, nationalism, war and social structure. (Maslow, 1968, p 13) However, he counters: Certainly no psychologist in his right mind would dream of denying a degree of personal helplessness before these forces. But after all, his prime professional obligation is the study of the individual person rather than of extra psychic social determinants. In the same way, sociologists seem to the psychologists to stress social forces too exclusively and to forget about the autonomy of the personality, of will, of responsibility, etc. (Maslow, 1968, p 13)


Responding to youth violence through youth work

The point here is that both the social and the psychic are important (Jefferson, cited in mac an Ghaill, 1996, p 154). Social conditions in the external world create psychological needs, which are then felt and experienced internally, and not all young people within a certain environment will react in the same way to that same environment. One youth worker we spoke to recognised this reality within the community in which he worked. He tried to capture what he saw as the contrasting characteristics of the young people who found themselves entangled in violence and others who seemed, through something ‘within’ them, more able to resist the criminogenic forces within their environment, and at the same time, how this made them a target of violence too. “You made me think of, call them more criminal groups of young people, a gang, or whatever you call them, on estates; but there will be young people who live on them estates under similar conditions, similar housing, similar schools who walk through it all, don’t get involved. Now, how do they not do that? What have they got that some of the other people don’t have?” We want to try to shed some light on what might lie behind this worker’s question. There is also another voice we seek to keep in mind – that of the victims of violence. In many ways, young people who are on occasion violent can be characterised as deprived victims of their social circumstances, and youth workers are understandably keen to highlight the damaging impact of these circumstances and how that is related to violent behaviour. We will look in detail at how this works later. Equally, though, it has to be acknowledged that sometimes their violent actions can create serious harm to other people and their communities. As a direct or indirect result of violence, other (often vulnerable) young people become victims and suffer major physical and psychological trauma. In the most tragic cases, lives are blighted and families are permanently scarred through bereavement and the overwhelming grief that the death of a son or daughter or sibling brings. Any youth worker working with young people involved in violence needs to acknowledge the perspective of these victims and their families too, and continually reflect on how their practice is contributing to a reduction in such harm.


Responding at the personal (p) level

Violence as a way of meeting needs Individual young people’s involvement in violence often changes over time and is not all at the same level or degree. To be meaningful, youth work responses have to recognise the different individual motivations that lie behind violent behaviour. Sometimes violence is driven by a desire to meet pressing physical or material needs, such as for money, power, or safety, but also for more psychological, internal needs such as belonging, identity or to show and be shown loyalty, as this participant articulates: “Money was the thing for me, it still is, but not every time. Okay, all I want to do is make money, make money, but for some, loyalty means more than earning that 20, 30 thousand pound. That loyalty with that certain friend means more than that money.” Some young people see violence as a way to gain respect (a ‘name’) in their local neighbourhoods. (We shall look at the ambiguity inherent in this concept of respect in more detail in Chapter Eight.) For others, the need for prestige or security, and how this is blocked by lack of opportunities, can lead to frustration and a lack of hope, as this youth worker explains: “The young people I speak to, they have an idea of what they want. They’d like to have a nice flat, car, job, etc, but they know they haven’t got the qualifications, the academic background, the family background that supports that and the political will to get them off the estate and into work. Some of them will say it’s their family keeping them down, some will say it’s their peers, a lot have said about their education keeping them down. A lot will say, ‘This is just how it is, people don’t want to employ us’, and now there isn’t the jobs there, they don’t feel there is any point in making the effort.” Many young people seemed to gain this much-longed-for status within their peer group and communities through their involvement in forms of violence. Youth workers we spoke to claimed that for some young people, even incarceration in prison as result of involvement in violence met a need, in this case for some safety and structure in their chaotic lives. This extract from a focus group captures the irony of how the


Responding to youth violence through youth work

structured life in prison for some young people met their needs more fully than their life in the community: “They would be happy to spend six months inside. Go in, they get their teeth done by the dentist, health fitness in gym, clean up, they would feel good about themselves. They actually said having those structures, those boundaries that they thought they were fighting against all their lives, once they got it, they could see the benefits, they were happy with it.” We feel this needs-based analysis requires supplementing by a deeper analysis of why those needs emerge in the first place. A psychosocial analysis would suggest that these young people could have been left with unmet needs partly as a result of the dynamics of their family life or the communities in which they live, all of which is affected by wider social forces. These needs will often be suppressed; that is, young people will not be conscious of them or be able to articulate them directly. When young people have feelings that are too painful to manage, they will employ defences to protect them against those feelings, including projecting them onto someone else (such as other young people or a parent). Young people need people around them who can absorb these feelings so they can be returned detoxified and faced as an aspect of reality. Another young person in Graz clearly felt that the youth workers she had been in contact with at her local youth centre were able to do this and meet some of her needs for belonging: “A lot of young people don’t have no one who they can talk to or who helps them or understands them and they come here because it’s a kind of like a second family. I think if street work didn’t happen, there will be more street violence.” Another young person was able to identify that after his interaction with supportive youth workers who he said had planted seeds of hope and direction, he seemed better able to avoid the violence prevalent in her peer group. “If you’re confident of who you are and can actually look at things and put it in its rightful place and when kids are saying things to you, you can look at them and think, ‘You


Responding at the personal (p) level

know what, you got no future in your life.’ I know what I’m going to be doing, I’m going to keep up with my studies, I’m not paying you any mind, I’m just going to do what I got to do and stay focused.” For many young people, carrying weapons or gang membership was a rational choice made for reasons of self-protection or safety. In areas where gangs were active, not to become part of a gang was to put yourself at the risk of becoming a target, and weapon carrying provided both an exit strategy should trouble present itself, and greater security when moving from place to place. In some cases involvement in violence was simply a way of avoiding becoming a victim, and a result of psychological violence from peers, as illustrated by the following example taken from a focus group: Participant 5: “Right, he’s telling me what to do, to go do something, I say no, and he says, ‘If you don’t do this, I’ll do this to you.’ He says, ‘Go smack this hammer across his head, if you don’t do it, I’ll do it to you.’” Facilitator: “Let’s go a bit deeper. When you say you have to do it, why do you have to do it?” [Participants interrupt – “intimidation, pressure”] Facilitator: “Do you agree?” Participant 5: [Nods] Facilitator: “Pressure, what forms does this pressure take?” Participant 3: “Physical, verbal. [Someone interrupts – “mental”] Facilitator: “What does mental pressure take?” Participant 3: “Messes with your head.” As a result of this intense physical and psychological intimidation, extricating oneself from gang involvement was deeply problematic for some young people.


Responding to youth violence through youth work

Peer researcher: “So say you’re involved in a gang now and you just had enough after two to three years, and you want to leave. Do you think that’s easy to do?” Participant 1: “No, that won’t be easy.” Peer researcher: “Why do you say that?” Participant 1: “Because if I was involved in a gang and doing loads of stuff like, if I say, ‘I don’t want to be with you anymore, want to settle down and that’, they’ll probably end up saying, ‘Oh, we don’t trust you’ and stuff and I’ll be in trouble.” A youth worker confirmed this story, and explained how once embedded in the gang culture, it was not long before one young person he worked with began to adopt the mores of his peer group: “You’re absolutely right. One young person said to me, ‘Chris, I had to join this gang’, because every time he left his house, ‘the boys would beat me up and rob you’. So the only way to keep him safe was to join the gang. I believe if you hang around with a gang of people for long enough you begin to take on the characteristics of that gang. And what he’s done now is taken on the characteristics of his friends.” Workers were acutely aware of the ascendancy of these peer influences, which are captured by social learning theorists and criminologists such as Sutherland and Cressey (1939). This ‘pull of peers’ is part of our analysis of community-level reasons for (and responses to) violence. Here we want to focus on the underlying individual needs for security and safety that infuse these peer associations with allure for young people. Youth workers need to focus on building relationships with young people in which young people can begin to understand what needs they are meeting through criminal and violent behaviour and begin to find alternative, attractive ways to meet those needs.

Empathy, collusion with neutralisation and ‘constructive confrontation’ Youth workers have long argued that the primary vehicle for behavioural change is their distinctive relationship with young people.


Responding at the personal (p) level

This relationship, they argue, is distinct from other professional relationships such as teaching and social work in that it is entered into voluntarily. It has traditionally been theorised in humanistic, personcentred terms (Rogers, 1951), by which we mean it is characterised by the Rogerian concepts of unconditional positive regard, empathy and congruence. Workers we talked to often spoke of the relationship in those terms, and emphasised the empathy they felt was present in their relationships with young people. Listen to this worker talk of his approach to getting on ‘a level’ with young people. “So the first step to make a difference is – enter their world. Accept what they are doing, okay? In their spare time, what they are watching, okay? What’s their interest, what they do. It’s not necessarily what you would do as an adult. It takes a lot of research to get into their mind, and only when you understand where they are coming from are you able to reach out and make a connection.” Young people who spoke to us were clearly able to describe what kind of relationship they felt was of help to them. “If you know my problems, you can understand me deep from your heart, then you talk to me, I want to rely on you. Then we have a confidence and communication and then somehow that would help me and if I’ve made a mistake you will say okay, you’ve made a mistake, it doesn’t matter, I’m your friend, I’m staying with you, you can do it, you can correct it.” We feel that this person-centred vision of relationships imbued with empathy, so central to youth work practice across Europe, needs restating, but also augmenting. Although empathic and accepting relationships remain key to youth work relationships, our research suggested that workers may sometimes be reluctant to test the robustness of their relationships with young people, for fear of the relationship collapsing. Genuine challenge of the sort that requires the young person to think ‘If what you say is true about me – I must be very wrong about me’ was conspicuous in its absence in the data, but when it was present it seemed to coincide with genuinely transformative moments. “I think it’s about getting people to think about their own actions, for what they do in their lives, they’ve got to take


Responding to youth violence through youth work

responsibility for it. For me on a personal level, I’d want to work towards more challenging him: Why do you do that? What made him do that? And getting him to see that’s not the right thing, and hopefully they’d move on themselves. We’re not here to snitch on people, we are here to help them, guide them in the right direction. It’s a tricky one, and what would really concern me is someone is really hurt, say on a life support machine, then that seriousness has to be put to that young person, what their actions have caused, not just to that person, but to their families.” A psychosocial perspective on youth violence would suggest that young people engaged in violence will present as ‘defended subjects’ (Gadd, 2002) and consequently seek to locate the reason for their behaviour outside, or away from, their own agency. Here we wish to outline a style of action – constructive confrontation – that seeks to directly and actively challenge young people’s misinterpretation of social cues and distorted perception of reality whereby their own violent acts are interpreted as defence or somehow ‘neutralised’ (Matza, 1964). One youth worker captured this when describing how young people often describe themselves: “That bit – ‘I’m a good guy, I’m not as bad as I have been, I’ve been violent to people.’ He’s creating this third idea in his head to stop him feeling whatever he might be feeling.” We outline a more structured form of this approach that seeks to actively challenge self-deception and the dehumanisation of victims in Chapter Thirteen as part of a case study of a therapeutic method we encountered in Germany (confrontational pedagogy) and we discuss further how discourses around masculinity are implicated in work with defensive young men in Chapter Nine. For now, we simply want to highlight how youth workers need to find ways to challenge young people’s existing world-views and increase their sensitivity to others. This may involve young people distancing themselves from the rules and norms of their peers and subculture – something that, for many, is deeply threatening to their already fragile image of self. A constructively confrontational approach remains rooted in empathy and involves a negotiated or kind of ‘push me, pull you’ relationship. A youth worker might work supportively with a young person to resolve an inner conflict or inconsistency; that is, engineer an interaction that forces them to confront something difficult for them. This can begin


Responding at the personal (p) level

with small but insistent interventions that lead to wider conversations. One female youth worker in Germany told us that she confronted a young person’s misogynistic lyrical content by posting a comment on Facebook: “They put a new music video on YouTube, but they posted it on Facebook so you can comment on Facebook. It was a good video with interesting text, but in the end the last words were something like, bitch, whore. And I asked them, why did they have to put this in the end? On Facebook comment [sic] and I talked to them after.” She challenged their ‘lack of empathy’, encouraged them to think about their thought processes and pointed out how violence need not only be physical to cause harm. “It’s verbal, not physical and the words they use, they may not understand or they didn’t think about it. But they can hurt somebody, so when they start thinking it’s a good thing.” Another worker described how his strong, voluntary and dialogical relationship with a young person created the opportunity to challenge him about his defensive, maladaptive behaviour, which was preventing him from getting the help he needed. This challenge was strongly and honestly articulated, but made on the basis of mutual respect and trust, rather than formal status or position. “I was in the clinic with him, when he had to get some new medical. We were just at the office. We had to wait until the doctor came for his case and the doctor had to sit with him and you will see, he is the person who is asking for treatment to be able to be calm. They know his past and the lady doctor had a male sitting beside her and he went, ‘What is he doing here, what is he, I feel threatened by him, why is he here?’ And he was acting very idiotic, he was a complete asshole in that situation. He was verbally attacking people that were very patient with him. I said, ‘Man, you’re an asshole, you shouldn’t be.’ Yeah, they were right and he was wrong and I explained it to him, and he needed that.”


Responding to youth violence through youth work

A worker in Bradford also described how he felt compelled to issue a challenge to a young person who had committed murder, by emphasising the choice he had made and therefore the responsibility he had for that choice. “I had a young person who, he’s actually inside at the moment, he is doing life for murder. He robbed a person’s house in [name of area] with his brother, for a plasma TV and an Xbox. The man’s come out and young person has stabbed him, killed him. I actually seen him a few days before he handed himself in and I said to him, ‘But you must realise what your actions have caused. It’s on your conscience, you’ve taken a life. You’ve not just affected that man; you’ve affected his family, his friends.’ He handed himself in, which was a good thing, I think it was a positive thing that he handed himself in. But it’s about making him realise that the responsibility for the actions is theirs, not anyone else’s. So if they turn around and say to me, You’ve been a snitch’ or whatever, I’d say, ‘But at the end of the day you should have been a proper person and taken responsibility for your actions. You’ve done that, not me.’” Youth workers need to consciously and actively look for opportunities to issue these ‘constructive confrontations’. Indeed, avoiding them in the name of empathy could seriously undermine their ability to have a meaningful impact on violence. Such interventions need not be at the cost of a structural analysis of the underlying causes of the violence. As we shall see later, there are meaningful ways in which youth workers can engage with these too. But when workers simply resolve to listen, support but not challenge, or worse collude with young people’s neutralisation of their violence, they do nothing to enable young people to emerge from a distorted world-view.

Working with teachable moments Some anti-violence programmes, often cognitive behavioural in nature, use de-contextualised, ‘off-the-shelf ’ resources. Many such programmes seek to drive home the consequences of violence for all involved, whether that be serious physical injury, or a long stretch in prison and a criminal record, and try to create new cognitive structures where young people are better able to control their anger. These programmes


Responding at the personal (p) level

seek to bring the young person ‘psychologically’ back to the scene of the crime, but can struggle to do so because the moment has passed. Youth workers’ physical presence in the young people’s environment, there and then, makes delivery of such pre-packaged programmes, at least at first, problematic. Youth workers need to be able to capitalise on their proximity to young people to raise awareness of the serious consequences of them becoming involved in violent activity. Rather than viewing this as a practical and negative constraint, workers need to recognise that the immediate environment can also facilitate highly authentic, visceral engagements with young people. Workers were able to describe how, in the context of an ongoing relationship, informal encounters generated ‘teachable moments’ in which the consequences of violence for the victim and the perpetrator really ‘hit home’. Rather than making dispassionate attempts to calmly reorder the cognitive processes behind aggression, anger and violence, youth workers often found themselves provoked into emotionally charged responses. One youth worker in London described how he was prompted to challenge behaviour directly. “It happened recently when I was doing some detached work with young people, and there were about 15 young people there. One of the things we were trying to address to the young people was about their behaviour, the way their behaviour impacts on the local residents and as I turned away, one of the young people threw a stone. The stone flew over our heads and hit a car. Now the young person was clearly taking the ‘p’. I turned around then with a bit more energy and said it was exactly this kind of behaviour that was getting them into trouble. The energy I had, I wasn’t saying that I lost it, but I was saying it with so much passion that later on my colleague said ‘You were shouting’. And it wasn’t that I was shouting as such, it was just speaking the same language as the young person.” It is worth noting here how the visible, public nature of the intervention had an impact on the community level too. “As we walked away there was a resident that witnessed it. The resident nodded, like a nod of approval, he was glad that someone was actually able to speak to the young person with that kind of energy.”


Responding to youth violence through youth work

Workers need to recognise that these ‘teachable’ moments provide them with a chance to imbue the unfolding events with meaning, and create dialogic encounters that have the potential to create lasting change. Youth workers have the opportunity to address cognitive processes as they are occurring, and also the emotional affects of the behaviour, not least from a personal, but also a professional, perspective. Although this can put workers in harm’s way, both physically and psychologically, it is perhaps this feature of their interventions that is most distinctive about their practice, as well as potentially the most transformative too. We explore the existential nature of these encounters more fully in Chapter Seven. This potential was not always recognised by others, though. This worker reported feeling frustrated that he was often restricted by policy and procedures that prevented them working in a spontaneous and flexible way to interrupt and deter violence: “One of the things we used to be really hot on, back onto the estate at the back of here, there used to be a lot of gang fights between [gang x and gang y]. Sometimes you would get up to 200 people, petrol bombs flying, that sort of thing. We used to know the youths out there – ‘Oh, it’s going to kick off tonight, we’ll get a minibus tonight and take 15 of the main boys, and drive up to [X] Forest for the night’ – and suddenly the fight didn’t happen. The project had its own minibus, hop into the bus spontaneous, but the thinking then was, ‘Well, we found them on the street, their parents don’t know where they are, we are taking them and we’ll bring them back.’ Now I understand it had to change and there is a need for consent and parents need to be informed, but at the same time these people were going to engage in quite serious levels of violence.” Often youth workers’ physical presence in young people’s neighbourhoods gives them this kind of opportunity to prevent and combat violence in the moment, to physically intervene, and, if necessary, remove those involved to dissipate the threat of violence, but risk assessment measures intended to protect workers and young people’s safety can sometimes hamper their efforts.


Responding at the personal (p) level

Removing young people In some cases young people we met were engaged in highly dangerous and expressively violent behaviours. (For the distinction between instrumental and expressive violence, see our reference to Berkowitz (1993) in Chapter One.) Such violence, performed for intrinsic gratification, can threaten the lives of other, more vulnerable, young people. Some youth workers felt that the best course of action was to facilitate the permanent removal of a young person from a neighbourhood, for their own protection and the protection of others too. One youth worker in Germany described how he was able to negotiate this. “I met him through my detached youth work. In school his name was on a list because nobody wanted to work with him. He was difficult, very challenging. Already he was charged with 25 offences, within a period of eight months, and in all of them violence was involved – breaking a nose, breaking people’s fingers. He didn’t use weapons, but a lot of offences in a very short time. The cops didn’t know what to do. They said this guy is going to murder one day. I was lobbying for him, so I exaggerated and I said, ‘This time next year, he is going to kill someone. If you guys want to wait for that, watch him, or, the system has to do something.’ So I said, ‘Look this kid needs to be looked after, something needs to be happening, ’cos this guy might commit a serious crime and that won’t look good for this department.’ So at some point he was taken away, with some family members somewhere else because he would have killed someone. I’m convinced he would have killed someone.” This story illustrates the pressures youth workers often feel to ‘do something’ with young people who represent such a serious threat to others. Responding to this kind of violence may require the involvement of other, more suitably qualified, professionals. When this is not forthcoming or available, physically orchestrating the engagement of these services or even removal of these specific individuals from communities is an understandable response. We present some observations on how inter-agency working can be fruitful or obstructive in Chapter Eight. However, with the vast majority of young people, it has limitations.


Responding to youth violence through youth work

Personal reinvention For many young people involved in serious violence, desisting from such involvement requires nothing less than a fundamental life change – a kind of severing of oneself from friends, environments and one’s own past – a personal reinvention. For young people deeply embedded in a violent lifestyle, such personal reinvention is a daunting task. If the worker is to have any impact, he/she needs to walk with the young person through this often halting, stop/start process. If desistance is to be permanent (or ‘secondary’ as termed in criminological parlance), a kind of ‘street divorce’ may need to occur, which involves young people distancing themselves from those elements in the proximate and physical environment that exert pressure to remain engaged in violent behaviour. Exposing young people to a new social milieu may remove the immediate pressure to maintain a violent social identity, but completely severing a young person from their environment could also cut them off from other sources of support too. The avoidance of people and places, the removal from a violence-inducing environment, unless we are dealing with automatons, does not guarantee desistance, which must ultimately be the choice of a free agent. The freeing of oneself from one’s past involves a psychological, not just geographical, separation. Wherever the young person is living, he (or she) – in the sense of his or her needs, dispositions and attitudes – is still there, psychologically if not geographically. This means that removal of the young person, albeit from what might be a criminogenic social milieu, still leaves the underlying issues unresolved. Workers need to find a way to help those young people to create a refashioned identity. Crucially, they need to acknowledge how attractive young people’s current identity is to them and the purpose it serves. Young people have made a huge psychic investment in such identities and will naturally defend this identity against what they may well see as an attack. Desistance requires first an openness to change, then movement into that change, and finally the viewing of ongoing deviation or returning to previous behaviour as incompatible with new-found goals. Achieving this is likely to be delineated by the cognitive, linguistic and behavioural repertoire that is available to young people, and exists within a limited range of social opportunities. The business of replacing oneself is one with which young people may need support, and their relationship with a youth worker may be one source of such support.


Responding at the personal (p) level

Reciprocal identification, worker thresholds and subcultural capital Our research suggests that when the worker had their own experiences of violence to draw on, young people could often see themselves in the worker, and the worker could see him/herself in the young person – a process we can call reciprocal identification. This young person from Germany describes how important this identification might be. Interviewer: “What do you think makes a great youth worker?” Participant: “Like [H], for example, I think he understands young people because he was, maybe he too felt like us in his teenage age and he knows what situations we are and what problems we have or have in the near future and they are interested in our person. In my opinion, a youth worker who maybe hasn’t had experience of police or problems in money so he tried to save money and not spend it, he won’t be a good youth worker.” Young people felt that if the worker had lived aspects of their reality this increased the desistance promoting potential of their relationship. “If you’ve had this experience and you tell me, ‘Oh, I’d done it the same, yeah that was a problem and I went to prison’, for example, then I’d go, ‘Okay then I’m not going to do it. I use from your experience, I don’t need to pay for it like you did.’” One worker felt strongly that his experience of drugs and drug taking was relevant and gave him some influence and authority with young people when seeking to steer them away from the dangers involved: “If you’re going to talk to a young person about, for example, smoking marijuana, that’s the example I’m giving, yeah, now a young person wants to be told by a person like myself, ‘Look I’ve been there, I’ve smoked marijuana, I’ve smoked a lot of drugs, I’ve sold a lot of drugs, and I’ve made a lot of money off drugs, so I’ve been through all the phases in the drug cycle. It’s a dirty cycle, it’s a vicious cycle.’”


Responding to youth violence through youth work

This worker from Germany felt that his experiences gave him authority, and enabled him to remain confident in what might be unpredictable, threatening contexts: “It’s very important that you have some experience of street violence because if violence happens in the street, it’s a basic thing. They need to feel authority, the need to feel you are calm, strong, they have to feel they can’t move you. They need to feel you are superior, that you can reach them emotionally. Or if you are nervous or too afraid, they know this.” This is what we mean by worker thresholds, a concept introduced by the youth workers themselves and to which we will return later when we discuss interagency work. Workers felt that the qualities that were most likely to bring about behavioural change included an ability to deal with lower-level criminal behaviours without becoming anxious or responding in a knee-jerk fashion. This higher threshold was often borne out of a knowing familiarity with the behaviour and circumstances encountered on the street. “Threshold would be, I’m out on detached session, see a young person in the park smoking weed, drinking alcohol, under my umbrella. I’ll talk to the young person around the dangers and the risk they may be putting themselves at, giving them informed information. Alarm bell aren’t ringing, ahh, child at risk, they need intervention. We work with young people that may be doing serious drugs, and we know they have a child maybe. Our threshold is different.” Many of the youth workers we spoke to had lived and grown up in the communities in which they now worked and some had been involved in crime and violence as teenagers (a fact that has implications for professional qualification routes, which we shall discuss later). Young people seemed able to pick up this on their ‘radar’ and were often drawn to such workers as a result, which gave them greater leverage, a kind of ‘on-road’ knowledge or ‘sub-cultural capital’ (Thornton, 1995) in the form of local knowledge that had real value in that local context. These workers were effectively able to ‘cash in’ this capital to move alongside young people who might otherwise be mistrustful of professional adults.


Responding at the personal (p) level

Worker ‘stories’ In some instances workers recounted at great length their own stories of growing ‘up from the streets’ and of their involvement in crime and violence. For some this also included educational failure and the slow realisation that, although they had enjoyed a degree of respect and status in their peer groups at school, this amounted to little once they moved into the wider world of work. Workers claimed that they could use their own experiences to steer young people away from dangers they were not able to anticipate when they were young, such as the long-term effects on job prospects. Here is a worker from Bradford talking of his own experiences in the criminal justice system. “Prison is a waste of fucking time, I know what I’m goin’ on about ’cos I’ve been there. I tell my brothers, nephews, ‘If I ever see you do bad, it’s not worth it, ’cos prison is bullshit’, honest to God, I still say today, it’s a proper mug’s game. Look at the people, poor bastards, that have ten-year stretches. I only did four poxy months, came out on tag. But look how it’s affected my life though, can’t get a job, can’t get a job, man, criminal record, and you should be going forward in life not backward. At the end of the day, that’s what I tell people especially. If you can tell someone and learn from it, if they don’t listen, not my problem.” This ‘don’t do what I did’ message was a strong feature of some of the youth work practice we encountered, and young people did seem to respond to it. We feel it also told us something important about the workers.

Epiphanies and generativity For those workers with a history of offending behaviour, seeing young people embark on the same journey and struggle they had endured strengthened their own resolve to maintain their own path away from crime and violence. ‘Giving something back’ to the young people or the communities in which they had grown up themselves thus allowed them to move into a new stage in their own life cycle, a stage characterised by Erik Erikson (1963) as one marked by ‘generativity’. For one worker this shift was triggered initially by a personal epiphany, when he realised how his parents viewed him in comparison with peers:


Responding to youth violence through youth work

“My family used to go to people’s homes and they couldn’t say nothing. They couldn’t speak proudly of their child. My mum couldn’t speak nothing. My dad couldn’t say nothing, proud of business, but in this country we came to get educated so that we can better our lives, our children’s lives. So I said, ‘Fuck that, I’m gonna do something with my life.’ I went straight away onto a degree. I’m educated now, I can go that step further. I work where I work, criminal justice, work here, youth worker. Your life goes up and down, up and down, but you know something? Now, I’m levelled, I’m slowly going up, getting better, better and hopefully, I’ll keep going slowly up. My purpose is to basically give people a little hope now.” Such experiences had clearly emotionally scarred some workers, which for us highlighted the need for them to receive ample opportunities to reflect on how such experiences may continue to colour their perceptions and influence how they practise. We look at how this works in more detail in Chapter Eight, including when reciprocal identification might become more of a shortcoming than an asset within professional relationships. There is a danger that these workers, by virtue of the charisma their biographies generate, become idealised and their stories become somewhat romanticised in both their own and young people’s eyes. Without supervision that encourages reflexivity, underlying issues that may have been related to their own violent behaviour could seep out in their practice. These personal stories of redemption, which included in some cases sudden epiphanies or in others more gradual desistance, did present young people with a high status ‘blueprint’ on which they could try to base their own evolving and desisting self. But without an ability to reflexively recognise how their own self affects others, there is a danger that the worker will act perversely to reinforce the view of self and the world that lies behind the violent behaviour.

Summary For some of the young people we talked to, engaging in violence was a way of meeting their needs for safety, security, status and respect, and was a choice they made in response to the constraining circumstances they faced in the communities in which they lived. We will see how the environment they were living in day to day presented both challenges and opportunities to youth workers and young people alike in the


Responding at the personal (p) level

following chapter. Here we wanted to illustrate how youth workers can respond to those needs and choices. They need to find ways to help young people to first understand and acknowledge their needs and then identify how they may be able to meet these needs in other less destructive ways. The unpredictable nature of the physical and social field in which youth workers operate requires them to capitalise and privilege spontaneous encounters on a personal level. They need to be on the look out for these ‘teachable moments’ constantly and not be afraid to use them, in the moment, to begin to challenge or constructively confront violent behaviour. Part of this process may involve presenting oneself as a blueprint for change, in the context of a relationship that needs to be characterised by warmth, trust and respect, but should not collude with neutralisation. Desisting from violence requires an overhaul of self-image, and ongoing commitment to a non-violent self. Workers can use their own personal journey towards generativity to aid identification and as a lever to create the potential for such desistance within young people, but this requires reflexivity to avoid collusion.



Responding at the community (C) level A united community can produce powerful changes. Even large and complicated problems like violence can be reduced by the creative energy of a community. One necessary ingredient is the participation of many residents. (Fenley, 1993, p 29) Move away from a ‘research/consultation’ mentality and have a genuine dialogue with the community, taking on board their views of what initiatives and programmes are needed and how they should be delivered. Encourage the community to be part of delivering the solution. (Baker, 2014, p 4) Facilitator: “Do we need intervention?” Participant 1: “Sometimes you don’t because communities take charge.” As Fenley (1993), Baker (2014) and a research participant express above, a key to responding meaningfully to violence is to work with (and involve) the community within which that violence is situated. This could be read as a call to bring back old-fashioned community work, and at one level it is. However, as we shall explore in greater detail in Chapter Seven, we need to be mindful of the dangers of simply repeating well-worn youth and community worker ‘tales’ in relation to community work. This ‘tale’ might sound something like this: ‘We should privilege long-term involvement and closeness to community, free of focusing on violence or other targets’ and ‘The worker is a font of community knowledge and instinctively understands its dynamics.’ These oft-repeated tenets can also be accompanied with a nostalgia for a perceived ‘golden age’ of community work when youth workers were accorded respect (Belton, 2015). To avoid a non-critical acceptance of this tale, we felt we needed to more precisely define and qualify the knowledge claims of youth workers, and examine how responses they


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are implementing at a community level are having an impact on youth violence, and whether they should indeed be privileged. Here we adopt Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of habitus to describe a community’s disposition, by which we mean the lasting, acquired habits, schemes of perception, thought and action that can become part of a community’s identity. Using our data, we try to articulate how these then underlie a community’s doxas (unconscious beliefs and values that are taken as self-evident). We want to reveal these as subjective positions and epistemologies, which are often partial and contradictory, and can reinscribe aspects of the prevailing hegemony and both mitigate against and exacerbate violence. This also means stressing how a meaningful youth and community work response to violence might seek to stress the more autonomous aspects of community, or at least potential for it, and the seeking out of where its habitus and doxas might take the form of resistance to wider hegemonic forces.

Violence as a community ‘habitus’ While workers supported young people personally, many were aware of the impact of peers, families and the local community but pessimistic about the prospect of change. “It can often be the lack of skills, knowledge, behaviour of the adults and the cycle repeats. We are back again to nature and nurture, what kind of families do they come from?” Young people also made connections between their violence and their upbringing in families. “From my personal story, it comes from outside, from my friends. It came from my family, from my father, my uncles, they were, they are, very aggressive people. So my early memories, I remember in my family it was always present. So my father punched my mother, and his mother and my aunt, and so on. And my uncles did the same with their wives.” Intergenerational transmission of violence and attitudes towards violence is well documented and has a long history (Avakame, 1998; Dunlap et al, 2002). As one worker from our study put it:


Responding at the community (C) level

“We often think of violence as a modern thing. The idea of feuds goes back centuries. I was interested when we were talking the last time, not trusting the police, and you sorted out in your own way with mediators and violence. That’s happened for centuries, it’s like the mafia.” These ‘feuds’ seemed particularly prevalent in Bradford. Workers described how escalation could often occur because of a lack of community confidence in the police and a desire to settle scores within the community. “We could say let’s leave it to the police, but pride and egos kick in and it’s like, ‘No! You took one of ours out! We are going to take yours out.’ And then it led up to another murder, his cousin. These guys live about two streets from each other. It’s still going on, when is it going to stop?” Within other communities we encountered in the UK we came across local ‘cultures’ of violence that were seen as a way of resolving disputes that could not be dealt with by the police. One worker described an incident that originated in an inter-family dispute and then escalated. “It all started ’cos their 10-year-old son had threatened her granddaughter at nursery, saying, ‘When my dad comes out of prison he’s going to cut your ears off and slice your throat.’ So the whole thing has got massive now and the nan got beaten up by the girl and her cousin, and she didn’t want her sons to know. She wanted it all sorted out by other people ’cos she knows her son will go to prison if they find out.” In this case, the youth worker, because of his relationship with the families, was able to diffuse the situation successfully. In some instances violence was so encultured that it was present as part of community attempts to prevent its escalation. Here one community member expressed how he felt violence in the street used to be kept in check with the threat of physical punishment at home: “When we were younger and if the Iman came out from the mosque and said, ‘Hey you, someone’s son or daughter’, you’d be standing there saying, ‘God he recognises me, he’s going to tell my dad and I’m going to get clobbered.’”


Responding to youth violence through youth work

These incidents show how violence can become part of the habitus of a community, particularly when community members do not feel they can access more legitimate means of dealing with issues. As one young person expressed it: “They are going to start hating the police and not calling them when they need them. Say like if they get into a fight and say there is seven of them all with knives, they’re not going to call them because of the hatred that the police have built with them. They’ll be their last resort to rely on, when really it should be the first.” With a history of a heavy police presence in a community that did not seem to be for their benefit, and where young people are engaged in illegal and illegitimate activity, young people did not access the police, even when they perhaps needed to.

Tall poppy syndrome Some young people blamed the community, friends and family for holding them down. We call this phenomenon ‘tall poppy’ syndrome (Feather,1989) to capture how members of a disadvantaged community undermine and sabotage the success of other community members. Some young people felt that if success and status were not available to them, no-one else should have them either, while others had a more sophisticated reading of their relations with the community. While they could perhaps succeed as an individual, many recognised that this would entail a loss or betrayal of their community. They felt conflicted about ‘getting out’ and leaving behind others who could not, or felt they could not, escape. “Either you work like your dad did and make nothing, or you can do the bad thing which is a gangster, or you can be the one or two people who fight their way to university and make loads of money and leave all your community behind. Of course that’s a choice, how easy a choice is that?”

Racial and ethnic conflict Violence also manifested in fights that broke out between black and white communities, in this case in London:


Responding at the community (C) level

“One black family lived on that estate. Every night there would be pitch battles between Hackney and Islington, petrol bombs, knives, 300 or 400 people fighting with each other, white people versus black people. Those people had more in common with each other in terms of their housing, their crap schooling, lack of opportunities, lack of education, than they had against each other.” However, we also found some examples where violence could have taken place, but did not as a result of community influence. One young person, speaking about a tense situation between a black and an Asian family in Bradford, made specific reference to what were (at that time) recent incidents in Birmingham, UK. Further violence had been prevented by one father’s determination to not retaliate after his son’s death. “It didn’t kick off, with the blacks and Asians and it didn’t kick off in Birmingham either. Tragedy, really. Three guys been run over, horrible. But in a way it didn’t escalate and it was the community itself that sorted that out. If anything positive came out of the Bradford incident [it] is there wasn’t any violence after. The feedback was they were always getting picked on by the police, but, thankfully it didn’t escalate, like the riots and sometimes you gotta trust the community to sort it out. You don’t need interventions, youth workers piling in, sometimes creating more problems.”

Elder ambivalence, community ‘respect’ and duplicity We also found a degree of ambivalence in how communities responded to violence. The need for social standing and the approval of ‘the community’ could both mitigate against and exacerbate young people’s involvement in violence. This was often related to how older members of the community viewed legitimate and illegitimate economic activities. One young man talked about how elder disapproval could be a factor in young people engaging, or not, with illegal activities involving violence. “You got elders and the people ‘in the know’ and that. They look at these people in the community, who work hard in restaurants, takeaway[s]. They work so hard, they


Responding to youth violence through youth work

give them very good respect. But when they look at drug dealers, young lads, they just despise them. They’ll say ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ to them, but amongst themselves they talk, ‘Oh this so and so and this so and so, he’s doing this and it’s not good.’ They’ll probably have a word with their mum and dad, but they don’t like, it’s like bad respect from them.” The issue of community respect resonated with both workers and young people, but as a concept it is heavily nuanced (Seal and Frost, 2014), something we will return to in Chapter Eight. The comment above was made in the context of a discussion with young people about what options were open to them to obtain respect. We quoted a worker in the previous chapter who had been heavily involved in illegal activities and described his turning point as being when he found out that his father, who had always been supportive of him, could not talk in the community about what he did. But conversely some of the young people on the edge of illegal activities in Bradford were more cynical. They saw their parents as naive for working hard in menial jobs for little reward materially or in terms of status. These older members of the community were often highly qualified back in Pakistan, but this was not acknowledged in the UK. While the young people respected their elders’ hard work, there was less respect for their achievements. “I remember dad worked hard all his life, and achieved little, and my granddad worked even harder and achieved nothing.” “My next door neighbour, he’s a taxi driver. He gets up at so and so time, gets home at so and so time, that’s not what I want to do. Let me look at him, he works in a takeaway for God knows how many hours. I don’t want that, cooking food for white people.” These young people sometimes felt their parents’ generation had been ‘duped’. A number of young men talked about how they had gained an education under pressure from parents and with advice from youth workers, but were still back working in their parents’ shop. This had made them lose respect for their elders, their youth workers and themselves, and had left them with some resentment towards both workers and their parents. Under these circumstances, engagement in illegal activities seemed the only viable economic option open to


Responding at the community (C) level

them, and without the possibility of elder approval, they reconstructed their narratives so that their elders’ opinion did not matter to them. “We’re not fussed, leave them, we know they don’t like us, but who cares?” Some young people focused on the duplicity and hypocrisy in elders’ reactions. One young person in Bradford described how elders may have disapproved of illegal activities, but would turn a ‘blind eye’ when they benefited from some of those activities in the form of cheap goods, or when the monies from illegal activities were channeled into ‘legitimate’ economic activities, particularly when these enterprises then employed members of the elders’ family. Other young people explained the distinction between ‘wannabes’ who want to be ‘known’ for their illegal activities and feared for it, and other young people who do not. These other (generally older) young people saw crime and violence more as an economic necessity, had the ultimate aim of becoming respectable and gaining elder approval, and wished primarily to avoid being incarcerated. “The wannabes they want to do stuff, they want to make money, they want to take control, they want respect, but they want people to know this is what I’m doing. But then you have someone on the other side, who don’t want no one to know what they are doing, only the people they are doing it with. They don’t want their reputation on the street, they just want their money and a nice easy life.”

Community-learned helplessness Many of the communities where we conducted our research had a reputation for violence. While some members of the community did not want to be associated with it, they often were not in an economic position to leave, did not know how to create change or did not want to leave because that was where their social support network was. “There’s a territory where it’s known for drug use, it’s not safe. But if you look at the people who live there, they probably want to change that, but they don’t know how. But it’s how we go about how to change that it’s not straightforward.”


Responding to youth violence through youth work

It was within this context that both practitioners and young people started to talk about encountering a sense of helplessness within the community, sometimes one that had been building up for generations. Seligman’s (1974) psychological concept of ‘learned helplessness’ helps to explain how individual people react to continuous exposure to adverse events and failure. We feel this can also be applied at the level of community to capture how whole areas and neighbourhoods can come to feel helpless in the face of violence. Seligman identifies three characteristics of learned helplessness, the first of which is permanency (‘I failed this time therefore I will always fail’). This was encapsulated in phrases we heard like ‘What is the point in trying?’ and ‘We know tomorrow is not going to be any better’, often used in reference to any attempt to change the community’s violent habitus. Seligman’s second characteristic is universality (‘I can’t do this therefore I cannot do anything’). Many young people were cynical about seeking any kind of change, and felt that having failed in one area of their lives, there was no point trying in a different sphere. Some young people externalised this universalism to their communities, other agencies and the wider political system. “A lot of people in these areas, nobody is going to do it. I don’t think faith groups are going to do it. I don’t think schools and institutions are going to do it. I don’t see that the politics are really doing [sic], they’re just money, money, money.” Others were cynical about the value of going to community-based services. This young woman from Graz explains why she did not go to the local youth service when she needed to, even though she had no direct experience of them: “I did not want to go to a youth office because then I knew it was going to be more, there would be more troubles. Then it would be, ‘Aha, there are some problems, father is an alcoholic, mother has her own mother to look after.’ We have a little child, my mother also, and then they would say, ‘Aha, so much! The people are not able to handle it, go into the home.’” For some of the Muslim young men from Bradford and London, this universalism had morphed into elaborate conspiracy theories involving Jayzee, Michael Jackson, the Illuminati, 9/11, 7/7, and so on. They


Responding at the community (C) level

felt that there was little they could do about their situation as they would be ‘taken out’. The sense of powerlessness and lack of agency was taken to such a grandiose scale that it became exciting, but also meant that they could avoid having to do anything about it. Seligman also describes an internalisation/externalisation dynamic (‘this is all my fault/all their fault’). One way this manifested was in the blaming of others in the community and the targeting of other cultural and ethnic groups with racism, which then led to the kind or ethnic violence we highlighted earlier. Many workers were at a loss as to what to do in response to this learned helplessness, but remained committed to finding a way. Psychological studies tend to show that people overcome learned helplessness through activities that focus on self-efficacy and self-belief, show that people do have some control in their lives, and expose groups to different belief systems and ideas (Faulkner, 2001). All these suggest the importance of communities having continual exposure to activities where they have to strive to overcome obstacles. If workers rescue communities, it actually re-enforces a community’s lack of selfworth. Achievement needs to feel real, and be something the people feel they have earned. It has to be achieved through a concerted effort on the community’s part, so that they know they are pushing their boundaries. As one of the young people in Bradford said: “People kept pushing me, pushing me, and in the end I did it, and I say this now, I’d go on the top of anything now, because I believe if I can do that off a cliff, I can do anything now.” This ‘pushing beyond’ can take many forms in community work. The most fruitful we feel are those responses that work across generations and sub-groups, thereby building cohesiveness in communities.

Intergenerational and community cohesion: bonding and bridging social capital In his seminal study Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam (2000) introduced two concepts that describe two aspects of social capital (the extent to which people feel part of, and connected to, the communities in which they live). He calls these ‘bonding’ and ‘bridging’ capital. These refer to two linked but different processes, one that cements the ties within community groups (intra) and the other that forges links between them (inter), that is between people with different attitudes,


Responding to youth violence through youth work

dispositions, norms and values. Some workers felt that sometimes in their work in communities only one aspect of social capital (bonding) was being developed. “You’ve opened up a place so they can all stay together. They will be doing that on the streets anyway. You’ve just provided them with a shelter. You want to do something then. Integrate them, that’s the way to do it.” Some young people in Austria felt that what was lacking in their lives was this integration – interpersonal contact across perceived boundaries that reduced the ‘othering’ of other groups in the community. “This will sound crazy. When I see a guy eat, I see this guy will live. I cannot hit this guy; I cannot aggressions [sic] to this guy, because we are all one.” Workers felt that sometimes funding structures did not help break down this ‘othering’ as they tended to reinforce work with one group or another, and only in the short term. Durability in funding was seen as crucial for work across communities and across generations to bear fruit. Many felt that with such support they could have a specific role to represent the largely unvoiced views of groups of young people within the community and to bring groups together across racial and ethnic divides. “It’s about bringing them together as well. You support the young person as well to have a say and be visible, and the positive images within the community as well. We are kind of a bridge to that.” Young people also felt that they needed to be understood by the older generation; that parents ‘weren’t listening’ and that there was a real gap between them emerging. Workers saw real potential for these gaps to be bridged and that they could play a part in this. They often saw the difficulties between generations as something that social policy initiatives had exacerbated and were pessimistic about the possibilities. “So the reality is that when it comes to public spaces, if we are taking an estate for an example, for it to work and for there to be less cameras, for there to be less police, there needs to be more community cohesion and more


Responding at the community (C) level

intergenerational work and we are a long way from that. We are a long way because of the way that we are setting ourselves up, because of the way the media setting ourselves up, there’s a big gap between young people and the adults anyway. So the reality is that community cohesion and intergenerational work has to come first.” We explore further how community and intergenerational work can be embedded and how the distinction between bridging and bonding capital may not always a helpful one through a detailed case study in Chapter Fourteen.

Community development and action Thomas’s (1993) delineates two broad traditions of community work. Community development involves building up and promoting self-help, mutual support, neighbourhood integration, capacity for problem solving and self-representation. Our findings suggest community development work is not a panacea for working with violence. It needs to be combined with community action that emphasises exploring and explaining the realities of people’s situations and promoting collective organisation to challenge existing socio-political and economic structures. We feel both these traditions have a central part to play in tackling violence in communities. Unless the community understands itself – the structure of its own habitus – and seeks to challenge this from both within and externally, it will not be able to respond to the problems it faces. As part of this, workers saw a need for the active involvement of community organisers and leaders within the community who would sometimes have freedom to express themselves in a way that professional workers do not. “If you look at community leaders they might not be tied with the restraints of council worker and they maybe can relate to young people as a member of the community, rather than a council employee.”

The ‘home-grown’ youth and community worker Leaders and organisers can and do emerge from communities. Some workers felt that being from the community had a distinct advantage in terms of being able to reach young people. Being ‘of ’ the community, or at least living there, gave them a way ‘in’ with the community.


Responding to youth violence through youth work

“I think there is a real value, especially in detached youth work, of being part of the community. People know you and it does make you a lot safer as an individual, as a team”. This led to the belief that growing a community’s own workers would ultimately be more effective than bringing people in from outside. “To have a person within their own community, that’s experienced that, come back and speak to them, I think that would have a better impact.” For others it was about providing role models for young people, particularly where other positive role models had disappeared from within the community. “A lot of the role models in the community have also been engaged in negative things as well, so that role model has been taken away.” One worker called for active recruitment of volunteers from the community, as another way of embedding community ownership. “You need to have local knowledge. A ratio of the workers need to be local, you’ve got to have local knowledge and use that expertise in that sense.” Others disagreed and felt it was not enough that a person lived in an area or had experience of it; they needed to have the right training and skills as well, and being from a different area or cultural background might have more impact. “This is the other side, when we say you have to be from the community, actually Chris [black worker] going into a white working-class estate, me [Asian worker] going into [the estate] is educational, because its ‘Oh, this is different’, and suddenly they have to think.” As we mentioned in Chapter Three, during a residential weekend with the Bradford group one peer researcher undoubtedly found a way ‘in’ with young people that co-author, Mike Seal, did not, and was able to gather extremely rich data because of it. However, another young Asian man spent a lot of time with Mike and afterwards said this was


Responding at the community (C) level

because he was different, and this interested him. The symbolism of the peer researcher involvement was still important in generating ‘proxy trust’. Having someone from the community whom they trusted, who in turn trusted Mike, meant that Mike also had a way ‘in’ with the young person. The literature is also divided on this subject. Liberation theologists (Gutierrez, 1971) believe that workers need to live in the community in which they work, first to get a feel for the area, and second so that community members feel the worker is on their side. There are many government initiatives that encourage people to do this, particularly in the US, yet in other areas of social care it is seen in a negative light, even as bad practice (Seal, 2005). Concerns are normally expressed as the risk to the worker, and the degree to which the worker is always ‘on the job’. This risk is real, especially in roles where people may bear a grudge against the worker around child safeguarding issues and other difficult interventions. This all needs to be balanced with the recognition that, in some cases, living in the community where you work carries advantages in terms of local knowledge.

Long-term, embedded community work that does not ‘chase’ violence Many youth workers had a coherent vision of what was required to bring about meaningful lasting change in the communities in which they worked. “What I mean about community is something more than the individuals, something lasting. Something that if youth work was pulled out, something would be left that helps it tick over. If you can create an environment, where there is a sense of community, a sense of self-worth, you value the place that you live in, you’re got that element of respect, that’s when you can start to change the areas.” As Craig warns, this requires a sustained investment in communities which is increasingly rare: Community work is too often drawn into the latest fashions of government policy agendas because that is where the funding is, rather than developing and maintaining a clear analysis to inform action. Increasingly, the emphasis on training seems to be on skills to the exclusion of thinking


Responding to youth violence through youth work

about the theory and politics of community work: Government now provides a community development employment base which is fragmented, short-term and insecure with the result that practice is dominated by the policy and political context rather than creating it. (Craig, cited in Shaw, 2004, p 42) As we have said, community development and organising takes time. Disadvantaged communities have to be persuaded to participate, and their natural suspicion leads them to hang back until there is something to show (Glass, 2005). Communities have capacities that may not be obvious to outsiders and it may take time to discover them (Eade, 1997). This means that workers need to be embedded and visible in the community for a number of years before they become truly effective. This goes against the direction of the funding and evaluation strategies of the past 20 years, certainly in the UK – something the workers in London were acutely aware of: “There is no quick fix to sorting it out, not spoon of medicine; it is a really slow process. It’s not about getting them in and getting them out again. It’s about working with them over a longer period, once a project is over. It’s about keeping them engaged, keeping in contact with what they’re doing.” This emphasis on being embedded within a community was grounded in experience as well as theory. This worker explains why he worries about short-term targeting that makes him ‘speed up’ his work. He feels it erodes the trust and relationship that is essential to working around violence: “I think young people can see, sometimes in the way that we work, when we are rushing around, never giving them enough time. We say that we listen, we say we take things on, we say we are going to follow things up and then we forget, we don’t mean to but then that’s just perpetuating that mistrust.” An important aspect of this embedded approach is that it avoids the tendency to ‘chase’ violence. Fire fighting and simply moving young people off the streets does not allow workers to engage meaningfully with the context surrounding their violent behaviour. To change the


Responding at the community (C) level

culture of a community, its sense of itself, takes more than focusing purely on the violence committed by young people. It needs the development of relationships, which can only be established over time. Again and again workers reiterated this. “You can just focus on one thing and miss everything else out and that’s the danger with any targeting.” Some workers felt that chasing violence also meant that certain communities, where violence was less visible, were denied resources and interventions. Only embedded community work would enable these issues and other voices to emerge, for instance those of the victims as well as the perpetrators of violence. “It’s only certain types of groups that are on the radar. If we do community work, we should be more actively seeking out the community that we are not reaching, but I think a lot of our times is taken up with trying to meet the needs of the people that are on the radar, not the ones that are not. The victims that are part of the violence are more hidden. Certain communities, within the Asian community, they are not as visible. A lot happens, it’s not on the radar, it’s hidden, let it go by.” It took a particular kind of long-term intervention to engage with people effectively. “Relationships take a long time to develop, to build. Relationships need a particular timeframe to cultivate, where young people can go to somewhere and someone [sic]regularly, it’s open, it’s there, it’s warm, they can get a cup of tea.” Research conducted research for the Connexions service in the UK (Seal, 2007) found, contrary to policy wisdom at the time, that young people who were the most marginalised did not respond well to intensive intervention. They wanted the option of dipping in and out of long-term, low-level, relatively anonymous intervention. Communities are often suspicious, especially if let down by professionals many times. A young person expressed how he felt about the contact point/drop-in centre in Graz he used regularly:


Responding to youth violence through youth work

“It’s just easy to come and talk about something or to talk nothing, just to drink a coffee, be around, read a newspaper, play some cards. It’s not just that the coffee and the food is free, it’s if I don’t have money. I come here also to meet friends. I like the street workers here, they are very nice and I can trust them if I need some help or just someone who is listening. It’s a person who is not from my family, from my friendship.” Others felt that issues like violence were magnets for short-term funding and certain initiatives, particularly around gun and knife crime, that did not take account of local realities, were top down and missed the point. “If a young person goes on the street now and gets shot or stabbed, all resources from all directions are in there.”

Targeting through universalism We feel a more meaningful and less stigmatising response is what we call ‘targeting through universalism’, by which we mean making youth and community work support available to all, but having an eye for those who need it most. If workers chase those young people deemed to be potentially violent, the young people will have moved on by the time they arrive and this only decontextualises the violence. The worker will not understand it and young people will also, in all probability, not want to engage. This approach has other benefits. It means that workers, when working with the next generation, have a short hand of knowledge and common understanding that can, ironically, make for developing relationships more quickly. “We carry our history with us, in Islington, because of the good youth work, the way we have been visible over the years. Kids will say, Oh … oh yeah we know,’ blah, blah. So all of a sudden we’ve got a point of engagement. Now without that, I’ve got to keep saying who I am.” Knowing families informally across generations can produce short cuts to prevention and build people’s sense of community.


Responding at the community (C) level

“Me and [X] have been here for what 20, 25 years as has [Y], and we work with the children of the children we used to work with. We know them, kids run up to you, shout hello to you from flats. People know you in lots of different ways, just walking around and everyone saying hello and knowing who you are. People coming up and asking questions, maybe not directly relevant to youth work, but you might be able to put them in the right direction because you have a knowledge of services and where they might be able to get help, able to give phone numbers out on the street.”

Developing ethnopraxis Ethno-conflictologists such as Lederach (1996) and Avruch and Black (1991, 1993) stress the importance of developing a historical and cultural understanding of a community’s construction of violence as a first step to involving them in tackling it. Workers in our study understood this instinctively, seeing the importance of understanding the history of the area and its culture. “History. History of the area is really important. It gives an understanding of the area and the history of the people you work with, where they are coming from.” This does not mean that the community’s view of that history goes unchallenged, more that they are challenged within the community’s own frameworks. “You can put those anxiety and fears they have into context sometimes. If they are out of proportion, share that with them. So you begin to get better understanding what is happening in the area, share information with young people and adults, ’cos the young people in the middle is part of that community as well.” Avruch and Black advocate a preliminary cultural analysis that would make explicit the underlying assumptions and understandings of violence held by all parties. Practitioners, we believe, need the training and support to begin to see themselves as ethnographic researchers and their work as ethnopraxis so that in time a body of work can be developed examining how communities construct the violence, in


Responding to youth violence through youth work

order to learn how to mediate it. We give a worked example of this in Chapter Fifteen.

Summary In this chapter we have tried to show the complexity and paradoxes involved in responding meaningfully at the community level to violence. The community can both resist and exacerbate violence. Young people can feel alienated by others in the community, and both condemned and tolerated for their violent activities. Members of the community feel mixed emotions about whether to escape from, or try to work with, the violence in their communities, as do workers. We use the concept of ‘learned helplessness’ to explain the place violence plays in the ‘habitus’ of some communities and suggest that initiatives aimed at preventing violence should focus on helping the community overcome its sense of helplessness. Such activities should challenge those within communities that encourage violence and focus on developing community self-efficacy and self-belief. An emphasis should be placed on building bridging as well as bonding social capital, but in order to do this, workers need to be embedded and visible in the community for a number of years before they become truly effective. They should target young people through a universal approach, rather than chasing violence as it erupts. Youth workers with a long history of being or living in an area should be valued for their understanding of the dynamics of violence in the area, but there are issues to be considered around over-familiarity and safety too. Finally, it is crucial that workers learn to help communities explore their understandings of violence, the part it plays in their culture and therefore the organic solutions to it, through developing their research skills.



Responding at the structural (S) level As we identified within the literature review, violence can be defined more widely than direct forms of interpersonal violence. It can take non-physical forms (that is, not just on the body). Here, we wish to argue that the state can be a visible and invisible violent actor in the lives of young people, acting in its own interests or in the interests of powerful groups in society. Physical abuse and brutality, or discriminatory use of powers like stop and search by state representatives such as the police, are relatively easy to identify, as we do later in the chapter. However, state-drawn boundaries around national identity, the creation of gradations in citizenship, welfare and education policies, the operation of the justice system, discourses generated within the media, and even foreign policy and wars, can be interpreted as acts of violence too, in that their impact can cause physical, psychological and material harm. Young people’s freedom to meet and socialise in public space (a facet of social life that we see as key to their healthy development), if restricted by legal decrees or poor town planning, can result in the creation of tensions and frustrations that are then turned in on themselves or others in their community, often violently. Finally, and perhaps most imperceptibly, culture, defined here not just as high art forms (opera, ballet, theatre) but also as the discursive framework passed down from generation to generation through which people make sense of their lives, can come to be dominated by one group in society that then has a stranglehold on meaning. In our context here, this means that how society thinks about young people, and what behaviour is legitimate and what is not (which is in fact highly contestable) becomes naturalised. Put simply, one way of seeing the world (from the perspective of an adult) becomes the way of seeing the world. Interpreting such control of space and meaning as violence is a theoretical leap that requires some deep thinking and lucid explanation, particularly when addressing a wider audience for whom young people’s violent behaviour is seen as rooted solely in their own rational choices and psychological deficiencies. While the occurrence of violence between young people and against the community is overt


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and rightly attracts social disapproval and concern, state abuse of power is often masked and not recognised, even when young people eventually revolt against it. This structural violence could easily be overlooked in a study of youth violence such as ours. In this chapter we argue that if we want to understand why violence is a feature of some young people’s lives, we need to understand how all forms of violence are embedded in the reality and routines of their daily life and how one form of violence can nurture another. Even more crucially perhaps, it is essential that youth workers understand how their own professional actions could act to collude unintentionally with such acts of structural as well as physical and psychological violence, rather than challenge them.

Direct state violence Young people we spoke to reported that they were regularly subject to physical and verbal abuse at the hands of the police. As a result, young people felt the police to be part of the problem of violence, rather than the solution. They felt powerless. “They are a gang basically. It doesn’t matter how big you are, they pull that badge out, ‘You’re on your knees mate, because I’ve got authority.’ I’m a human, but when you got authority you control things. We have to live to their law, so basically we are their puppets.” Young people admitted involvement in activities likely to antagonise officers, but the police response, they felt, was excessive, could not be distinguished from their own violent actions, and was likely to exacerbate violence, not reduce it. “‘If this woman officer wasn’t here, then we’d have knocked you out by now’ – that’s what the copper said to him. ‘If this woman officer wasn’t here, we would have knocked you out and left you in an alleyway.’” Our interviews with young people in London revealed that many were engaged in unruly and criminal behaviour, drug and alcohol use, and vandalism, and in some cases this drifted into acts of random or pre-meditated violence. In some cases this extended to the use of firearms and other dangerous weapons. In this sense, it appeared that levels of anxiety within the community were partly justified, and the


Responding at the structural (S) level

police faced serious challenges to their own safety when dealing with the community. However, these young people also reported a level of control over their lives that they felt amounted to harassment, bullying and violence against them. “You got police officers that will just come up to you and stop you and check your pockets. That’s what gets you really angry, it pisses you off. They don’t even ask you, they just put their hands in your pockets and check you. It’s happened to me a couple of times. They just came up to me twice in the same day, stopped me, they didn’t ask could they check my pockets, they just emptied all my pockets and one of the officers started swearing at me, calling me a knob head, and I hadn’t done anything. I asked them, ‘Why are you swearing at me?’, they said, ‘We’re taking you down to jail’ and they left me in the cells for about 15 hours.” In Bradford too, young people reported similar issues, and hinted at how a greater awareness of their rights might help reduce their own growing frustration and anger. “The police? Well, we don’t really get on. They give us a lot of aggro for no reason, in my eyes no reason at all. We’ll be just walking around and we’ll get stopped and searched for them just seeing us and thinking, ‘Yeah, this is a bad kid here.’ They’ll just come and search us for no reason at all. Young kids in our area these days are not well educated at all around the police. If we knew our rights we’d know how to handle the situation better, rather than getting stopped every day, getting searched, taking that slip home every day with you, it looks bad when you’ve got one of them, it’s not good.” In Germany, young people described to our peer researcher their experiences of police turning a blind eye to the activities of far right groups and then targeting sections of the Muslim population with violence. Participant: “I had a situation that three persons come to me, they do the Hitler sign. I walk straight ahead, away. You can’t do anything if three persons come to you. Three of them run after my little brother. He came home, he was


Responding to youth violence through youth work

really scared and he told me. I phoned four friends and we came out, search for them and we found them and started fighting just because they run after my brother. My brother stand there, he fought one or two of them, I don’t know. He knocked one out, and another turn and run back to a place in our city where neo-Nazis meet each other. That’s a hidden place, but everyone knows it and the police do know too.” Peer researcher: “Do the police do anything?” Participant: “Sometimes, just how they feel. But they run after us more often than them. My cousin get caught by police. The police punched him, really, with a baton many times against his legs, against his head two times and when his father came to take him home, he told him they hit him with batons. The police said, ‘No, you have no proof.’ Nobody saw it.” These anecdotes do not represent generalisable evidence of systematic abuse of power by police forces against young people across Europe, but at the very least they indicate that some young people perceive themselves to be unfairly treated. Experiences such as these fuel young people’s anger and mistrust towards the police, make them less likely to cooperate with them or call on them when they may need to, and more likely to antagonise officers, many of whom are struggling to build positive relationships with the community.

Symbolic violence and territoriality We also found compelling evidence of a less visible but equally corrosive form of violence, symbolic in nature. We witnessed young people occupying particular regions of social space being systematically exposed to reproachful looks as well as other more overtly discriminatory sanctions. They talked about a sense of violation they feel daily through excessive surveillance, regulation of their movements, and their exclusion from public space – that is, areas which they feel they should be able to occupy without interference or harassment from the state. Young people felt constantly under the ‘gaze’ of the police and, at times, private security firms. Archetypal activities that young people enjoy, such as skateboarding, ball games or simple association for the


Responding at the structural (S) level

purpose of drinking, smoking and ‘courtship’, had, in some areas, become non-negotiable. Workers claimed that such moves had often been driven by concerns expressed by others in the community, who argued that young people’s presence within the space represented a threat to their safety. This seemed to be having the perverse effect of heightening young peoples need to ‘mark’ and defend where they lived. One youth worker living and working in London described this reality: “Speaking especially about London, young people don’t really have a place to hang out. They can’t stay in the park, they don’t have a place to congregate. Young people can’t do it because the police will come straight away.” In Bradford, workers described the large financial investment that had been made in city-centre regeneration projects. Young people, they claimed, were now seen as an unwelcome threat in these newly developed spaces, which were patrolled by private wardens who used their power, seemingly without any public accountability, to remove young people from what were previously public spaces. “They’ve invested a lot of money into the town centre, regeneration, pumping money into businesses, but the younger people from different areas they go to the town centre and the wardens there push them on. So these people come back to their own areas and they cause problems because they don’t want the problem to be in the town centre. Even though they promote the parks and young people to use them, when they do, they push them away.” This experience was not restricted to the UK. As part of a large multinational residential experience, we asked young people in the UK, Germany and Austria to take part in a workshop and to build models of the communities where they live, using a range of art materials. All of the resulting maps/models showed areas where they could not go – parks that either they were not allowed in by the police or (in the UK) were controlled through legislation like curfews and dispersal orders. They also included areas controlled by groups of young people through tactics such as intimidation and violence so that other young people were prevented from entering. The perceived rivalry and threat from other groups of young people in neighbouring areas was further engrained by the denial of what they saw as a legitimate entitlement to be out and about in their own neighbourhoods. We feel this state-


Responding to youth violence through youth work

sanctioned control did little to ameliorate the territorial attitude many young people adopted and then exhibited in the public display of loyalty to postcodes. These became a potent a symbol of their identity as well as a means of retrieving some sense of control and belonging. “That’s the road I live on. It kind of makes us who we are.” As new inner-city development strategies had focused on structural and social change and private building occupancy had increased, this in turn had forced young people to occupy space and housing elsewhere, sometimes causing conflict and violence across informal and cultural boundaries.

Surveillance We also found compelling evidence that in some areas of the cities we visited the presence of CCTV cameras in public space had become routine as part of crime prevention and the gathering of ‘intelligence’. Young people and youth workers felt that the presence of cameras on the street had a number of contradictory effects. Some young people felt it made matters worse. “You would think with so many cameras on the street, you’d be watched; I think that provokes you to do something.” Some felt that the cameras prevented violence. “They’ve got a feeling the camera is going to catch them anyway, so they think, ‘Should I really do it?’ Risking the camera working or not. In my opinion, I reckon cameras reduce, prevent things to a certain extent.” Others felt cameras made no difference either way, as people had become so accustomed to their presence. “Well, it catches violence doesn’t it? It catches a lot in town centres, but does it prevent violence, though? I don’t think it does prevent violence. It’s like the camera’s there, it’s always rolling, if you go into a town centre, any town centre, the camera’s on, they still get pissed up, fighting, it doesn’t stop them. Every cash machine, every petrol station, even the


Responding at the structural (S) level

lampposts have cameras, it doesn’t stop anything, they’ll still carry on. It becomes normal that you are being watched.” One peer researcher described how the introduction of cameras in his local area had felt like a personal violation and a deliberate act of deception on the part of the authorities. “You know where I come from, in [B], in my area, they put on the streets cameras, they spent I don’t know, how many million pounds to put these cameras up and they said these cameras are just for the violence that’s happening in the area. But they lied, it was all to do with terrorism. They wanted to keep an eye on everybody. For example, you see this car coming, the camera would get the number plate, sent it to London and in London they have a system where you would stay on the system for five years.” We found little or no evidence of youth workers exploring questions as to the nature of public accountability and how this could then form the basis of social action to challenge how local state authorities were using surveillance. Mann’s notion of sousveillance (2004), stemming from the French word ‘sous’, denotes bringing cameras or other means of observation down to human level, either physically (mounting cameras on people rather than on buildings), or hierarchically (ordinary people rather than higher authorities) doing the watching. We have in mind that youth workers might find fruitful avenues for working practice within this kind of inverse surveillance. This could involve the recording, monitoring, or analysis of surveillance systems and proponents of surveillance, and possibly also the recording of authority figures and their actions. Inverse surveillance could be viewed as a form of community action and also built into wider research activity or ethnopraxis. Youth workers could encourage young people to be asking questions about the surveillance they experience in their communities, perhaps initially with each other, but eventually to the appropriate authorities. These might include: Who decides where cameras go and why? Who is looking at the images? What and who is driving the introduction of surveillance? If the images are being misused, how can young people hold those accountable? Should private security firms (motivated by profit) be able to use surveillance in public space? Where are cameras to be placed? Who is being watched and who is watching? And what about covert surveillance? When is this justifiable and when not?


Responding to youth violence through youth work

This is an important example of a theme we highlighted in our introduction – the need to avoid collusion with violence. In Chapter Four we talked of the need to constructively confront young people who might be unwilling to accept how their actions affect others within the community. This process of constructive confrontation needs, we maintain, to be equally targeted at public and state bodies where their actions are felt by young people to be discriminatory and intrusive.

Immigration policy as state violence In Germany we encountered a sense that members of ethnic groups, particularly the Muslim community, were being targeted for discriminatory treatment at the hands of the state. A youth worker in Köln described a young Turkish man he had worked with who had been imprisoned for manslaughter. “He went into a tram and somebody who was there. They fought in the train and by fighting close to the train, the person went on the tracks. The train started and the person was dead. He got six years.” After his release he fought hard to be allowed to stay in the country, and was keen to start volunteering to work for the local youth project. “He was fighting not to be kicked out. He didn’t want to be kicked out, because Turkey is not his homeland. He says I am a Köln boy, I was born here, my friends are here. So he went to the lawyer to try and stay here and one letter from the city, from the system here, it really wrote that the fact that you are putting money into lawyers to try and stay here, this fact shows that you are still not integrated. They told him, ‘If you would go, then this would show integration, but this shows you are still not willing to be integrated, because you fight for it.’” The state’s refusal to recognise this young man’s citizenship – its control over how that was defined and to be demonstrated – created a psychological pressure on him that further hindered his efforts to permanently desist. “Now this letter had, working with this company here (and we had just won a prize for best integration work),


Responding at the structural (S) level

the fact that you work with them shows that you’re still connected with violence, and that you are the same person as just before the deed. That’s what they really wrote, I had the letter in my hand. And for eight years his mind was really always in a very stressed state of mind, because he knew they could take him by force, so he was trying this and that. They say we have the principle of rehabilitation, but in this case, it just proves the opposite.”

Political education and pro-social responses This complex picture of structural disadvantage, occasional police brutality and denial of freedoms, as well as young people’s sometimes criminal and violent behaviour, demands a thoughtful, politically literate response on the part of youth workers. Although we found much analysis of the problem, it was harder to identify instances where youth workers were engaging in direct action to both prevent and challenge the violence young people were often experiencing at a structural level. We suggest therefore that youth workers need to introduce political and pro-social responses that encourage young people to consider the political nature of the issues affecting them and break out of their territorial mindsets. Some youth workers expressed a sense of their own helplessness in the face of the overarching structural forces. “I think we were saying that there is so much stuff that goes on and sometimes we feel we can’t do everything, things in society like poverty, [lack of] jobs, unemployment, lack of education, all that type of thing, they contribute so much. And how can we get young people to change that? How can we empower them to have aspirations to try and change that way of living? Because that has a huge impact on why some of them, not all of them, get into violence as a way out.” Other workers expressed scepticism as to the possibility of effecting any meaningful change in democratic structures, especially because when young people did voice their concerns these were not addressed. “There will be young people that will get involved in consultations. We haven’t got one thing we asked for, and therefore they will have nothing more to do with what they have been consulted on. They just feel used.”


Responding to youth violence through youth work

Responding meaningfully to violence as a youth worker involves engaging critically with these issues because the control of public space, excessive surveillance, and discriminatory use of stop and search are all features of young people’s lives that exacerbate their sense of alienation from their communities and wider society. If workers do not consider political education and social action to be part of their role, it may be because they feel their employers would not support them. Policymakers and managers therefore, we argue, need to support youth workers who seek to challenge not only young people’s behaviour but also the behaviour of the police or the state where it is leading to more tension in communities. We suggest that youth workers need at least to be asking questions and entering into debate with young people and other interested parties about structural violence. Engagement in the process of political and social change is a means by which young people can begin to feel some sense of control in their lives. Our data suggests this desire to resist ‘control’ lies beneath some young people’s desire to retaliate against those that they meet on the streets (for example, the police). Education as to their civil rights, such as their rights on arrest, as well as more general political education, delivered through informal conversations and dialogue, could help to mitigate against the risk that resentments might erupt into large-scale disorder. This requires managers and policymakers to recognise the value of this work, even when it means they themselves may be targeted for criticism. Some workers clearly felt that this kind of political education was key to preventing violence because of the political nature of the underlying causes. “Yeah, everything is political. The amount of street lights you have on the estate at night is a political decision, whether the parks are locked or not is a political decision, whether they have dispersal zones in an area so young people can’t congregate in groups of five is a political decision.” Supporting young people to become more versed in processes of political decision making (especially locally) was therefore a meaningful way of responding to the connection between powerlessness and violence. “We felt we need to find ways of supporting young people, empowering young people to fight for their corner, in a


Responding at the structural (S) level

positive way. I think young people do know what they want. I think they need help in the way they express themselves and make themselves heard. The adult community/country don’t listen to them, they don’t have a platform. A lot of young people wouldn’t even know where to register to vote, they are not interested in the bigger world of politics. I think they need more education around that and support to see what power they would have and how much they could affect things rather than a violent outburst.” Through project evaluations, reflective meetings and the testimonies of young people, we found evidence that the Touch project and the participatory research methodology we adopted served to raise awareness of structural violence among the participants in our study. This highlights how research with young people can not only uncover important, hidden aspects of the violence they are experiencing as victims, but also enable them to develop their own strategies and meaningful responses to it.

A cycle of violence Crucially, the structural violence that young people reported here was not intermittent; rather, it was experienced as an ongoing, creeping sense of malaise that began to shape their view of the world and their surroundings. Left unaddressed, this can result in a cycle where young people’s behaviour further fuels the sense of anger, fear and alienation within the wider community and a pervasive lack of social capital (Putnam, 2000). This in turn renews calls for further oppressive state action that seeks to curb what is seen as antisocial behaviour but often just exacerbates young people’s sense of violation and further feeds their anger and resentment. It is also clear that in many ways this structural violence operates at a pre-reflexive level and becomes normative – in other words, young people are not consciously aware of how it is shaping their own thinking and behaviour. It then becomes their norm – a kind of festering resentment that permeates community life. Although some young people are able to articulate their anger, others are intimidated, simply consent to their treatment by the state, and comply with being moved on, unable to decode their experience or see it as an experience shared by other young people. Seldom, for instance, are they able to see such commonality of experience across the divides that they construct within their reality – whether based on postcodes, ‘scene’ or ethnicity, for example.


Responding to youth violence through youth work

Summary Our data suggests that many young people across the EU feel they are, in effect, situated within a violent relationship with the state and the police. We found evidence that significant numbers of young people were victims of direct violence perpetrated by state representatives, or were affected by violence of a more symbolic nature that seemed to exacerbate their sense of territoriality. Some were caught up in anti-crime measures that penalised them in terms of their freedom to gather in public space, irrespective of their involvement in crime or violence. Others who had now desisted from crime and violence also felt the impact of legislation that was not conduct-dependent and applied to young people as a homogenous group. Some young people who were involved in violence were targeted for police action irrespective of whether they were engaged in any criminal activity at that time, and this was resulting in a deepening of their sense of exclusion from the wider society. Moreover, the young people whose behaviour was problematic were simply being moved on – they have to go somewhere – and efforts to control violence simply ended up displacing it to other areas. The use of surveillance measures to control violence seemed to have an ambiguous effect and young people viewed it with some ambivalence, but we noted that workers were missing opportunities to engage young people in critical analysis of this feature of their lived reality. We suggest that practice rooted in the notion of sous-veillance might have some value, along with more political and pro-social interventions. We did find some striking examples of projects that sought to respond in this way at the ‘S’ level. In Graz we encountered an innovative example of street-based youth workers using symbolic youth work activity, to challenge how the wider community can come to perceive young people as a threat and highlight the need to retain public ownership of public space. We detail this further in Chapter Eleven, where we also provide more detail of the specific circumstances faced by young people in London.



Responding at the existential (E) level In this chapter we argue that ideas drawn from existentialist philosophy could buttress youth workers’ vision of professional practice in the area of youth violence and thereby help them respond to this issue in a more meaningful way. We use our data to show how existential needs can form part of the aetiology of violence and lead to nihilistic violence. We then discuss how worker attitudes and practices as well as policy regimes can both prevent and assist youth workers as they seek to support young people to actively re-orientate their sense of self. Finally, by contrasting the work of atheistic existential philosophers like Sartre with Christian existentialists like John Henry Newman, we show how both these world-views might serve to sustain workers in their practice and relationships with young people in the midst of communities where violence persists.

Existential hopelessness and lack of choice The research participants painted a picture of young people’s lives in which existential human needs (such as hope, meaning and purpose) were in deficit or entirely absent. Youth workers we spoke to reported that some young people’s sense of having control over their future, or any desire to understand the meaning of their personal reality, seemed to have been stifled, and in some cases extinguished entirely. This, in part, lay behind young people’s involvement in crime and violence: “They just see there is no hope, so they might as well make their money doing whatever it is. The hope is having a dream; there is no dream.” Young people had been brutalised by an environment of constricted opportunities where the option for legitimate pathways through life had been blocked. Some workers felt that this hopelessness was permanent, universal and getting worse.


Responding to youth violence through youth work

“The young people I speak to they have an idea of what they want, they’d like to have a nice flat, car, job, etc, but they know they haven’t got the qualifications, the academic background, the family background that supports that and the political will to get them off the estate and into work. They just see there is no hope.” In many cases young people were set on a path into violence from an early age as a result of familial and community influence, which extinguished any sense of choice over their own lives or future possibilities. “A lot of the young lads in these areas, they haven’t got choices. Guys like that have been brought up in violence. Uncles and dads and communities, they thrive on violence. Their background is violence and they don’t want to look at any other solution.” Some young people’s sense of self had in effect become subsumed in a criminal and violent identity as a result of the psychological rewards brought about through their day-to-day activities and their association with peers of a like mind. “Now you are going to go back into drugs again ’cos that’s your game, that’s your field where you need to work in now. And you’re cleverer now ’cos you’ve been to jail, you’ve got more mates, better connections, everything, like, it’s just a circle. It’s a dirty vicious circle and once you’re in it, it’s very hard to get out.”

Nihilism The subordinated nature of young people’s lives meant that they felt invisible within a societal system that they felt refused to recognise their subjective reality. Within this context, for some young people for whom notions of territory and gang membership were central, this led to them developing a nihilistic world-view. This entailed a disregard, even denial of the humanity, rights and dignity of other young people within their immediate locality. One young person described his own violent behaviour with a degree of apparent nonchalance.


Responding at the existential (E) level

“I just tortured somebody in my back garden, tied him up, ripping him up, tied him up in a cellar for about a night or so. Let him off the next day, but we did torture him badly.” When asked how violence formed a part of his life, and how he would react if he saw a member of a rival gang, another young man replied: “It depends; if I’m on my own, I’ll just end up baseball battering him, or bottling the cunt – if I’m by myself. But if I’m with someone, we’ll just do him.” When asked if anything would make him stop, he replied: “Never. I’m going to bring my son into it. Yeah, I don’t think I’ll stop to be honest, just something I do every week. Like having a bath to me, like something routine.” The young people who displayed such intransigent nihilism and who seemed unable to recognise this appeared to be trapped in their worldviews, with no means of escape. Breaking through these intransigent and nihilistic attitudes presented a seemingly insurmountable challenge for the workers involved.

Worker inertia The youth workers felt that some barriers to their being able to respond meaningfully to such violence were self-imposed, for example, their own view of the young people as predetermined objects rather than subjects with agency. One felt that professional responses were too often inert. Workers were reluctant to relinquish a wholly structural analysis of young people’s disadvantage, and this abandoned the young people in their state of hopelessness, rather than reinvigorating their sense of personal agency. This sense of hopelessness was often exacerbated, rather than alleviated, by worker responses. As a result of youth workers highlighting structural oppression, some young people had developed a ‘knowing’ hopelessness, an informed sense of powerlessness, not one borne of ignorance of their potential or chances, but one that stemmed from knowledge of the limited nature of such chances. Young people were prone to turn this hopelessness on themselves or their communities, become depressed, or lapse into conspiracy theories. One worker felt it was important to find ways to


Responding to youth violence through youth work

move beyond just acknowledgement of this and move into some kind of meaningful action. “But there is something bigger happening that they are aware of, but they can’t express. We know the hopelessness, we know things are difficult for young people. However, in my view, you can’t stay with that, you’ve got to somehow give them that dream, hope they can move on. If you just collude and go, ‘Yeah, it’s rubbish out there’, you’ve got no chance. I don’t think that’s particularly supportive.”

Alienating policy regimes Workers also reported how they felt alienated by policy regimes that risked denying young people an opportunity to connect with their ‘essence’ and ‘potential’ – how they wanted to define themselves. Relationships were stifled by burdensome monitoring and evaluation regimes, and some ‘assessment’ processes were acting to exacerbate a sense of detachment in young people’s encounters with youth workers. For example, workers in London felt uncomfortable classifying the unique nature of a young person’s circumstances into standardised assessment tools, which, while providing a degree of systemic consistency, created barriers to the authentic relationship-building process they sought to develop. One worker described how even small symbolic trappings of professionalism like a corporate identity badge could act as a barrier to genuine encounters with young people: “For serious, hard to reach young people, I’d rather not wear this [points at his ID badge]. And this I find [points to badge again] acts as a barrier. It’s another authoritative thing there. Mistrust. You’re an employee, you are doing it because it’s your job, not because you care. If I wore this and went into a group of young people, it’s because of my job, it can be seen as because of my job. If I took this off and [went into] the same group of young people, and I approach them and said exactly the same thing, it could come across because I care.”

Passionate, real ‘in the moment’ responses Despite these barriers, young people were able to identify qualities that they felt workers needed if they were to have a discernible impact.


Responding at the existential (E) level

These included honesty, authenticity, trustworthiness, humour, understanding, loyalty and, notably, passion. Workers too felt that young people could recognise, albeit sometimes unconsciously, when the worker was operating in a cerebral, rational way, detached from their true self. When young people were behaving in ways that were disrespectful to others and ultimately self-defeating, both workers and young people felt that what was needed was a response delivered ‘in the moment’ by the ‘real’ self. Within the context of clearly established professional boundaries and long-standing relationships, some workers took the tactical decision to allow their ‘real’ person to surface. They felt that visceral, authentic challenge rooted in the immediate environment, as opposed to that delivered from the professional self within a decontextualised setting, more effectively enabled young people to imbue their violent actions with meaning. In An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (1870), John Henry Newman proposes that it is not enough to simply notionally apprehend a phenomenon, as this allows the naming of things without calling up mental pictures. We need to experience the concreteness of a thing to understand it – what Newman calls real apprehension. Both workers and young people described how such moments of real apprehension (as with the stone thrown through the air, or the shame etched on the faces of parents, both described in Chapter Four) provided a springboard for experiential rather than abstract learning through the imbibing of images rather than notions in the intellect. This would suggest that nihilism and violence can most meaningfully be challenged at the level of personal ‘encounter’, and in those moments when young people are motivated to engage in real, rather than notional, apprehension of their reality, and that of others.

Crises and epiphanies As we saw in Chapter Four, some young people reported experiencing what might be termed ‘existential crises’ and moments of epiphany in their lives that caused them to re-evaluate the direction in which they were headed and ultimately their entire existing world-view. Farrall and Calverley describe epiphanies as moments in time when ‘clarity is observed for the first time or a sudden realisation is made by the individual in question’ (2006, p 94). One youth worker in Bradford described the moment that led him to move into professional youth work after a long period of involvement in violence, followed by serving a prison term. This young man, along with many others we


Responding to youth violence through youth work

met, described how existential crises can create for the first time a ‘pull’ towards future orientation: “I had this fucking, boom! What happened to me, I had a reflection, what am I fucking doing, really, what am I doing? I’ve got nothing, I got money, I got this, I got that, but what have I got? One day, when I’ve got children, what have I got?” One trigger for this sudden re-evaluation of his life path was when he saw and realised the shame his parents were feeling as a result of his violent and criminal behaviour. Through his subsequent engagement with the youth project he had been given a role as a volunteer youth worker that seemed to have allowed him to build a more ‘redemptive’ script (Maruna, 2001). Through helping others he was able to discover a sense of meaning and purpose in his own life that enabled him to move on from his past. His journey towards a generative phase in his life cycle provides us with a model for what a meaningful response to youth violence that incorporates existential needs might look like.

Symbolic resistance and small choices Some young people believed that their involvement with youth work projects (and the Touch research project itself) had provided them with the incentive and means to construct their own narratives for the future, partly through a rudimentary critical awareness of their own conditions. One young woman in London demonstrated how through the use of visual symbolic representation it was possible to refuse to be determined by the social terrain in which she lived. When asked to visually represent the community and area in which she lived, she drew a large faeces-coloured mass, which she said represented how she felt she was viewed by wider society. However, what she inscribed within the image demonstrated her decision to reject this. “This is a piece of shit [points to a green, brownish mess] and it says, ‘Your opinion of me doesn’t define who I am.’” In part, she felt her relationship with youth workers had played a role in bringing her to a point where, in her insistence on individual free will and dignity, she was beginning to resist the structural forces that weighed so heavily on her life chances.


Responding at the existential (E) level

“It’s about choice. I said, ‘This is what I’m going to do. I’m not going to follow the sheep, I’m gonna make my decisions and do something with my life.’” This approach, seeing the value of small choices, seemed an organic part of many workers’ practice. “I try to tell stories in the language that young people will understand. I try to act out scenes that are normal everyday life for a young person to act out and maybe those kinds of movie will relate to young people. They will see it and try to make positive decisions and sometimes they do.” This is not a call to give up trying to ‘effect’ real change; it is a call to value the small achievements as well as the larger ones. Small acts of resistance, even the symbolic ones, should be celebrated. Young people saw the power of such symbolism. During the research we witnessed agencies achieve real change, with the local government in Graz passing a bill enshrining young people’s right to be in public space. These achievements turned out to be only symbolic, as young people were often still asked to move on. However, within these symbolic victories are the seeds of wider change. In this context, the young woman from London’s physical representation of her life should not be seen as wholly negative. It showed a defiance that if harnessed could lead on to meaningful attempts to regain some control over how she is perceived and potentially treated by others.

Making meaning Baizerman (2001) argues that the primary concern of youth workers should be to enable young people to become more conscious of the ways in which they are socially constructed. To avoid the kind of structural pessimism we encountered, this needs to be supplemented by an approach that seeks to encourage young people to see that no matter how limited their choices are, there are still freedoms to be nurtured. He talks about ‘moments of choice’: Youth work is a form of education, i.e., a facilitating process in which an individual penetrates his taken-for-granted reality and, by so doing, comes to understand how reality for her is constructed. Thus are extended the possibilities of


Responding to youth violence through youth work

finding moments of (for) choice and, in this, for extending and living her freedom. (1989, p 1) Baizerman argues for a reconfiguration of youth work that uncouples perception (how young people see the immediate), apperception (how this perception relates to their past) and biography (how they make sense of their past). Through understanding the tendency to conflate these three, workers can then enable young people to stop looking at the chronology of their lives, and begin to look at them as a series of experiences in, but also outside, of time. For Baizerman, it is the meaning that young people put on their experiences that is important, not the events themselves, as they have no control over the events, but do have control of the meaning they place on them. As one worker said: “They don’t know why they get involved in these things. They get sucked in. Other people will say it’s history, then some people will say it’s not history ’cos most of these young people don’t know their own histories. Everyone is rowing about why, why, why, and we look at what’s been written about violence over the years, there is a million reasons why people have done the things they do. It is what they do with it now that is important.” Youth workers, according to Baizerman are able to cultivate the human uniqueness in young people. Youth work is orientated away from the explanatory and towards understanding, away from diagnosis and the medical model within which it resides, and toward the youth at that moment in her concreteness and uniqueness. Away from notions of ‘personality’ or ‘character’ or the like and toward this kid, now, as she is now: ‘Why?’ does not matter; what is and what emerges does. Life is forward and is to be lived together, worker and youth, from ‘right now’ to ‘next minute’. (Baizerman, 1989, p1) In his work with homeless people, co-author Mike Seal also came to see the most important thing a worker could do was to treat people as human (Seal, 2005) and to help them see that they were not defined by their problems. Homelessness is such a dehumanising process, so to enable people trapped within it to develop a sense of dignity, some


Responding at the existential (E) level

sense of ‘self ’ and thus worth, is paramount. Workers saw the potency of this approach with young people: “At the end of the day, it’s humanity. You’re dealing with human beings, they’re not targets, they’re not numbers, they’re just people, like you and me. It’s putting that personal touch, giving that personal support to somebody. I come back to that personal thing. When young people are talking about feeling hopeless and this lack of opportunities and they can’t see a future, it’s to acknowledge it on an existential level, is that the right word? That there is something bigger happening that they are aware of, but they can’t express.”

New choices and narratives When workers incorporated these existential tenets into their practice, young people came to see that they could rewrite their own narratives, give different meanings to the things they had experienced and what this meant for the future. “I’ve chosen to not be violent because those issues were there; they were forced upon me. But I don’t want this life. I’ve made a choice to leave it behind. I don’t want this life; I don’t want to go down this road because it’s inharmonious. I want to be peaceful. When I go home I don’t want no shit in my house, because I just want it to be peaceful. I don’t want you to bring your problems into my home, so I cut them all off and shut the door.” This young woman felt that it was her youth workers who had, through their presence alongside her in key moments of reflection, acted as a catalyst for the revision of her world-view. Although faced with a brutalising environment she had actively and passionately committed herself to creating her own violence-free existence, for herself and her children. Such courage and determination to confront one’s own circumstances suggests there is room for workers to motivate and support young people in their capacity to choose a new way of life, as long as they are given the professional ‘room’ to do so. One of our peer researchers powerfully illustrated this process of choice and self-reinvention. This for him included personally visiting every individual he had harmed in any way in his previous ‘life’ and offering a full apology, before relocating to another city to begin a new


Responding to youth violence through youth work

life. This created more difficulties, as he lost the access to the support network he had had at home and he had to return, disconsolate, a few months, later. However, this was still the beginning of a new trajectory for him, and he found work in his home town as a learning support mentor in a local school. He is still working at the school and has finally and permanently desisted from crime and violence. This highlights what desistance research and our study has uncovered – that the process includes vacillations, relapses, progress and setbacks (Burnett, 2004), but that when young people are given the opportunity to be generative they can find the hope and strength to reinvent their sense of self.

A final word on existentialist philosophy: Sartrean and Christian approaches Finally, we wish to outline two distinct approaches to work with young people at the existential level: one that is rooted in an atheistic world-view (exemplified by the work of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus) and another in a faith-based transcendent world-view, in this case Christianity. We feel that secular and faith-based youth work with young offenders can be brought together under one umbrella of existential responses. They should not be seen as in opposition, but as potentially useful for different workers with different world-views of their own, with different groups of young people, and in different circumstances. Core existential concepts, introduced by authors and philosophers such as Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre (alienation, absurdity, angst, dread and despair), may seem at odds with Baizerman’s optimistic, affirming approach to work with young people experiencing hopelessness. For Camus and Sartre, the world is absurd in that there is no objective morality, there is no good and bad, just as there is no essential human essence that binds us. Angst, dread and despair emerge from facing our true freedoms. Human beings are radically free, through their own consciousness, to create their own values and determine meaning in their lives. Recognising that we are radically free to create our own meanings in the world is what creates nausea (Sartre, 1938) because we are in the frightening process of overcoming our conditioned selves. Sartre and Camus also place great emphasis on authenticity as a measure of one’s freedom. We should not allow ourselves to be determined by outside influences, or the roles and labels that are placed upon us. Neither should we subscribe to any notion of what is ‘normal’. Being authentic means not living our lives in a meaningless and random


Responding at the existential (E) level

way. All choices have consequences and radical freedom means taking responsibility for them. When young people become enmeshed in violent cultures they rarely get glimpses of different norms and values. When they minimise the impact of their own violent actions or embrace hedonism and nihilism, in a Sartrean sense, this is not authentic because it avoids responsibility. With radical existential freedom, young people can no longer say that they were made to do something, as this also avoids responsibility. Even if their choices are small and restricted, they are not powerless. As Baizerman argues, we all have to create meanings from our experiences, live by them and take responsibility for their implications. From this Sartrean perspective, youth workers would not challenge young people’s cultures around violence from the perspective of some objective, absolute morality. Young people’s counter-cultures often incorporate a narrative that rejects such morality, not least because these moral systems have rarely been applied equally to them and they can spot hypocrisy. Rather, young people’s behaviour would be challenged on the basis that violence is not a way of life, free and independent of cultural norms, but simply a reaction to them. This does mean that young people are free to create a morality system that includes violence towards others, but foregrounds that to do so has consequences for which they must take responsibility. It becomes the role of a youth worker to enable young people to face what a culture based entirely on violence would mean. For example, in the next chapter we explore what happens when young people build their status around fear rather than authentic respect. We show how this leads to a culture of fear from those at the top as much as at the bottom, mutual mistrust and permanent vulnerability. In the Christian existentialist tradition, as developed by philosophers such as Soren Kierkegaard, Gabriel Marcel, John Henry Newman and Karl Jaspers, the human ‘person’ is conceived as a self-determined subject, not just a determined object, a unique, inviolable and unrepeatable someone, above humankind and more than an instance of it. This is an idea rooted in a belief in a ‘God’ or transcendent reality, conceived either as a divine being, or the ‘ground of being’ (Tillich, 1951) or some form of transcendent principle who/which is present as we struggle to make sense of our place within the world, and provides a sense of meaning and purpose to human existence. When framed in terms of desistance, recognising one’s own uniqueness, especially its transcendent nature, necessitates recognising the uniqueness of others as also unique human beings. As such, they


Responding to youth violence through youth work

should not be treated as an object that it is permissible to be violent towards, for this in turn invalidates our own uniqueness. Enabling young people to connect with the notion of personhood may be part of enabling them to recognise more empathically the subjective reality experienced by the victims of their violence. In this vein we can reread the previous incident where the worker threw away his badge in an attempt to foster such unique encounters between persons. The young person was being drawn into seeing the worker as a unique human being, beyond the badge. Looking at the incidents of nihilistic violence described earlier in this chapter, a worker, perhaps within a faith-based youth work context, or operating from a faith-based worldview, would work with such young people to see that by treating the other without humanity and as non-persons they were in turn denying their own humanity and uniqueness. This approach would, in our view, need to avoid non-dialogical moralising and didacticism and would be more meaningfully operationalised via an embodied ‘way of being’ on the part of the worker that undertook to recognise the human-ness of such young people. That is, young people would see this in the ‘face’ (Levinas, 1985) of youth workers, and experience it within a relationship rather than hear it as a ‘talking to’ or attempt at conversion. Where existential needs for meaning and purpose form part of the underlying reason for young people’s violent behaviour, workers can reignite young people’s search for meaning and purpose by raising questions as to what is ultimately most valuable and enduring within human existence. Through the wilful act of faith in young people as more than they currently appear to be, youth workers can help young people involved in violence to emerge with a new, non-violent self, intact.

Summary Our interviews with young people and youth workers revealed that violence was an everyday occurrence. They felt that a loss of hope or any sense of control over the future was part of the aetiology of violence, and that this was leading to a nihilist world-view. In some cases, young people had lost any sense of the uniqueness and humanity of the others around them. Workers who were struggling to respond meaningfully to this violence felt their ability to do so was restricted by their own inertia and alienating work practices that constricted their relationships with young people and reduced their role to that of technocratic problem solver. However, both young people and workers were able to identify some key features of youth work practice


Responding at the existential (E) level

that they felt had desistance-promoting potential, such as celebrating small symbolic achievements and finding new meaning within their life narratives. An existentialist perspective on youth work and violence opens up the possibility of taking moments of individual crisis and decision seriously, something with significant implications for desistance. Our data indicates that young people, particularly at times of trauma or stress, often do ask existential questions around meaning and essence, that is, they are drawn through epiphanies and existential crises. Where youth workers are attuned to this, they can seek to enable young people to look beyond their past and the functional roles allocated to them by their communities or society. We then outlined two alternative branches of existentialism: one Sartrean and the other Christian. We explain how these differ and might lead to subtle but significant different modalities of youth work practice in response to violence. Both these existentialist perspectives can provide a sustaining framework for interpersonal and professional relationships to become possible in ways that young people with deeply nihilistic world-views might not otherwise expect. Youth workers who choose to maintain their faith in what young people may become can issue a challenge to that nihilism and violence. That said, they need to be wary of drifting into a form of didactic moralising that could further alienate young people well used to such approaches from adults and professionals. This all serves to remind policymakers that professional development regimes that stress rational detachment, formulaic adherence to policy, vigilance around professional boundaries and practice drawn from prescribed repertoires need always to be balanced with an approach to young people that is delivered in the moment, drawn from the personal as well as professional self, and may more readily engender apprehension of the impact of one’s actions on others. It also reminds us that youth work is different depending on who is delivering it, and brings the importance of authentic relationships to the fore.


Part 3 Rethinking youth work practice and policy In this part we pick out some key aspects of youth work practice and policy that we felt merited a second look and, using the theoretical frame set out in Chapter Two, present some alternative perspectives for both practitioners on the ground and policymakers. First we suggest that some cherished notions have become embedded in youth work professional discourse and become ‘tales’ that might require re-evaluation. We take the notion of professional relationships and by applying a psychosocial lens highlight some possible shortcomings in how they are currently conceived. Other cherished concepts such as trust and respect can become ambiguous at best, or meaningless at worst. We then explore how incorporating more post-structural notions of intersectionality and contemporary theorising of racialisation and masculinities into our analysis of violence and identity might avoid less than effective responses to young people who are living in, and responding to, a changed cultural condition characterised by the social forces of change and uncertainty. Graeme Tiffany, our co-researcher and contributor, then delivers his own analysis of how policy, both at the organisational and national level, can best support and enable good practice, rather than hinder it. Strongly rooted in a shared critical perspective, Graeme’s rallying call for wider social change is directed at managers and policymakers but also those workers who need support with clearly articulating how they can be best supported.



Rethinking some youth worker ‘tales’ In 1991 Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger reformulated traditional approaches to professional knowledge, saying that rather than being a set of concepts that one learns formally, professional knowledge is situated in a ‘community of practice’. To function, as well as generating a shared repertoire of ideas, such communities of practice develop a set of commitments and memories and produce routines, vocabulary and symbols that in some way carry the accumulated knowledge of that community. Although Lave and Wenger (1991) saw this as a positive characteristic of professions, Ivan Illich (1977) saw it rather differently, claiming that professions create a set of needs in others that can only be met by that profession. According to Illich, the profession produces a self-justifying narrative, vocabulary and collective memory that rarefies its knowledge, reinscribes its own position, and ultimately disables those it claims to serve. As a form of shorthand, we have called these narratives tales. As we explored in Chapter Three, one of the dangers of participatory research is that these professional tales are simply reproduced. This is why we used critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 2001) to interrogate them. In this chapter we present our analysis of just three. First, we explore the primacy workers placed on their ‘relationship’ with young people. We felt there was insufficient articulation of what this means in the context of youth workers responding to violence. Using our psychosocial theoretical frame, we highlight the possible shortcomings that arise within relationships as a result of over-identification and lack of reflexivity on the part of workers. We then look at two particular terms (trust and respect) that recurred in our discourse analysis and the meaning of which we felt needed to be contested and clarified. Finally, we paint a picture of organisational defensiveness in relation towards other agencies working with young people, which has the potential to become part of a self-justifying narrative for youth workers.


Responding to youth violence through youth work

Critically engaging with the nature of relationships The most commonly cited word in our data analysis was ‘relationship’. Youth workers have long argued that the primary vehicle for behavioural change is the relationship between young person and youth worker (Jeffs and Smith, 1988, p 55). In different ways, all of the practitioners cited it as key to their approach. “To tackle some of the areas around violence, you’ve got to have the relationship with the young person.” “One of the key things then is if you have a good relationship with the young people, a really good relationship is the basis to change.” “The only reason we can do that is because of our relationship.” This relationship, they argued, is distinct from other professional relationships such as those between teachers or social workers and young people. However, this was often stated as a fact, without any evidential backing. “The teacher and the young people, they just don’t have that relationship.” Some workers recognised that too often they were sketchy about the nature of this relationship and why it is important. “This is a word that youth workers use endlessly, but what does that word mean? It was one of the critical words on our list, wasn’t it? What is this thing that you keep referring to as a youth worker’s relationship? And how does it differ from a teacher’s one?”

Over-identification In Bradford, as we will see in Chapter Fourteen, the use of ‘homegrown workers’ was seen as way of capitalising on worker familiarity with the community that gave these workers a kind of insight into the community that an outsider might not have. This was echoed in London too, where experienced workers seemed to have accrued a


Rethinking some youth worker ‘tales’

large dose of ‘sub-cultural capital’ with the young people in their area. This could then be ‘cashed in’ when they needed to gain access to key figures in the community. On first impressions workers in this mould seem to bring much to the task of responding to violence, especially when the young people to be engaged are often mistrusting of adults. In Germany the ability to tolerate low-level violence and an ability to deliver what young people valued in that area – skills in combat sports such as boxing – was valorised. At the heart of this is a key psychological concept – identification. All the workers seemed to be saying that this was key to effective engagement. We wanted therefore to submit this idea to a critical, psychosocial analysis as it appeared so frequently in the tales youth workers told about their profession. This is important because for reasons distinctive to the youth work profession the youth worker’s use of self and influence in relationship is, we believe, the primary medium through which he/she seeks to bring about behavioural change. Therefore, expert and reflexive use of that relationship is a prerequisite to bringing about that change and permanent desistance. With regards to youth work responses to youth violence, this means that an emphasis on the ingredients of that response – that is, certain techniques, or the ‘what’ of practice – needs to be balanced by a deep understanding of the ‘who’. A psychosocial perspective on relationships would suggest that any psychological difficulties that either the youth worker or young person may be experiencing as a result of their own prior experience of relationships are likely to enter into their current relationship and that these could therefore affect the nature and efficacy of the worker’s interventions. This therefore entails considering how this could include a number of psychodynamic processes that cannot be fully perceived by either party, such as, for example, transference (the redirection of feelings and desires related to earlier experiences and relationships to current persons) and projection (the attribution of part of the self to an external object or person). When we viewed some of the professional relationships we encountered through this lens, it appeared that in some cases relationships might have been meeting the needs of the worker more than the young person and that the worker’s own perturbations had become inseparable from the ‘task’. The extent to which the worker was able to offer insight into this (that is, show reflexivity) was related to how effective their efforts to respond to violence were. The ability of a worker to co-inhabit, both in linguistic and embodied forms, the regionally and class infused, hyper-masculine life worlds of young men,


Responding to youth violence through youth work

for example, often seemed to be the basis of that worker’s influence. For some, the journey from early involvement in criminal activity, and move into a more generative stage in their own life cycle as a youth worker, provided them with a powerful redemptive script with which to make sense of their own lives, as well as a route through the social barriers which had confronted them. This seemed to be at the heart of how and why these workers identified strongly with the young men in the neighbourhoods they worked and sometimes lived in. Positively, the intense empathy for the personal and social challenges faced by the young people seemed to lead these workers to fully recognise young people’s subjectivity in a way that others professionals had markedly failed to do. Their informal and resolute efforts to offer practical assistance and other advice and guidance within the context of a voluntary relationship seemed to be more readily accepted, and ultimately more fruitful, than the more formulaic and decontextualised interventions made by other professionals. However, our close, ethnographic observations in the field also raised the possibility that sometimes these feelings of intense empathy and identification had the potential to lead to a reluctance on these workers’ part to ‘shake up’ young people’s life world by challenging some of their neutralising (Matza, 1964) behaviour and underlying attitudes. At its most persistent, this over-identification seemed on the verge of drifting into a pre-reflexive complicity with some aspects of a hyper-masculine identity that could arguably be implicated in young people’s piecemeal desistance. This for us highlights a discrepancy between a strong rhetorical trope of youth work – that of the reformed role model ‘going straight’ and acting as a figure of identification – with the more complex and conflicted figure basing his/her authority on embodied power and local status, but struggling to come to terms with a range of emotions and anxieties that then become mixed with those of the other in the relationship. Thus the alignment of experiences and motivations between the worker and the young person becomes constitutive of certain professional shortcomings rather than an asset.

Respect We have already explored in Chapter Four how workers can detect a number of unmet needs within young people through their relationships with them. However, there is also a need to consider what the characteristics of youth work relationships are in relation to some of these needs, particularly those that young people cite as so central. If


Rethinking some youth worker ‘tales’

youth workers are to meet these needs, we need to understand (deeply) how they feature in young people’s lives. Once we dug down critically into the data, certain features of workers and young people’s use of these terms emerged, but with significant inconsistencies. The notion of respect loomed large in our study, for both young people and youth workers, Respect seems to be an important element of developing and maintaining cultural identity (DeCremer, 2002; Jetten et al, 2005), gender identity (Jackson et al, 2001), positive personal relationships, satisfaction (Frei and Shaver, 2002), communication (McCann et al, 2005), a sense of social justice (DeCremer and Tyler, 2005), relations with authority (Tyler and Lind, 1992) and general quality of life (Sung, 2004). Our co-author, Mike Seal has written elsewhere (Seal and Frost, 2014) about how young people in the riots in the UK in 2010 were denied respect in media reports and from politicians who regularly used phrases like ‘young people deserve no respect’ and ‘they have no respect’. This rhetoric even stretched to denying young people’s humanity, calling them ‘mindless’ and ‘animals’. Our study suggests that in the absence of securing any meaningful respect from society or from their community, young people look to their friends and gangs as a source of respect. Workers need to be conceptually clear about what they mean by respect at any particular point. Feinberg (1970) distinguishes three ways of conceptualising respect: Respeckt, which has an element of fear or wariness; Observantia, an intrinsic respect for another’s autonomy, or rights; and Respectia, which can be earned. Participants, both workers and young people, used these different formulations interchangeably. “Everyone respected him because he could fight.” “I’ve got to respect him for the way he is.” “You want to impress somebody to get their respect.” Youth workers often talked about Observantia, when the young people were in fact talking about Respectia. For example, when challenging young people’s bullying or attacking of another young person or group of young people, youth workers were challenging them for not intrinsically respecting others as people, whereas the young people had appraised their victims of not being worthy of respect. The idea of Respeckt had most resonance with the young people in the research, particularly in relation to gangs and what was attractive about them.


Responding to youth violence through youth work

“I went through a phase where these big names, yeah, oh, ‘He’s so and so, you don’t want to mess about with him.’ So I’m thinking, ‘How do I get a name like that?’ Even though I’ve got money and everything, I just wanted to have a name like that, but now then, I got a bit of sense. But I wanted a name up there, where people say my name and some people are terrified. They get shaken by it when they hear my name.” These are often young people whose self-respect is fragile – young men (often) whose lack of employment and a paucity of socially valuable achievements leaves them needing to find alternative ways to build that respect. Being ‘known’ or feared is the quickest, most direct means by which they can meet that underlying need. Meeting on the streets and maybe then getting involved in violence meets these young people’s need for self-esteem, and is a way to assert their masculinity. As one worker explained: “They grew up in a macho-type world and all they have is their muscles, and they gotta stand up for themselves and not let people walk over them.” When these constructions of respect are not consistent, this gives the worker an opportunity to challenge and reconstruct their reasoning. Dillon (2010) talks about the importance of universalism. We want respect for us to be consistent and for all aspects of us, but we do not respect those we fear, we Respeckt them, and this is partial and contingent. We do not respect the person enough to get to know them in their own right, but only in so far as we need to allay the fear of what they might do to us, and then only when there is the possibility of them enacting this. Dillon (2010) also says that we cannot force someone to respect us, only to Respeckt us. Young people who talked about the dynamics of gangs and illegal activities saw the distinction, calling it ‘good’ and ‘bad’ respect. They talked about how they, and young people they knew, engaged in illegal and violent activities seeking respect. However, their respect was contingent and partial. They were respected only in terms of what they could do for those in the gang, or for the threat of what they could inflict on people. Many young people saw and lived the concept of respect as Respeckt. These distinctions may seem semantic, but young people saw that these distinctions could be important. When someone joins a gang to get ‘respect’, they may not get what they want.


Rethinking some youth worker ‘tales’

According to Beneditt (2008) and Frank (2007), respect is important because we want to live in a predictable world where we have some guarantees about how we will be received and treated, especially by others who do not know us. Respeckt does not give young people this predictability. Some who were involved in gangs talked about how they felt they could never leave and the fear that remained. This was because any decline in the behaviours that had engendered fear, such as being perceived as getting old or ‘soft’, made them vulnerable to being replaced by those who wanted their power, or those who wanted revenge for how power had been obtained and maintained. The young people knew that they were not accruing ‘real’ respect through their activities, only fear, and that this felt less valid to them. We examined in Chapter Five how elders in the community did not respect young people, even when they said they did, but were in fact concealing private disdain. For one youth worker the motivating factor for him changing his life was that his mother could not talk to people about what he did – she, and they, did not respect what he did. This similarly applied to the group dynamics of the ‘gang’. Young people talked about the wannabes’ or runners’ desire to be respected by those higher up in the gang, when in fact they were often being used to do the dangerous jobs and were expendable. Those at the top knew that their underlings’ loyalty was limited. This was not to say that real respect was not present in the gangs, and some talked about getting it there for perhaps the first time in their lives. However, this mix of respect and Respeckt certainly did not make for feelings of stability and security. Youth workers might find some leverage in having honest, authentic conversations about this. As well as working with young people to deconstruct their ideas around respect, workers need to work with them to reconstruct them. There seem to be two elements of reconstruction: developing respect for the ‘other’ and developing self-respect. Authors such as Gaus (1998), Lysaught (2004) and Norman (1989) argue that in order to respect a person, we need to nurture and develop their autonomy. Young people we spoke to rarely experienced being afforded autonomy by other professionals. A study in the US (King, 2010) looking at what respect meant in schools found students saw it as having four elements: treating others the way that you would like to be treated (the golden rule); listening to others when they are talking; honouring others’ property and personal space; and refraining from negative talk about others when they are not present. These formulations could all form the basis of a meaningful conversation between youth workers about


Responding to youth violence through youth work

respect, what it means to them and how it does or does not feature in their lives.

Self-respect and status Youth workers also talked a lot about building young people’s selfrespect. Its importance to healthy personal development is corroborated by the literature (Buss, 1999; Thomas, 2001; Dillon, 2010). Dillon sees one aspect of self-respect as the recognition of our status as rational free agents, and therefore deserving of respect. We should not be servile (believing others to be better than us) (Hill, 1973; Boxill, 1976; Thomas, 1983), but neither should we be arrogant (believing that we are better than others). We should not put up with being the objects of disrespect, although our reactions to not being respected should remain respectful. Practitioners recognised this in the research, as did young people. “There’s a fine line between respect and ego. Never get too big-headed. I used to get too big-headed, you know what I mean, but have pride, have self-pride, but not too much pride. If you feel good about yourself, pride makes you free.” Another relevant concept here is ‘status’. Hill (1982) says that selfrespecting people will judge themselves according to whether they are living up to their ideals, intended life goals and the guiding moral principles that stem from them. Young people’s need for status was given as one of the primary reasons for young people being attracted to gangs and criminal activity. “If you are growing up in an area where status is placed on how much you’ve done, how you got away from the system, all those things, that is how you get measured, on what kind of status you are given.” Frank (2007) notes that this status can be defined by such things as material wealth and power, but also ‘higher’ values such as selflessness, benevolence and altruism. This again gives youth workers scope to engage with young people on how they construct their own understanding of self-respect. Youth workers might also reflect on their wider role in countering structural injustices that stop young people from being able to develop self-respect. Returning to the idea of Observantia, intrinsic respect


Rethinking some youth worker ‘tales’

is not given when we deny a person’s worth. Arguably, much UK policy aimed at young people, for example, particularly criminal justice measures, have not sought their perspectives, but have labelled them mindless, and further denied their personhood (Seal and Frost, 2014).

Trust The desire to build trust in relationships with young people was common among the youth workers we spoke to. Many authors consider trust as essential to youth work and the helping professions (Goetschius and Tash, 1967; Rogers, 1967; Perlman, 1979; Duck, 1999; Smith, 2001). Baier claims that trust is ‘the very basis of morality’ (2004, p 180). We need to trust in others to have some moral basis for their actions, to make any kind of social contract possible. For those young people involved in illegal activities, trust was in short supply, as this young person described when relating his own experience of an older gang member: “He doesn’t really care about you, he’s just doing it so he can get right up to the top. You never know, he might drop you as well.” One worker understood how trust was vital and was something he had to work with. He felt he had to first “understand the trust and relationship between people that are involved in gangs” and then, rather than destroying it, “reorient” it. This proved difficult, especially when young people had learnt not to trust anyone. “If they’ve got violent parents, or been abused whatever, they’ll make sure that that’s not in their future, but they trust no one.” ‘Therapeutic trust’ (Horsburgh, 1960; Pettit, 1995) refers to the act of trusting others, knowing that they may well betray that trust, in the belief that giving such trust will eventually elicit more trustworthy behaviour. For youth workers, this was expressed in ideas of ‘giving young people a chance’ in the hope that in doing so they will honour that trust. Such therapeutic trust also taps into an irrational side of trust on the side of the trusted – a hopefulness despite the evidence. Therapeutic trust is an act of faith, which we hope will become justified, and be seen as rational, in time, but it is not rational in the moment. According to workers, believing in young people despite


Responding to youth violence through youth work

the evidence, giving them chances, seemed to foster their own sense of self-belief. Many workers also talked about young people pushing their boundaries when they extended this trust and belief in them. They described this boundary pushing as ‘testing’ them, deliberately not engaging, or messing up things that they had set up for themselves. This seems to be part of the dynamic of building trust with young people from a point where trust is fragile or non-existent. We asked young people to relate incidents where workers had ‘got through to them’ and several themes emerged. Young people wanted to be convinced that workers cared about them, not in a generalised, ‘caring about all young people’ sense, but in an individualised and personal way. As some of the young people said, they had been in front of a lot of workers, and been subject to ‘systems’ all their lives. The majority of incidents where the young people started trusting the worker involved the worker doing something that broke professional boundaries or policies, such as giving them their mobile number, visiting them in their own time, giving them cigarettes, giving them a hug, or even being angry with them. They said that they knew workers had professional boundaries, and had known enough workers to know what these were, but if they were not prepared to go out on a limb for them, did they really care? As with respect, practitioners were often vague about what trust meant in a youth work context. Trust entails that we take a risk that the other party will not act in our interests. (Mayer et al, 1995, p 710.) It involves vulnerability and the potential for betrayal. One group involved in the final residential weekend included a senior worker and a relatively young new worker, as well as five young people. On the first night the senior worker fell ill and this left the relatively inexperienced worker on his own. Late into the night, when this worker was occupied with something else, the young people had an altercation with a group of young women that got quite heated. Other workers from other projects stepped in and diffused the situation. The discussion they then had with the young people centred on trust, not their behaviour. The workers said that the young men knew that the senior worker was ill and that they took advantage of this. Discussion was then around what this meant for the trust that had built up with the senior worker, who had been vulnerable, and how they had taken advantage of this vulnerability. The young people discussed other adults who had betrayed their trust, how this felt and how they valued workers who did not do this. They dropped their bravado, admitted


Rethinking some youth worker ‘tales’

that their behaviour with the young women had been ‘out of order’, and wanted to discuss how they could make amends. We suspect other professions, and indeed other youth workers, might have taken a very different approach. The implication of this is that workers may need to make themselves vulnerable to young people, just as young people make themselves vulnerable too. That might mean selectively and consciously breaking boundaries, or in some other way making themselves vulnerable.

Avoiding organisational defensiveness Throughout the workshops, workers often expressed frustration at not being understood by other professionals. “There is a lack of understanding about what it takes to be a youth worker, what the job involves.” When we drilled down, it was often unclear what this meant. There was a fair amount of questioning of the motivation of other agencies and unsubstantiated claims about having a relationship with young people that other agencies did not. In illustration, one worker admitted that he “had his own agenda” and “didn’t want outside agencies coming in”. Some youth workers were aware of the risks. “We do stereotypes roles, you know, stereotype people from different agencies and I think even if you do come across somebody who is really good at their job we still have that pre-judgement and that can affect how we work together.” Hornstein’s (1986) concept of ‘organisational defensiveness’ describes how this produces misunderstanding and mistrust and has echoes in how practitioners characterises inter-agency working. Cooperation was often illusory, with workers seeking to secure scarce resources or leaving meetings with a confirmed view of the other agency’s ineptitude, commenting that they ‘knew’ the meeting would go like it did. It was not always clear to what extent these workers were genuinely open to what the other person was saying or whether they were simply looking to have their negative view re-enforced. In Graz, workers demonised other agencies in a diagnostic role play. Reflecting afterwards, workers recognised that some of this was their own frustration at a system that they felt was failing young people. We would warn against such


Responding to youth violence through youth work

defensiveness and argue that youth workers have a distinctive but not unique contribution to make to youth violence reduction.

Summary In this chapter we have presented a number of youth work ‘tales’ and subjected them to a critical discourse analysis. We argue that youth workers need to critically interrogate their privileging of ‘relationships’ with young people. This means developing a deep reflexivity around how the relationship might be meeting their own needs as well as those of young people. Youth workers need to develop conceptual clarity in working with respect, making distinctions between respect that is earned, intrinsic respect we should give to all, and respect that is based around fear. There is value in engaging with young people on how they see self-respect and how status is constructed in their community and culture, and working on alternative attainable and sustainable ways to develop it. Investing trust in young people, even when the evidence seems to be against them doing so, and at times sharing vulnerabilities where it aids the building of trust, can form part of a meaningful response to violence. Finally, we have highlighted the dangers of developing an overly defensive posture towards interagency work and becoming too precious about the uniqueness of the profession.



Working with intersectional identities As outlined in Chapter Two, we believe that the relationship between youth violence and various social and cultural categories such as gender, race and class is far from simple or mono-causal, and that youth workers need to develop a sophisticated analysis of how these factors are at play within the lives of the young people with whom they seek to engage. We saw merit in employing the notion of intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1991) as a theoretical framework to explain how these categories and other axes of identity interact on multiple and often simultaneous levels, contributing to systematic social inequality and ultimately different experiences of, and explanations for, violence. Oppression can cut across traditional binaries and change over time, meaning that one-dimensional models of power and oppression risk failing to capture the reality of contemporary life for young people. So if we are dealing with a confluence of various kinds of disadvantage, how can youth workers meaningfully address this complexity? Our research suggests that youth workers seeking to respond meaningfully to youth violence need to consider the hierarchical relationships and conflicts within social categories such as gender, race and ethnicity as well as that between them. So in this chapter we take some key social categories in turn, first examining the correlation of violence with masculinity, employing our psycho-social frame and this idea of pluralised masculinities (Connell, 1995) to try to make sense of it. We look closely at some of the issues young women reported to us that included identities infused with internalised notions rooted in the violence and oppression they faced from men in their daily lives. We suggest some explanations as to what triggers violence within the social lives of young men and how this affects their sense of self, touching briefly on the nuances of the contested debate around ‘father absence’. We then critically engage with the idea of youth workers as ‘role models’, thinking through some implications for training regimes, especially the dangers of collusion. We discuss the impact of state- and community-sanctioned racialised discourses. Finally, we highlight some of the tensions that arise when seeking to respond to the more fluid, decentred identities we encountered with approaches rooted in identity


Responding to youth violence through youth work

politics such as ring-fenced services, before citing some examples of the intersectional responses we came across among the research partners and within our own research process that we felt were innovative.

Masculinities: breaking down ‘cultural fictions’ Research in the UK into gun-enabled crime (Pitts, 2007a) suggests that the overwhelming majority of perpetrators are male and that the ‘problem’ of youth violence is primarily one of young men. This is mirrored across more general criminological research (Bartusch and Matsueda, 1996). In our own study we also found some evidence that young men’s understanding of their own gender identity may determine their violent behaviour. Some young men we spoke to perceived fighting and violence to be a key signifier of their masculinity and a way by which they could, to some degree, affirm their place in their peer group or society. “If a mate rings me up today and says, ‘Oh, so and so’s got trouble and so and so’s got this and that’, I’m gonna sort it out and help him out. It’s just like respect and dignity that you go with your mates innit? And, if you say no, they’ll go, like, ‘He’s just all talk, he’s just this and that.’” As we discussed in the previous chapter, for many of these young men, their own ‘brand’ of gender ‘performance’ (Butler, 2004) was bound up in this notion of respect and reputation. “It’s trying to keep your respect, ’cos the stuff that I’ve done has built that respect. I haven’t got loads of respect out there like loads of people. I’d love to, I’d love to be untouchable and that, around Bradford. But it’s just that little bit of reputation that I have got I’d like to keep it. Better a reputation than no reputation.” The excitement associated with these ‘untouchable’ personas and the defence of territory appeared to be part of the attraction and motivation for violence. The flavour of these young men’s subjectivities was not, we suggest, simply a consequence of socialisation or imitation of role models, but was more deeply rooted. They were psychically investing in a social discourse (Foucault, 1969) of one kind of masculinity from a menu of masculinities offered up to them by the local cultural milieu they inhabited, as well as by wider society. Theirs was a kind of


Working with intersectional identities

marginalised (Connell, 1995) ‘hyper-masculinity’ (Dolovich, 2012) that emphasised respect and reputation, and valorised physical signifiers of strength and power. The key question for us became why these young men from working-class, black, Asian and white communities were so drawn to these signifiers. One hypothesis (suggested by our psychosocial theoretical frame) would be that this ‘investment’, although felt as empowering consciously, could be a result of an unconscious need to defend against feelings of failure and vulnerability. If this were the case, this would suggest that youth workers would need to engage in critiques of these modalities of masculinity while recognising the psychological purpose they serve for the young men in warding off these feelings. Thus while deconstructing these discourses that serve to authorise the persistence of aggression and violence, workers also need to pave the way for the construction of alternative self–representations that meet the same underlying needs but are not violently enacted. These needs may be for differentiation from forms of masculinity perceived as ‘subordinate’ (Connell, 1995) weak or other ‘cultural fictions’ (Walkerdine, 1990). Dismantling these fictions is a precarious business as they form the mainframe of the young men’s identity construction. Reworking them is more feasible, and building new relationships with alternative figures of identification might be one way to do so. We explore the opportunities but also possible pitfalls of these identification processes later.

Young women: internalising oppression Although a growing body of research seems to indicate that there is a sizeable number of young women engaging in violence (Smith and Bradshaw, 2005), young women simply do not appear to be as likely as young men to engage in acts of physical violence, and when they do, it is of a less serious nature. There is growing evidence that young women’s involvement in gangs is changing, with isolated incidents of girl-on-girl violence (Firmin, 2009; Pearce and Pitts, 2011). When young women do become violent or victimised, there is also considerable evidence to suggest they are more stigmatised in their peer groups, communities and society as a result (Thornberry et al, 1995). Young women will more likely be victims of physical and psychological violence as mothers, partners, sisters or friends. The young women we spoke to, although not involved in or affiliated to gangs, often seemed to be subordinated in their relationships and at the whim of young men whose casual approach to monogamy in


Responding to youth violence through youth work

relationships left the young women vulnerable to exploitation at the hands of other young men. Some young women who had experienced sexual and psychological abuse, assault, exploitation or partner violence, even rape, did not perceive it as abusive. Some even acted in ways that further glamorised the violence they were subjected to. Some studies suggest that this may be partly out of an unconscious desire for love, protection and respect (Dorais and Corriveau, 2009) and as result of internalising the oppression they experience within their relationships with young men. When we spoke to young women about their relationships they seemed to buy into the young men’s notions of masculinity, despite often suffering from the violent consequences of this in the form of male anger and violence. These young women we met did not want their comments recorded, so fearful were they of possible repercussions. Their sense of self had become so enmeshed with internalised gender constructs that their relationships with their partners and female friends had become impoverished at best, and destructive at worst. This often led to them experiencing psychological and physical violence in domestic situations that then often spilled out into public space too. These young women were also anxious to talk about what they felt amounted to psychological violence to engage in sexual activity against their wishes. Male and female youth workers were struggling with how to respond to this form of violence, both in terms of how to support the young women but also how to challenge the young men in the young women’s peer group with whom they had close, but often damaging, relationships. However, others were determined to break free from this cycle, such as this young woman in Graz who was following the example of her mother: “Always for the rest of my life I seen my father again punching other people, his new wife and his ex and so on. But my mother never punched me, never. It was a thing that was never okay. My mother never did violence to me, maybe once or twice, it was okay, I knew I did wrong and I was very sorry for it. When I told her if I was punched by someone in school, she would always say find a solution to this, just with words and talking and talking.” She was now determined to draw a line in her own family and with her own son.


Working with intersectional identities

“Because in my childhood I’ve seen so much of this, then it was too much. I did not want so much shit all my life. I don’t want to educate my son with violence. I think violence is not just when I punch somebody, violence is also if I do something, when I use bad words, violent words. I have seen so much in my childhood that’s a reason because I don’t want to do that with my child, or with other childs [sic] in my family.”

Young men defending against powerlessness The underlying causes of men’s violence, including that towards women, we suggest, is more complex than, biology, male power, domination or patriarchy (Connell, 1987). Gender is more of a multidimensional relational concept, open to subjective negotiation, and not binary in nature. Masculinity is more than a ‘monolithic entity’ (mac an Ghaill, 1996, p 1). Despite the empirical fact of male domination within higher paid jobs and other spheres of influence, the youth workers we spoke to were sure the working-class young men they were engaged with did not feel powerful in society or within their relationships. Instead they claimed they felt alienated in a globalised society where technological change and the collapse of local manufacturing industry had led to high levels of unemployment and changing family and economic structures. One male youth worker expressed this during a workshop in London: “When I started working in Islington, the biggest employer was for Islington people. They hardly employ anyone now, because it’s all technology, the lorry turns up, some hook is computerised, all the meat gets on, weighed automatically, so all those people who had manual jobs, those jobs are gone.” And a colleague concurred: “There are whole groups of people who grew up on manual trades and their culture, and their families, and their education needs were all geared up to work manually. People were quite happy to go down and work four in the morning, work, have a drink, come home and see the kids. It’s gone.”


Responding to youth violence through youth work

Another female worker described how she felt these social conditions bear down on young men’s self-esteem and identity: “Maybe I’m coming from a female perspective, but when I talk to lads in gangs, or groups, whatever, they are just normal lads, but their self-esteem and confidence is so low that they have to have this persona to other people so that they are accepted.” This in turn restricts their take-up of welfare services. “For example, if I’m unemployed and I go to sign on and I’m made to feel I’m begging, someone’s looking at me, like, ‘Why don’t you go out and work?’ Whatever, that kind of feeling could hinder me to access that kind of service.” This worker felt that these feelings of lack of power and inadequacy were related to young men’s involvement in violence. “I just think young men feel powerless. Once you get involved in that, you think it’s going to give you some clout, some recognition, some confidence. Wherever you can get it, even if it is in a negative way, you’ll take it. It makes you feel better about yourself.” Some young men’s comments we gathered during our study suggest that in many cases these young working-class men were defending against feelings of powerlessness, and were struggling to meet the demands placed on them through school, media representation and consumerism. “I’ll give you an example with me. I’ve come out of school, I couldn’t spell, the first time I threw a punch at one of my mates because he said, ‘Oh, you can’t even spell your own name’, I went wallop. Yeah, it shut him up and I could have carried on.” These generationally specific, localised experiences meant that many of these young men were struggling to disown the aspects of themselves that did not conform to social expectations, such as vulnerability and impotence. This suggests that to be meaningful, gender identity youth work with young men engaged in violence will involve enabling them


Working with intersectional identities

to relinquish their attachment to a vestige of power in a world where they feel powerless. This requires deep respectful relationships in which they can come to see more reflexively how they are embodying hegemonic and patriarchal discourses and begin to see the benefit of letting go of that power. In the relative absence of any access to traditional male roles, an adjustment is required for these young men to find a self-image of which they can be proud and which they can display openly in their local communities.

Avoiding worker collusion James Messerschmidt (2000) describes how young men and young women struggle for recognition with each other through investing, often unreflexively, in gendered discourses within localised spaces such as school and the street. These discourses may be infused with notions that valorise potency in the male sexual drive, competition, rivalry and aggression. For some young men, investment in such discourses can result in an indifference to women’s subjectivity or outright misogyny, often expressed through the voice most readily available to them; music. As we saw in Chapter Four, male and female workers found innovative ways to challenge this language either directly or through social networks. It is important to remember, though, that adult youth workers will also bring a wide range of experiences coloured by all these factors. Male workers may, consciously or unconsciously, adopt personas that unwittingly support rather than subvert these constructions of gender. This points to the need to recognise the investments made in masculine identities by both workers and young people. ‘Solutions’ that appear ‘effective’ could be relying on collusion, or be ‘complicit’ (Connell, 1995) with patriarchal discourses that workers should instead be challenging. For example, simply equating young men’s inability to fulfil the requirements of the ‘breadwinner’ role with emasculation or even to excuse violence towards partners on this basis reveals how persistent patriarchal and hetero-normative notions of gender relations still are. Workers need to work with young men to construct alternative identities where support for women in the workplace, restraint and delayed gratification also form part of a confident masculine identity. A real tension exists whereby sometimes in order to begin this, it may be necessary to contingently acquiesce with the social constructions of gender in the process. We saw male youth workers urging young people to ‘walk away’, ‘take responsibility’ and be the ‘bigger man’. These constructions may be instrumentally effective and serve to


Responding to youth violence through youth work

compensate for the loss of previously wielded power, but continue to buy into these notions of masculinity as normative. We observed a similar process when workers were engaging with young men who were fathers and trying to encourage them to adopt a more involved and ‘emotionally available’ father role. Young men encouraged by workers to move away from traditional class-infused models of masculinity that rest on ‘hardness’ and fighting prowess towards new models that stress their sensitivity interpreted this as ‘gay’– by which they meant weakness rather than homosexuality per se, although of course the underlying association was at least in part homophobic. Often, male workers who were seen as most stereotypically ‘straight’ and ‘hard’ were those who garnered the most respect and by default gained the most leverage with young men for whom such qualities were central to their own values. Such masculine worker personas may contain elements of the hegemonic (sportiness, muscularity and physicality) but do not necessarily incorporate any wish to dominate other subordinate masculine subjectivities. Therapeutically tinged efforts to connect with young men heavily entrenched in their investment in hyper-masculinity, particularly if made by people for whom the young people have little or no regard (admittedly often for prejudicial reasons), often fell at the first hurdle and failed to overcome such prejudice, so preventing any meaningful challenge to them and losing the possibility of lasting change. Given the locally specific negotiation of multiple identities, and the unpredictable nature of work with people, workers need ultimately to make a judgement as to when to ‘inhabit with’ or ‘shake up’ the subjective life worlds of the young people they are seeking to work with. Approaches that seek to concentrate on behaviour alone and employ sanctions, such as the withdrawal of the service or the working relationship, may serve to protect disadvantaged groups from further oppression (such as the young women who were suffering clear psychological abuse in our study), but they are unlikely to shift young men’s fundamental investments in forms of violence and discriminatory behaviour. In effect, boys learn not to be sexist, racist or homophobic in front of youth workers but easily revert to such behaviour once out of sight of a disciplinary gaze. Unfortunately, more often than not, we found workers were making these judgements with little or no conscious awareness of their nature, or how their own life experiences were shaping their decisions. Female workers, or male workers who did not fit this hegemonic, hetero-centric mould, faced additional challenges in overcoming prejudice, before being in a position to exert influence. Conforming to hetero-centric and ‘masculine’ pedagogic styles provides


Working with intersectional identities

little room for any contestation to emerge as to how young men can construct their masculinity. Other young men are marginalised by such emphasis on ‘macho’ masculine ideals. This has implications for the debate as to how to structure training regimes for youth workers. Time and space for the development of such reflexivity and critical thinking within teams around intersectional identities are essential. The proximity of the worker’s journey to that which the young person is embarking on can, if managed both internally and externally in this way, add authenticity to that process, and potentially be transformative in its effect; if not reflexively acknowledged, however, it can exacerbate the very problem the worker is trying to address.

Father absence? Perhaps the most problematic area within our analysis was centred on how race and gender related to social constructions of fathering and youth violence. Workers were struggling to counter dominant discourses that continued to position the young men they were working with as the dangerous ‘other’ created in part by the failings of the community itself and fundamental deficits within families and workingclass ‘culture’. This involved overcoming pathological accounts of families as dysfunctional and countering images of feckless fathers. Among the groups of young people we met from all ethnic backgrounds, a number came from families where there was no father figure present. Young mothers we spoke to reported contradictory attitudes towards the fathers of their children, reflecting their own confusion as to father absence, and its effect on their children. In these conversations, many of which were spontaneous and could only be observed and recorded via field notes, young people and workers seemed to be employing some ‘common-sense’ notions around fatherhood, for example that a boy’s identification with his father is the basis of his future construction of masculinity (Tolson, 1977). Voices were often raised to assert that the issue of father absence was an issue that certain communities (commonly white and black working-class) urgently needed to address. Identity formation and the father as a ‘role model’ for young men is in our view a multi-layered, problematic concept that can quickly become characterised in terms of a ‘crisis’ as part of a moral panic, especially around the problem of youth violence. Paternal absence seen in this light could be characterised as the reinforcement of an ideology (symbolically violent in nature) used by the state to construct


Responding to youth violence through youth work

an ‘enemy within’. However, we wanted to remain open to the range of theorisations of father deficit, and what young people were saying to us on the topic. Some literature we sourced, including the work of Glynn (2014) summarised in Chapter Two, is clear that father absence in childhood has reverberations in later life. There is a real danger that when workers highlight father absence within black families alone, the prevalence of this issue in other communities is overlooked, and normative notions of family serve to further marginalise young black people who are already marginalised within education systems and wider society. At the same time, the young black men in London who recorded an album with our peer researcher did feel the absence of a father with whom they could identify, which presented real difficulties for them and their families as they grew up. They powerfully articulated this through their lyrics and in songs that charted their admiration for their mothers. “One for the mums that stand strong. And older brothers that man up when dad’s gone.” For the young men we spoke to, the presence of a psychologically and emotionally available father with whom they could identify might have provided a blueprint for how intimacy and emotional openness could figure in their own identities. Workers need to find ways in which young men from all communities can express their feelings around their familial relationships, and, while avoiding a discourse of deficit, facilitate activities that allow the expression of emotions that arise. Music is a good example of this as it can provide a vehicle to explore how intimacy and emotional openness can be a part of a positive male identity.

Internalising racialised discourse and ethnocentricism Other young people we spoke too quickly identified racialising discourses that emerged not only from their community but also from various agents of the state. As we saw in Chapter Six, in Germany, young Moroccan, Turkish, Kosovan and Albanian people complained of unequal, sometimes violent, treatment at the hands of the police. The language they used to describe themselves, as well as that used by both workers and within the general population, symbolised the gradations in citizenship status accorded to those of a ‘migration background’ as opposed to those described as (presumably more fully) ‘German’. This highlights how fundamental shifts in power relations


Working with intersectional identities

require deep rooted changes in the structural conditions that underpin existing social relationships. Workers felt their efforts at the micro or personal level were often frustrated by such structural constraints, for example, immigration policy. These, along with the activities of media and politicians, acted to prevent young people from some communities progressing or playing a full part in society, served to stoke fear and mistrust and acted to discourage citizenship rather than encourage it. The psychological distress caused by the Köln authority’s refusal to recognise the efforts of one young Turkish man to desist from crime and contribute to German society (described in Chapter Six) was only one of many examples we encountered. The complex reality on the ground is further compounded by other racialised discourses that can enter into the interactions between young people. We came across young people whose self-image and attitude towards their own community was unrelentingly negative. “White people are not as dumb as us, they don’t fight over drugs and stuff. They don’t do as much stuff as us. They might do in their own areas. I think most Pakistanis are quite greedy and we want it first.” Other British Asian young people we spoke to in Bradford demonstrated ethnocentric tendencies (that is, a preference for their own ethnic group and limited understanding of the other). The youth workers were aware of this, and had observed how these young people viewed more recent immigrants to the neighbourhood groups, in this case Eastern European young people: “The only thing our young people know about the Eastern European community is the swear words.” Attitudes within communities were paradoxical at times. One dual heritage young man from Bradford for instance, while describing his neighbourhood to the wider group in a workshop, reported his own experiences of racism and then denigrated an area within their community as ‘dirty’ and occupied by ‘dirty’ Eastern Europeans. “This area – very white, very racist. I don’t like walking through there and I’m half white, very racist. That’s flats there, you just don’t go down there, very racist.


Responding to youth violence through youth work

[X] used to be a pretty nice school but mainly the Czechs, Eastern Europeans and down my area, they are quite dirty people.” Facilitator: “Quite dirty people?” Participant: “Yeah, quite dirty people, no wash.” A worker confirmed how these attitudes were fuelling suspicion and potentially violence too: “You’ve got to a point now where quite a lot of Eastern Europeans are coming in and setting up, going around in a group, because they feel safe in a group, not intimidating anyone, but that’s how they feel safe. Our young ones are going past them now thinking, ‘Oh, they’re giving us dirtys [dirty looks].’” This youth worker was trying to engage with these attitudes and break down the divisions he saw emerging between different ethnic groups of young people in the community – divisions that for him were reminiscent of those he encountered growing up in the same area and cemented through virtual segregation in schooling. “We are working with them saying, ‘They’re not giving you dirtys.’ It brings you back to the point where our family members were getting beatings from whites, just from hanging around and associating with your own kind. You go into schools now and you’ll see whatever groups just sticking together and this is the biggest problem for me. If they are like that now, what are they going to be like in five years’ time?” Entrenched attitudes, seemingly borne out of limited exposure to others from outside their immediate area, were often shared across racial and religious groupings.

Ring-fenced services One worker in Bradford was prompted to ruminate on the relative merits of service provision that seeks to cater for the specific needs of different ethnic groups on his ‘patch’.


Working with intersectional identities

“Sometimes services don’t help as well, e.g. they said, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll have an Eastern European night which is only going to be for Eastern European young people.’ How are you mixin’? Where’s the ‘culture’ in that? You’re labelling people. You see that night was a normal night for anyone to join in. On that night you got Asian guys going up, ‘Oh no, it’s for Eastern Europeans only’, they’re going, ‘What? We were here before’, blah, blah, blah. But look at the effect its having, but they [policymakers] don’t want to see that. They want to see the book saying we are seen doing something for the Eastern European community, but you’re not really. You’ve opened up a place so they can all stay together, they will be doing that on the streets anyway, you’ve just provided them with a shelter. You want to do something, then integrate them. That’s the way to do it.” This illustrates the tensions between providing ring-fenced services for sections of the community who may feel unable to access provision because of other dominant groups’ stranglehold on it, and the divisive effects of excluding young people on the grounds of ethnicity, particularly in areas where inter-ethnic tension is already high. The building of strong communal ties within those groups who identify with each other (bonding capital) can feel like swimming with the tide, whereas developing understanding between such groups (bridging capital) requires more sustained action, which carries with it a degree of risk and uncertainty. We explore the challenges inherent in such bonding capital initiatives in greater detail in Chapter Fourteen.

Decentred identities Young working-class white people in London were mystified by any suggestion that their race or ethnicity placed them in a relatively advantageous or dominant societal position. Rather than feeling privileged, more often they reported feeling ignored and isolated as a community. Many held strong friendships with members of other ethnic groups within their peer group or had family members from diverse backgrounds. This young white man felt that the dilemmas as to how to identify were especially stark for his dual heritage cousins: “I’ve seen it with my cousins, I know how hard it is. My cousins are dual heritage, my aunty’s white. I see how hard it is for them growing up for them day to day, ’cos they


Responding to youth violence through youth work

never feel accepted by the white community and never accepted by the Asian community.” Binary notions of ‘empowerment’ may not always be appropriate when young people may occupy positions of power in relation to other young people at times, and at other times they will not. Such power is not uniformly available to all young men for instance. Activities and responses rooted in a traditional identity politics risk over-essentialising young people’s intersectional identities with the result that they are less willing to invest their time and energy in them. The presence of these fluid identities presented different challenges to the youth work teams among the project partners. Austrian workers felt that their profession suffered from a deficit in ‘inter-cultural competence’ – an admission that was borne out of their realisation that their team did not reflect in any way the diverse and intersectional nature of the young people with whom they were engaged. Their involvement in the research project had illustrated how structural dynamics, such as qualification routes to the profession in Austria, might be at the root of this, as well as cultural perceptions within local ethnic communities. The expectation of degree-level qualification sought to ensure workers had robust academic, interpersonal and communication skills (the workers we spoke to had these in abundance). But they also recognised that part of providing a service to other ethnic groups within the community they served involved developing a more diverse team and an intersectional response, something that they had to date found practically impossible. Youth work has traditionally relied on conversation and group work to challenge young people’s beliefs, attitudes and values such as those that objectify and denigrate women or members of other ethnic or religious groups. Such conversation needs to also operate at the affective level, that is, engage with the young people’s unconscious and conscious feelings about themselves and others, as well as engaging in rational argument. Windows of educational opportunity, if opened, need to be carefully and skilfully negotiated in the context of an ongoing relationship between youth workers and young people, where growing levels of trust and respect facilitate incremental increases in levels of challenge, ideally truly dialogic in nature, which can gradually lower levels of defence within both parties to that relationship. The role of the worker’s supervisor to develop reflexivity becomes crucial in this process to ensure the worker’s own investment in power is not operating collusively with oppression.


Working with intersectional identities

Local intersectional responses We did note how youth workers in Germany were able to organise activities with young Muslim women and men playing football together, something that the Bradford workers confirmed might not have been possible within their community. Such activities represented more than simple entertainment and enjoyment; they carried with them important messages as to gender roles. Workers were able to utilise the presence of young women competing with young men in that setting to begin to break down stereotypical attitudes around appropriate gender divisions and provide girls with an opportunity to challenge the male domination of such activities, as well as cultural norms. This illustrates the heterogeneous nature of Muslim communities throughout Europe, the different ways in which codes are interpreted within and across communities depending on country of origin and the degree of cross-fertilisation of cultural norms within different nation states. On a visit to a Birmingham in the UK to see where one of the peer researchers had grown up, German workers expressed surprise and shock at what they saw as the ‘ghettoisation’ of the neighbourhood. Workers in Bradford also felt that there were marked differences between their local Muslim community and that in Birmingham. Despite the shared ethnicity across the two UK cities, the local context was specific to each. This required local workers to use innovative and improvised tools for challenging stereotypes and misconceptions, some of which were genuinely intersectional in character. One worker in London, for instance, bought a group of Muslim young men a copy of the Quran, in English, as a Christmas present, so triggering genuinely educational cross-cultural dialogue. One of the central achievements of the research project itself was the bringing together of such a diverse range of young people who through dialogue were able to identify that although they came from different backgrounds, they shared much in terms of experience. However, simply facilitating contact with other ethnic or religious groups in itself does not guarantee an increase in understanding. If mishandled, it can serve to reinforce previously held views and stereotypes. Workers need to think carefully about how such contacts are made. Our project did manage to find common ground between young men through football, and the final residential experience culminated in a fiercely contested (and definitely testosterone-fuelled) football match, which, despite one fracas, culminated in a sense of togetherness, despite linguistic and cultural difference. National and ethnic boundaries began to dissolve and provide a basis for fruitful educational conversations and dialogue.


Responding to youth violence through youth work

Summary In this chapter we have tried to show how any serious attempt at addressing the underlying causes of violence needs to challenge heteronormative and ethnocentric attitudes, but also take seriously the psychic investments made by these young people in such hegemonic forms. In addition, workers may need to be more aware of how young people’s behaviour is serving to resolve internal contradictions, irrational fears and anxieties, established through (or through the lack of) interaction with parents, peers or wider societal structures. All of this points to the need for workers, especially those whose own biographies have exposed them to the hegemonic (or dominant) world-views of the communities in which they grew up, to be constantly on the look-out for how that world-view is colouring their approach to their work in diverse communities. The impact of poorly trained and unreflexive workers could be minimal at best and at worst risk directly and dangerously exacerbating the problem.



Creating policy for good practice

Introduction In this chapter our colleague and co-researcher Graeme Tiffany seeks to bring together a number of our key research findings to produce some recommendations for policymakers as to how to promote ‘good’ practice. This includes how policy aimed at reducing youth violence should be produced. He argues for that be a more participatory, inclusive and dialogical process. He reiterates our call for research (ethnopraxis) to be seen as part of a multi-dimensional practice and examines the pros and cons of partnership work such as excessive demands for monitoring and association with services focused on enforcement or punitive measures. He illustrates how target setting and pressure for outcomes from policymakers can disrupt the delicate balance of practice on the ground. Finally, Graeme develops his core argument: that policy needs to enable a broadening of youth work practice from approaches that focus too exclusively on time-limited and personal responses to those that include-long term, communityand structural-level responses too. He ends with a rallying call for policymakers to develop more pro-social responses to youth violence, drawing on the experiences and insights of street-based youth workers in particular.

Can policy be co-produced? Our research shows that work with young people who are involved in or otherwise affected by violence needs to be holistic and multidimensional. We recognise this is complex because a range of issues often intersect. We recognise that this is complex process because of the range of intersecting issues involved. Workers can, however, use their understanding of that very complexity to make effective and multi-dimensional interventions. For interventions to have effect at the personal level they need to be complemented by interventions at the community, structural and existential levels. While workers are


Responding to youth violence through youth work

confident in their own work with individuals, they often feel frustrated by structural pressures. Typically, these include demands made of them by policy, and mediated by management, to help young people into employment (Pohl and Walther, 2007). As one worker put it: “I feel like a detached careers worker.” While those who participated in the research recognised the importance of offering support for employability, they almost all saw it as problematic when a focus on it led to the exclusion of other interventions. A holistic approach must include work that, among a wider range of interventions designed to engage with local specificities and contexts, also aims to alleviate poverty and social exclusion. The process of policy formulation appears to be significantly disconnected from the lived world of youth workers and so this process itself must come under scrutiny. We need to find a way for ‘knowledge on the ground’ to inform this process. The French concept of homology relatif has great potential for achieving this. This approach uses the same processes evident in good practice as the mechanism for policy formulation. It is a model in which workers themselves could (and, we believe, should) be co-producers of policy. This shared commitment to co-production embodies the key values articulated by youth workers: mutuality, dialogue and negotiation, values that constitute participation. We should note, in terms of a political principle, that participation implies that those affected by policy have a right to be involved in its development. The process of policy development, and its subsequent monitoring, thus needs to engage a range of stakeholders, not only those tasked with producing that policy (politicians and their policy advisers), but also others, not least the workers and the young people they work with. As the research found, get this process right and good outcomes invariably follow (we have more to say on this later). The wealth of references workers make to initiating and maintaining relationships illustrates this well. Policy development, then, is likely to benefit from a similar orientation: a ‘round table’ in which there is a genuine dialogue between all parties. Thinking further about this process of policy development, logically it relies on access to knowledge of good practice. And yet recording that practice can be challenging. Ideally this should be done at the time of engagement, but writing things down, then and there, can inhibit the practice itself. Given that policy development implies a process of writing things down, it might be best then to access this (often tacit) knowledge dialogically, when youth workers and policymakers come together. Here the specificities of good practice need not be lost. And


Creating policy for good practice

within dialogue there is the potential for a virtuous cycle of reflection on the experience of trying to implement policy, such that it can be reviewed, monitored and adapted accordingly. There is an argument here for responding more assertively to one of the perpetual criticisms of policy – that it is a ‘broad brush’. A dialogical approach creates opportunities then for both policy development and an analysis of its effect. Interpretation at the local level should be encouraged, in order that it becomes context-appreciative. The ‘tyranny of best practice’ (SALTO, 2012) can then be avoided. The idea that one size fits all has to be dismissed. Practically, some kind of round table at the local level is needed. In both settings, there must be an enquiry into which elements of the policy ‘enable’ and which ‘disable’ good practice. Positive criticism must be sought. Perceived wisdoms must also be criticised, and this analysis of the ‘taken for granted’ (Jeffs and Smith, 1990) is just as important. The research work began this process and revealed that some orthodoxies demand particular scrutiny. Foremost among these is the assumed efficiency of the ‘activating’ regime identified in the comments of the worker above. The theorising of this as a shift from a youth work agenda to an ‘activation agenda’ (Pohl and Walther, 2007) seems a particularly pertinent stimulus for this enquiry. Attendant bureaucracies, as exemplified by abundant target setting and the prescription of outcomes, must also be examined. Many workers say that they constitute at least part of the disabling effects of the associated policy agendas. Others describe a regime that influences a flight from professional judgement making towards standardised systems of intervention based on putative scientific theories. These findings exist as part of a wider critique, in which the discourse of young people ‘at risk’ is founded in scientism rather than science (Tallis, 2011) and stigmatises rather than supports (Case, 2006). One worker described how this affects their practice: “The names weren’t there initially, so no one was interested. As soon as the names were flagged up, oh, you’re [told you are] working with them.”

The worker as researcher Being present is never enough. If workers are to engage beyond the level of the individual, they must develop wider diagnostic and analytical capacities. The research methodologies used offer an insight into ways of working that can productively be incorporated into the practice of


Responding to youth violence through youth work

youth work. Indeed, we call for a wider cultural shift towards practice as research. Only then can the social realities of young people, and the cultural milieu in which they live, be fully understood. Likewise, a research mentality is needed if wider structural dimensions are also to be embraced. For example, high levels of unemployment among youth populations will never be mitigated through careers advice alone. These and other realities, we suggest, can be understood as forms of violence, and must be engaged with as much as the behavioural manifestations of violence at the level of the individual, if violence is to be prevented. Thinking and acting like a researcher and, where possible, encouraging young people to do the same, is necessary then for good practice. From the circumstances of an individual young person’s life to peer pressure and cultural precedents at community level, and thence to the impact of wider societal and institutional structures, all elements must be analysed and made subject to intervention. There is perhaps an added value in adopting this research mentality. Typically, research into many of these issues is weakened by researchers’ lack of presence and proximity. The daily closeness to social reality (like violence) afforded by youth work begs questions of how much external research can really learn about the lives of target populations (Blairon, 2011). Nonetheless, some introspection is also needed. Workers must learn to reflect more critically on their own practice. Social models of reflection (Christian and Kitto, 1987) can help, particularly as they can draw out the tacit knowledge referred to above, such that it can be shared (Pederson, 2012). Keeping an eye out for the varying dimensions of violence is important, not least because it prevents a narrow focus on the individual and the physical manifestations of violence. Policy appears sometimes to fall into this trap, by encouraging workers to ‘chase’ these narrow interpretations. This seems only to diminish overall effectiveness, despite the rationale that argues the contrary. Worse still, a focus only on the individual, especially when interventions have a psychological hue, may, unwittingly, make matters worse (Mucchielli, 2013). As one worker said: “In order for young people to change and in order for us to help them to change, we’ve gotta need to know what it is they want that could make them change. So we have to have that dialogue with young people and young people have to have a voice in order to say what it is that it would take for them to stop or prevent whatever behaviour they are demonstrating. Once we know that, unless we are able


Creating policy for good practice

to realistically act on what they are saying, put those actions into practice, all we will do will be to build mistrust, lack of hope and aspiration and add fuel to the fire and make things worse, so we have to listen to them to what they say.” Without multi-dimensionality the effectiveness of intervention strategies will always be reduced. We can say also that good practice emphasises professional agency in all these dimensions. As before, the practice of youth work becomes a template for what is good: pursuing the aim of autonomy, appreciating that this is derived through the practice and experience of it. It should be in evidence between colleagues and within management (Tiffany, 2011) and policy development spheres as much as within youth work itself.

Structural threats to good practice The received wisdom is that it is good to work in partnership, and our research certainly offers numerous examples that support this. But it is not implicit that this always leads to effective practice. Indeed, formal partnership models take a good deal of maintenance, which often translates into time away from direct contact with young people and others in the community. Contact with partners, therefore, needs to be evaluated on the basis of the advantage accrued. Sometimes, we see it is not. Typically, formal partnership arrangements, such as multi-disciplinary teams, can demand sometimes inordinate amounts of data from youth workers. Some of the benefits of such data sharing are recognised by workers, but when its collection is deemed to put at risk the relationships on which good practice is premised, this is clearly counter-productive. Youth workers often receive requests to ask young people deeply personal questions, or to inquire into their wider familial circumstances. They generally prefer to work in a way in which such information is voluntarily given, within the context of a trust-based relationship. The rationale of targeting those ‘at risk’ seems to force their hand; they are often put under pressure to collect the very information necessary to inform (and validate) this system. Many youth workers recognise the dilemmas, but they are also aware that their livelihoods may depend on working in this way – on prying. A further example of the potential for partnerships to create rather than mitigate problems arises when youth workers are negatively associated with other functions of the agencies they work for. In a local authority or municipality, for example, there are many services that intervene with young people. Where young people are involved in


Responding to youth violence through youth work

violence, it is likely some of these services will be based on enforcement. The problem for youth workers is that they can be associated with these potentially punitive regimes, and this can negatively affect their relationships with young people and make positive engagement more difficult. One youth worker reflected on the council ID he was obliged to wear and how it is viewed by young people and those who see him working with young people. “It’s a barrier; it identifies you with an authoritative element. I have young people who say to me, ‘Oh you work with the police.’ It can give stigma to a young person, because it’s like they need a social worker; they don’t know you are a youth worker, they know you are a council employee and it looks like this young person is either in care, or it’s got negative connotations.” It is important for youth workers to negotiate a level of disassociation from these other functions, through whatever means. Yet policy often seeks to incorporate them into institutional regimes. This shines a light on the fine balance between working for young people’s empowerment and the responsibility to contribute to their socialisation through, inevitably, some elements of control. This balance can be disturbed when the demands of adults are given preference to those of young people. ‘Mission drift’ must be avoided. Effective violence prevention strategies appear then to identify young people as primary clients (Sercombe, 2010) within a wider community development context. The conceptual link is based on working to create ‘bridging capital’ (Putnam, 2000) – being active in facilitating more meaningful and tolerant relationships between young people and the wider community, and service providers. Prejudging the attitudes of other service providers towards young people should be avoided. The research shows an unusual range of working arrangements, a number of which might at first glance be presumed to be problematic. In fact, the opposite was often the case. Good youth work appears to be able to mediate and facilitate relationships not only between young people and the wider community, but also between young people and a range of agencies – including those with enforcements functions, such as the police. Good youth workers take great care that these relationships are beneficial for young people.


Creating policy for good practice

Process matters, deeply The policy trend is towards a focus on outcomes and results (Syal, 2012). The issue for youth workers, especially in the UK, is that managerial pressures to achieve pre-determined targets can be at odds with the youth workers’ own understanding that process matters. Much hangs on how aims are perceived. Where youth work is seen as a mechanism for ‘fixing’ young people and mitigating the wider social problems they are often associated with, this emphasis on securing behavioural change can conflict with an educational philosophy in which how we learn is regarded as important as what we learn. “The[re are] demands on us as workers, and I know as a manager and what I have to filter down to the staff, because we are in the world of a short fix, quick fix. We’re firefighters, we’re ‘targeters’, we gonna do this, respond to youth violence now, get out there, sort it out. And I think that level of time and relationship building which is the main thing with youth work, we are not having the time to do that.” Youth workers question the rationale behind working towards prescribed outcomes (which generally come in the form of targets they must meet for young people’s involvement, achievement and accreditation). They say that neglecting process often means that good outcomes are even harder to secure. Furthermore, commodifying the practice in this way disregards the value of a process designed to create opportunities for young people to be active in shaping their lived experience and their futures. Targets also imply pre-specified timescales; this, too, is problematic within a wider educational paradigm where good outcomes may not be apparent for many years (IDYW, 2012). Youth workers prefer democratic, experimental practice, where dialogue and negotiation take place and interventions are constantly subject to review, and changed if necessary. The means – the process – matters to them, and not just the ends. Sometimes, they appear ambivalent about outcomes, but this is because they trust the process and believe outcomes will be, and have to be, shaped by those they work with. Outcomes, then, are inherently uncertain. The capacity to improvise and reflect in action (Schön, 1991) is valued highly. Standardised interventions are considered detrimental to a holistic philosophy that seeks to engage with the complexity and nuances of individual lives and take account of the associated


Responding to youth violence through youth work

community dynamics. Youth workers say that boundaries have to malleable; the participation of a young person with a drug problem might mean, for example, that their lax time keeping needs to be accepted. Young people appear to recognise these manifestations of low-threshold practice. They know that workers will sometimes tolerate their problematic behaviours, but this is within a context of trust that implies that they, in turn, respond to the challenges made of them. There is ebb and flow of possibility based on an understanding that there is a greater aim: one of human and societal flourishing. This is how young people know that the youth worker, often like no other, will ‘go the extra mile’ on their behalf. It is an unusual practice, because working, for example, in the street implies the worker has no formal authority. Any abuse of power, any attempt to control on the part of the street worker, is invariably met by rejection from young people. In effect, abuse of this power means, quite simply, that the street worker will have no one to work with – as young people simply walk away. Young people, especially those who see themselves as victims of authoritarianism elsewhere, learn to appreciate that what happens in youth work, by definition and design, is influenced by their values and motivations and the realisation that, in this model, it is they who have to take responsibility. Youth work may thus inhabit a different paradigm of control and be a radical experience for young people; and this might be the reason why workers routinely criticise targetedoriented regimes. Conceiving of learning in this way appears essential if young people are to learn to resist the many stimuli that provoke violence and make informed choices about other ways to respond.

Socialising the practice The findings show unequivocally that the current policy context in the UK has had an individualising effect on youth work. None of the many workers and managers we spoke to in London or Bradford celebrate this shift away from what was claimed to be a social practice. They expressed concern that community-level interventions are increasingly rare, to the detriment of effective violence prevention work. They identify that the constraints workers experience have structural sources, but recognise (as with work at a community level) that few, if any, interventions are made in this domain. Again, a picture emerges of good and effective interventions made at the individual level, a few at the community level, and almost none at the structural level. When we asked where the problems were, structural and community dynamics were identified as responsible for inhibiting and constraining practice.


Creating policy for good practice

The paradox is obvious: there is a disconnect between cause and effect. Policy tends to hamper rather than support the practice of youth work, and yet there is little or no mechanism through which youth workers can review and change it. “The realities are the policies that are written down in the town hall, doesn’t mean anything to a group of young people who are angry about something at 10 o’clock in an estate.” This illustrates a policy shift from support for practically oriented, socioeducational and welfare-based practices to programmes premised on personal development, many of which appear to be therapy oriented (Ecclestone and Hayes, 2009). “I mean, resistance to social care or social workers and stuff like that is really high. Engagement is low, or there is no engagement with mental health services. Young people say, ‘I’m not fucking mental, what are you talking about?’” Supporting young people in securing benefit entitlements and remedying their housing problems, as part of a broader strategy of poverty alleviation, appears to have given way to a narrow focus on employment, to reiterate a point made earlier. Workers are concerned that failing to engage with these wider social realities only makes it harder to support young people into work. When becoming ‘work ready’ is the sole focus of the work, young people who, for example, are caught up in the criminal justice system appear not to make the progress wished for them. The research calls for broadening the aims and purposes of the work. Where involvement in violence can be tracked, even in part, to wider social phenomena such as racism, young people need to be supported to voice their concerns and take meaningful action to challenge these realities. Creating non-violent avenues for this has to be seen as part of a wider process of political education. Supporting young people to dissent and contest through democratic challenge should be identified as legitimate work. This can only happen with a wider appreciation of the value of young people’s participation in political processes – even if this leads to them criticising those in power. We note here the French concept of éducation populaire, which has these aims.


Responding to youth violence through youth work

“It’s about trying to turn their violence into a positive. There is quite a lot we can do to politicise young people. I think that’s a key issue because there are issues much wider than youth work, in terms of the social fabric of the country. Things in society like poverty, unemployment, lack of education, all that type of thing, they contribute so much. How can we empower them to have aspirations to try and change that way of living, because that has a huge impact on why some of them, not all of them, get into violence – as a way out.” We return then to the need to secure a wider consensus on the value of co-production, which implies also a re-evaluation of the extent to which democratic processes are amenable and accessible. Workers should be tasked to provide this political education; it appears essential to counteracting social exclusion. In practice, workers should aim to catalyse wider social and community action alongside work with individuals, if they are to successfully prevent and mitigate street violence. “I believe some individual members of the community, people that live on the estate, grass-root people, their friend, could be more effective to young people, have more influence over young people’s decisions than ever we could.” The research identifies the significant effect of ‘cultural behaviours’ (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992; Bourdieu, 1997). Workers have great potential to influence these and should bring their knowledge and experience of young people’s social reality into a range of environments to secure benefit for young people. These could be in arenas as diverse as town planning and urban regeneration, if they were judged as having cultural influence. There may be dilemmas here. It might be considered reasonable to facilitate a young person’s ‘escape’ from the community in which they live as a way of preventing violence. Indeed, where youth work has adopted a focus on the individual, as described above, these interventions become self-validating. The subliminal (and sometime overt) message is that ‘you have to get out to get on’. It’s clear these messages are informed by the dominance of models of personal rather than community development. This research suggests that wider efforts to develop communities are hampered by this orientation, sometimes even set in reverse. The assets of young people can be lost to the community. We should note, however, that


Creating policy for good practice

personal development can flow from community development work. It’s as if this is, principally, a one-way street. Socialising the practice also means much more use of the narrative of ‘we’ – asking young people, for example, what ‘we’, as a community, can do about violence. This ‘we’ needs to be extended to intergenerational interventions and engagement with political systems, including those identified as responsible for wider structural violence. These activities and wider efforts to promote social mixing illustrate well what might be called ‘pro-social’ interventions. Ironically, we observe a preponderance of policy-directed interventions that aim to inhibit or prevent young people from socialising; their coming together in groups (so often referred to as ‘gangs’) is typically linked to ‘antisocial behaviour’. It is common then to see the co-option and incorporation of youth work into a regime of interventions that seek to ‘move ’em on’ or split young people up when they gather. “People are very quick to make judgements about young people. The local voluntary youth centre has banned this group, the parks police have banned them from the parks where there was a youth shelter built for them and now the police on the estates don’t want them hanging around even though some of them live there. So you tell me, where are they going to go?” “We’re pushed; get them off the streets. But the victims that are part of the violence are more hidden. [But] if it’s hidden, let it go by.” The very presence of young people in the streets is often regarded as a problem. Failing to explore what they are actually doing on the street, and asking whether this is truly a problem, demonstrates the lack of sophistication of such policy regimes. The interventions these policies encourage can be reasonably described as ‘antisocial’ themselves, as they aim to prevent young people from being social. The target-based culture works its insidious magic here, too. We have already seen that tasking workers to ‘deliver’ particular outcomes within particular timescales can be detrimental to trust-based relationships. In the context of sociality, we see evidence of performative behaviours (Goffman, 1959; Bourdieu, 1997; Butler, 1997) among youth workers in pursuit of these targets. Young people deemed easier to work with may receive greater attention on the basis that targets are more difficult to achieve with their more socially excluded peers. Ironies abound;


Responding to youth violence through youth work

a focus on others can exacerbate the exclusion of the most excluded, by depriving them of contact with supportive adults and other, often pro-social, young people. This has ramifications for ethical practice: might these interventions be complicit in driving social exclusion rather than the inclusion wider policy frameworks desire? The research suggests that a more enlightened, assets-based, prosocial, temporally responsive agenda would work better. This is likely to be far more effective in tackling violence and securing wider social benefits across the community. Beyond the inter-generational and social mixing activities mentioned earlier, there are myriad other possibilities for the creative use of public space – a theme we will return to shortly – that can create benefits also. But first, let us consider the theme of temporality.

Temporality By temporality, we mean ‘the way time is’. The research shows that youth work’s capacity to prevent violence is limited when it is a transient activity. Indeed, ‘temporality’ emerges as a significant theme. Young people spoke of long-term relationships, and workers did the same: “[Youth worker X] is known amongst parents, known among young people, and one of the young people who has the baby, he is going to be known to the baby as well. So he is the ideal person who can make change, because he’s got access to that early intervention, so he can make a difference and guide that young person in order to work with that child. And even if all of a sudden this child pops up on a radar, and is involved in whatever, because of that relationship that he has got, he is more likely to make a difference than a stranger.” We found concerns about the prevalence of ‘project’-oriented funding regimes and the relative scarcity of mainstream, funded, permanent organisations, both of which illustrate a different, short-term, temporality that is increasing prevalent in youth work. Short-term projects are less efficient for a variety of reasons and create dilemmas for workers. Typically, workers fear being unable to offer support to young people in the long run, and feel unable to make the commitment to young people their experience tells them is needed; they know that, by ‘hanging in’, many young people can be supported to leave these behaviours behind as they approach adulthood. Short-term


Creating policy for good practice

programmes then often lead to a situation in which workers withdraw from the intensity and duration some relationships demand because of concerns about ‘letting the young person down’ in the future. Workers appear to make a calculated ethical judgement that making this commitment is best avoided; they do not make the kind of promises they would, in other, temporal, circumstances be inclined to make. The efficiency-based rationale of contracting and commissioning (that lies behind this emphasis on project work) can be said then to inhibit, rather than support, effective violence prevention work. Cases of long-term, community-based presence offer other interesting observations. A culture of confidence appears to develop, where young people will refer their peers to youth workers who have previously supported them. Clearly, this model cannot work if the workers have ‘moved on’ due to the vagaries of contract-based work. We might say that funders are failing to optimise returns on their investment – returns made possible when work is supported in the long term. They are ‘missing a trick’. This is not to imply that all work should have permanence; some project work is invaluable, for example, a time-limited piece of work in which a particular theme or activity can be pursued, such as a series of workshops on media work. It should be noted also that these short-term contracting and commissioning cultures appear to diminish the value of partnership work; the effect is to create, at best, ‘weakly collaborative systems’ (Pring et al, 2009).

Social and public space There is a spatial dimension to youth work as well as temporality. Neither appears to be embraced by current policy agendas, probably because of their abstract nature. Street-based youth work is unusual precisely because it inhabits what are, essentially, non-institutional spaces. We have seen how this has a profound effect on how power, authority and control is understood by the street-based youth worker, and how this affects the values that underscore the practice, and the methodology used. We have noted the central commitment to thinking carefully about process, valuing how things are done as much as the outcomes. To work in a spatial landscape where power, authority and control are forever contested (Ward and Fryson, 1973) is challenging, but it appears to offer perspectives on learning that are rare in institutional environments and all the more advantageous to young people because of this. Street-based youth workers have to reimagine power (see, Nye, 2004) and play the ‘soft power’ cards of dialogue,


Responding to youth violence through youth work

negotiation and democratic activity, precisely because working in public space deprives them of the opposite: the ‘hard power’ cards of formal authority, sanction, punishment and recourse to ‘rules’. “Yes, I’ve some authority. I come across young people all the time, and they say, ‘Oh, we know you care’, and as long as you have got their best interests at heart, you can be passionate about what you believe in. I don’t think that’s a negative thing. You can push.” Street work then acts as a radical stimulus for young people’s learning, but also as a provocation to other services to reimagine how they use power. Potentially, this might provoke a greater appreciation of pro-social, rather than antisocial, interventions. Some policy agendas resonate, including those that celebrate the value of play, particularly in public space, and the efforts to make our urban environments more child-friendly (ENCFC, 2013). Efforts to dissuade, and even prevent, young people’s use of public space may be counter-productive in terms of violence prevention. Rather, where the community work strategies previously proposed are in action, these places can become pedagogical spaces – places of learning. Working to turn spaces into such places for young people’s learning and wider community development, and celebrating rather than seeking to avoid contestation with others, can reverse the negativity often associated with social and public space. This is all the more important when we are concerned with preventing violence, as space and place powerfully affects young people’s feelings of safety, and their proclivity toward violence.

A final comment An extraordinary theme has emerged here, a theme stimulated by the peculiarities of street-based youth work, which represents a provocation for us all. This is a practice that is forced, by the environment in which it works – the street – to reimagine a good deal of the things we so easily presume when we think of violence. Street work questions the use of hard power, of sanction and control, precisely because it has to. Street workers know that if they behave in this way, they will have no-one to work with. Youth in the street vote with their feet – they hold the trump card. But the fact that young people choose not to walk away tells us one thing: that the principal ethic, and the most effective practice, comes from respect for autonomy – autonomy for


Creating policy for good practice

the young people, the communities they belong to and the workers who work with them.


Part 4 Youth work responses in action: case studies of praxis In this the final section of the book we aim to provide the reader with some practical worked examples of innovative projects that we encountered in our study. Adopting a case-study approach allows us to delve more deeply into the specific ‘indigenised’ contexts for youth work practice and provide more detail on the methods used, so allowing us to illustrate some of the tensions and themes that run through the rest of the book in more detail. These case studies are intended to both provide both a practical resource and source of inspiration for those seeking to develop new, innovative responses to youth violence and to introduce some notes of caution. In some cases we have structured these case studies differently from previous chapters. In Chapter Eleven, for example, we employ a comparative method to exemplify how projects can respond meaningfully to symbolic violence. We withhold any overly theoretical analysis so that readers can draw their own conclusions as to how these two short practice cameos might inform their own practice within their own contexts. However, as with the case studies that follow, each can be linked to central themes within our overarching narrative. Chapter Eleven suggests a return to the Bourdieuan analysis articulated in Part 1. Where projects are characterised as struggling to survive or flourishing we are also seeking to show how wider structural or political constraints can affect practice on the ground. In Chapter Twelve we take the opportunity to point the reader to the extensive literature on sport and violence reduction, an area that warrants fuller coverage than we are able to offer here. In this case we use a dyadic case study (the story of a worker–young person relationship) to illustrate some of our psychosocial themes. In Chapter Thirteen we discuss an intensive therapeutic anti-violence programme we encountered in Germany that encapsulates the tension between collusion and confrontation in anti-violence work. We then return to another recurring theme, with our call for workers to engage in ethnopraxis as part of their response to youth violence. Here, however, we illustrate how this might look by presenting an edited version of an action research study conducted by a local youth worker.


Responding to youth violence through youth work

Finally, by way of conclusion, we summarise our findings before taking them as a point of departure to create a new imagined vision for youth work responses to youth violence. We have chosen to present this as an entirely fictional, but not, we suggest, unrealistic, vision of how a meaningful youth work response to youth violence might materialise, again in an effort to suggest a productive way forward, but also caution against some of the pitfalls we felt our study has highlighted.



Responding to structural and symbolic violence: a comparative case study Case Study 1: exemplifying structural and symbolic violence: Islington, London “I’m used to the struggle Used to seeing youths leave school just to hustle Hitting up a few moves Getting gassed and go hard with the food Until they’re facing a cell like Majin Buu But ain’t really got a choice when you can’t afford creps, G When your fridge and your belly stay empty This will make a man squeeze until it’s empty Take a man’s Ps if he stunts and try tempt me ’Cos it’s the same everyday Another soul lost I felt them cold chills Ain’t got to say it u feel it so real Cold meals sitting in a cell Roads don’t wish a nigga well This one’s for my easy ones Everybody hustling to see the funds Young mum hustling to feed her son Everybody hustling to beat the crunch” (Extract from a young man’s rap) The London borough of Islington in many ways embodies a polarised disparity between rich and poor. Close to central London, booming property prices have brought huge windfall affluence to many of Islington’s residents, many of whom are working in the new knowledge economy of the technology or finance sectors. Others have been left behind, unable to get on the property ladder, or entirely socially excluded, unemployed or functioning within a growing black economy. With the decline of traditional blue-collar industry, local working-class communities


Responding to youth violence through youth work

within the borough have become pockets of deprivation, with diminishing levels of social capital and rising levels of crime and violence. The young people we met on these estates in Islington (such as the young man who produced the rap above) were at the sharp end of these macro-level processes. Young people were being drawn into violence, some as victims, as this worker explains: “I’m thinking of a young person who first came on the radar, under the umbrella – victim, he was set upon by12-15 boys outside school. When we were engaging with him, he was always under that umbrella of victim. His family background, his mum, quite God-fearing, tried hard by him, he had good support network within the family, sisters all very concerned about his welfare. There was concern he had a link to local gang. Now what he was saying and what his family were saying, including his mum, that all the boys he knew which were gang members were basically his school friends, he grew up on the estate with them, junior, secondary school, they’re all his friends. His whole world was at the centre of, let’s say, gang members. The only way he could keep himself safe was to disassociate himself from the people he was hanging around with and for him to do this, he was saying, I’d have no friends, everyone I know is involved in this world. Several months later, he got stabbed several times. Digging a little deeper, it was clear that he knew things there were going on around him, but he felt he couldn’t say through loyalty to his friends.” Once victimised, these same young people often became involved in violence as perpetrators. “To fast forward it to a year and half, he’s gone from victim on a number of occasions, no criminal record, nothing, to very recently he’s been arrested for robbery, street robbery. So you’ve got the victim been set upon, now he’s becoming the perpetrator.” Workers had their own explanations for this. “I believe without concrete evidence, it’s possible what he’s done is, as a way of thinking that he’s keeping himself safe, he surrounds himself with gang members/friends,


Responding to structural and symbolic violence

hoping that these boys will keep him safe. Now because he associated himself with these people, his character is such as well, he’s always involved in things, he’s very excitable. For example, if he saw an argument across the road, he’ll be the first out of here to see what’s going on. He’s always at the centre of things, he finds fun and excitement in conflict.” The physical landscape this young man inhabited reflected the wider societal decline, with sharply demarcated communities gaining the reputation as problem areas or ‘hot spots’ for crime and street violence. Seen as breeding grounds for violent crime and drug dealing, these increasingly segregated areas were populated by other residents who felt trapped, isolated and vulnerable, partly as a result of a number of high-profile cases of violent crime regularly highlighted by local and national media. In an attempt to exert some control over these environments, more and more intensive surveillance and control measures had been introduced, many of which directly restricted young people’s movement around, and presence within, public space. “The parks police have banned them from the parks where there was a youth shelter built for them and now the police on the estates don’t want them hanging around the estates even though some of them live there, so you tell me where are they going to go? The more you kick them out, the more they are going to fight back.” Surveillance measures seemed to add to a sense of latent danger within the community, although the young people had adapted to their presence. “The kids all hung out in this one square, where there was no camera, ’cos the kids know where all the cameras are.” The dispersal measures sometimes generated violence by bringing rival groups of young people into contact with each other. “There was a riot on Essex Road because of dispersal zones. You got two dispersal zones right next to each other, they were turfing 80/90 kids out of one area, and the same in the other area and about 150 kids were meeting in the middle. They were throwing bricks, they pulled fences down and


Responding to youth violence through youth work

the shopkeepers are pulling their shutters down, there’s a whole line of police with the riot shields up. And this shopkeeper came out and I’m in the middle of Essex Road, traffic is all stopped because it’s just a barrage of missiles coming across the road and this shopkeeper comes over to the police and says, ‘Why don’t you just fuck off and let the youth workers deal with it, they are much better at it than you are.’” The Targeted Youth Support Team in Islington operated within this highly charged and challenging atmosphere. When we met, the team had recently been reduced in size by 50% due to public service cuts. The team worked across four large geographical areas, with two workers allocated to each area. The cuts to the service, combined with a growing awareness of the direction of public policy, which seemed willing to sanction huge investment in projects such as the Olympic Games while refusing housing benefit to local people priced out of the property market, had, according to workers and young people, further fuelled a sense of distrust and dismay with political processes. The efforts of the Olympic Games organisers to keep the more rundown areas of London out of sight of spectators travelling through the capital heightened a sense of neglect and low societal status among young people, and for many led to a conscious decision to target those travelling through the area for robbery and violence. Limited by scarce resources, which included a small base, the team visited their local patches two to three evenings a week and organised a range of activities for young people. They carried out this work on the street, in parks, on common land and in shopping malls, all areas that could be classified as public space. The youth workers were clearly engaged in efforts to create public spaces increasingly free from fear, violence and intimidation. The detached youth work team in Islington continued to place themselves in harm’s way in this regard, often enduring a degree of physical threat in order to engage with young people in neighbourhoods who were engaged in some low-level (but also on occasion serious) violence. As this worker illustrates: “The corporate people find it quite hard when I say, ‘Can I have a risk assessment for what to do when someone pulls a gun when we are out at work?’” Managerial regimes struggled to cope with this level of risk, as this manager explains


Responding to structural and symbolic violence

“Can I give a managerial perspective? When I am working with policymakers, a lot of other services don’t understand the nature of our work. We are out and about, someone pulls up a gun, they don’t envisage that kind of thing happening, ’cos they don’t quite get it. So what I am saying is that a lot of these policies are put together, especially in Islington, it’s called a general risk assessment, no matter how much I try and say that bit wouldn’t work for us, they are trying to do one size fits all, that’s the problem.” Notably, they also sought to work with the wider community – tenants, parents, grandparents, secondary schools – to solve some of the more deep-seated problems that persisted, such as unemployment. “If you work in an area where 70% of all adults are unemployed, you’ve got a fairly good idea that all those young people, kids, will grow up in poor backgrounds, whereas you go to an area where there is 5% unemployment, it’s going to be different.” On a day-to-day basis the team engaged in a wide range of activities, including street-based work, centre-based group work, employment advice, activities, trips and residential experiences, and personal counselling. The service also included a mobile provision via a converted youth bus. These activities and facilities were designed to engage with the multiple causes of young people’s exclusion from wider society, including lack of employment opportunities and conflict within the community. Through funding regimes the team had come under pressure to work in ways that workers and managers felt risked colluding with a dominant discourse that equated community safety with the removal of young people from public space – to ‘get young people off the streets’. Workers struggled to challenge this conception of the work held by other professionals and stakeholders, while also seeking to avoid remaining stubbornly committed to long-standing youth work practices that were in need of adaptation to the current context. Workers confirmed instances of excessive use of force by the police: “When the police were arresting three young people, the more I realised the discussion I was having with them, the more angry the police were becoming, not the young people, by then the young people were really calm, ready to


Responding to youth violence through youth work

give their names and their details, which they gave. There was no reason to take any further action but still they had to arrest one of them and they randomly chose one of those people. And they actually made that young person aggressive, they kicked him inside the van. I didn’t report it, but maybe I should have.” The youth work team included a number of highly experienced workers, all of whom were professionally qualified, worked on a fulltime basis and were managed by a team leader with extensive experience of youth work. The team was culturally diverse and included men and women, some of whom grew up in Islington themselves. This created a dynamic whereby young people felt the youth workers understood their reality and sub-culture. “For example, [X] has been in the job for 31 years, yeah, so whenever you walk around the area he is known. He is known amongst parents, known amongst young people and one of the young people who has the baby, he is going to be known by the baby as well.” The workers, who also held a strong sense of pride and attachment to the area and were emotionally and personally committed to it, seemed to bring to their work a degree of what we might term ‘sub-cultural capital’ (a knowledge of the local environment that had value within that context and enabled them to navigate through it). Memories of the borough formed a central part of some of the workers’ own identity. At times this extended beyond sentimentality to visceral anger and frustration at the conditions endured by those they worked with, feelings that then needed to be balanced with the necessity of challenging young people’s behaviour. Workers were able to engage with decision makers in the borough and were not afraid of advocating for young people within the local corridors of power. However, these efforts often fell on deaf ears, and in the light of further budget cuts, the team was increasingly being manoeuvred into a modus operandi that focused on targeted behaviour-modification work with individual young people who had been identified for some intervention, all of which involved the keeping of detailed records and constant tracking of young people’s whereabouts. Detached youth workers were being directed to ‘hot spots’ of antisocial behaviour, often on the basis of local political


Responding to structural and symbolic violence

imperatives or expediency, which led them to ‘chase violence’ and diluted their ability to work meaningfully with young people. “So that evening me and another worker went down there and there’s a big square with a garden in the middle and you see someone at the window. And then some bloke is on the steps of his big Georgian house, on the phone and some man comes out the other side and he is watching us walk around the park. There’s no young people there and then we seen these two men at the top of the park and they just followed us around. They then called the police, ‘There is [sic] some dodgy people in the park.” It’s all about their paranoia. It’s a public park, the gates are open, anyone can go in there, but because they’re all private houses in that section. So they get the councillor because I suppose they are more articulate, 10 of them write emails, the councillor feels intimidated and wants to be seen as doing something.” In an atmosphere of continued austerity, any meaningful attempt to challenge dominant discourses with regard to young people’s presence in the public spaces in the borough seemed to be increasingly falling off the agenda.

Case study 2: A youth work response to structural violence: Jugendstreetwork, Graz, Austria Graz, situated in the south-east of Austria, is the capital of Styria and the second largest city in Austria after Vienna with a population of just over 300,000. Jugendstreetwork (youth street work) is part of the Catholic international charity Caritas. The team of street-based youth workers worked with young people offering free information and advice, mediation and support. They operated from an office and youth café (the ‘contact point’) in the city centre but focused their activities very much in public spaces where young people gathered in the city, particularly parks, public squares and tram stations in the centre. Workers walked around these areas in pairs (male and female), with rucksacks containing sweets, branded cigarette lighters, first-aid kits and information on other services for young people. Thanks to secure, long-term funding, they were able to be out in the city five days a week, including evenings, building relationships with groups of young people and seeking to address the issues that began to emerge once trust was established. The team arranged to meet young people in


Responding to youth violence through youth work

coffee bars or brought young people back to their contact point, which was open four days a week and operated as a drop-in centre, with free access to showers and other facilities such as a kitchen, laundry and the internet. They organised their activities into a number of ‘youth actions’ that aimed to build social skills through group work, arts-based work, cooperative campaigns and social action. They cited five major principles that formed the basis of their work: voluntarism (young people choose to be involved), anonymity (minimal record keeping), acceptance (of young people’s lifestyles), partisanship (being on young people’s side) and confidentiality. As with all detached youth work, the distinctive location for Jugendstreetwork’s practice (public space) meant that power dynamics were brought into sharp focus and access to the areas and the agenda of the work was necessarily negotiated between the young people and the workers. During our time with the team, it was clear that outbreaks of serious violence between young people were rare. The workers felt that their presence on the street often managed to interrupt violence before it escalated. The project leader felt this presented him with a challenge when it came to persuading funders and politicians that their preventative work had value. “It’s a challenge, a big challenge to sell these results, because you can’t see it. Comparing it with housework; if you do housework, if you wash your dishes, if you wash your clothes, nobody will speak about it because you should do it. If you don’t do this work, everybody will talk about it, so this is a big challenge.” Public space as a ‘living room’ As part of our analysis of Jugendstreetwork we produced a film documenting one significant aspect of the project’s work in Graz.1 We feel this piece of social action serves to highlight how youth work might meaningfully respond to the structural and symbolic violence we described in Chapter Six, in particular the restrictions placed on young people’s movement and presence within public space. At least twice a year, outside the Opera House in the city-centre main square (a location deliberately chosen in part for its cultural significance), the team organised an event entitled ‘Jugendkultur inmitten der Hochkultur’ (youth culture in between the high culture). The posters publicising the event included word games that asked, ‘Are youth invisible or visible?’ This was part of an attempt to raise questions


Responding to structural and symbolic violence

as to which culture (‘high’ or ‘youth’) was seen as more legitimate, especially in the eyes of the wider community. For the event itself, the team loaded all of the furniture from the project contact point, including the table football game and coffee machines, onto a truck and transported it to the square. The project manager described the purpose of the event: “We want to force the opinions, the talking about public space. People who walk by this event or read about it should think in the brain, ‘Why do we use public space?’ It is not only a space for traffic, it is a living room – a very necessary room between school and parents.” Workers also brought along sound equipment to play music that had been produced by young people, some of whom also performed live. A large graffiti wall was erected for local artists to display their creativity, and there were rolling street dance and beat box workshops. One of the workers described how he felt that the event had a symbolic function: “Our sofas are symbolic for a contact point. We are gonna try to make the place cosy with our sofas and our food. It’s meant to be nice and cosy for the young people but also show society people coming by that there is a public space, and the public space should be open to everybody.” Workers took the opportunity to engage with older members of the community who passed by, often perplexed as to the purpose of the event or sometimes hostile to it .The project manager explains how this was part of the aim of the event too: “Jugendstreetwork wants to show how public spaces can be comfortable for all sections of society and start the discussion with local people – whose place it really is – and invite them to stay for a while. People coming by can meet and interact with young people and share their points of view.” The juxtaposition of youth culture with the high culture represented by the Opera House provoked meaningful discussions with the wider community and the state authorities as to the relative legitimacy and primacy of both. If public space is where we share and value culture, whose culture is valued most? While we were observing this event, the local police arrived to question workers from Jugendstreetwork,


Responding to youth violence through youth work

most probably triggered by complaints around noise, and requested that the event be terminated or moved on. Workers were able to produce documents that demonstrated they had been granted permission for the event to take place, and take the opportunity to create further dialogue between young people and the police as to their approach with young people at other times, which young people felt often amounted to harassment. The event also facilitated many conversations between our peer researchers and young people present at the event, which produced valuable data relating to incidences of physical, psychological and material violence between young people in Graz. These conversations also enabled young people from Graz to hear about how issues of public space were mediated in the UK, and the issues faced by their British counterparts. An extract from a peer researcher’s journal shows how such events create powerful impressions: Mike and I took part in this event while researching street violence and saw great evidence that this is something we need to implement regularly with our young people. It facilitated an opportunity to speak to young people and instigate group discussion with their local council and policymakers. It allowed young people to express themselves openly and demonstrate that they are not as bad as people stereotype them to be. The young people were at school, college, university or working in service, and were able to demonstrate how they can be very creative and peaceful in public space. On our return to Graz several months later, we discovered that the Jugendstreetwork team had organised a public meeting in the city offices, attended by the mayor. After many months spent lobbying, the local authority had agreed to pass a motion asserting young people’s right to be in public space in the city. The youth work team recognised the limitations of such a measure, but were able to share this outcome with the young people who took part in the event and the wider community through imaginative use of local media outlets. This then provided an opportunity to publicise the youth project more generally and celebrate the achievements of the young people involved.


Responding to structural and symbolic violence

Summary Graz and inner-city London boroughs such as Islington are locales that exist within very different socioeconomic, cultural and historical contexts and we need to approach direct simplistic comparisons between the two with a degree of caution. To fully understand how these divergent national and local contexts affect the practice of youth work and the experiences of young people in the two locales would need a much wider study. However, we feel it is noteworthy that youth workers in Austria felt able to adopt strategies that sought to address issues of public space directly and were clearly supported in doing so by the managerial regimes under which they were operating. Innovative work such as this raises important questions for both young people and youth workers as to how they can respond together to symbolic and structural violence. Further research is needed to establish how such work does or does not affect young people, policymakers and other stakeholders, but the decision made by policymakers in Graz to ensure that future planning regimes include public space for young people, which seemed to be as a result of the efforts of the street-based workers in the city, illustrates how youth workers can use their position alongside young people to stimulate public debates. These debates have the potential to readdress the balance of power and control of meaning as well as challenge stereotypical perceptions of young people embedded in the wider community and societal psyche. Through the intelligent use of media and other artistic events, young people can begin to take control of how they are perceived. Acts of symbolic resistance such as these, we believe, do have value, in that they may reduce the possibility of members of the community continuing to feel wary of engaging with young people, and indirectly therefore help break down the barriers that exist within communities that can ferment outbursts of violence. Crime ‘prevention’ measures, such as the blanket use of surveillance, were conspicuous in their absence in Graz. We feel it is worth acknowledging how adequately resourced community-based interventions such as we saw there can meaningfully contribute both to crime and violence prevention by building social capital and challenging rather than colluding with dominant discourses. Note 1



A sports-based response to youth violence A European Commission white paper on sport suggests that young people’s participation in sport ‘may have a beneficial effect in helping people steer away from delinquency’ (Commission of the European Communities, 2007, p 6). Youth work as a profession has traditionally used a wide range of physical activities to engage and build relationships with young people, and encourage their personal and social development. Where those young people are engaged in criminal or violent activity, sporting activities continue to be promoted as part of professional practice as a means to not only engage young people, as a ‘hook for change’, but also to bring about some kind of ‘cognitive transformation’ (Giordano et al, 2002) away from crime and violence. A review of the academic literature surrounding sport, violence and desistance suggests that although it is clear and demonstrable that participation in sport may have beneficial effects for health, there is considerable debate as to whether sport operates as an antidote to, or reinforcer of, violence. Some (mainly quantitative) studies indicate that involvement in sports is associated with reduced violent behaviour (Landers and Landers, 1978; Segrave and Chu, 1978; Stark et al, 1987; Begg et al, 1996; Eder et al, 1997; Paetsch and Bertrand, 1997; Curry, 1998; Pfeiffer and Wetzels, 1999; Mahoney, 2000; Brettschneider and Kleine, 2002; Langbein and Bess, 2002; Miller et al, 2006). Some others (Kreager, 2007) distinguish between the desistance-promoting potential of ‘contact’ sports, such as football, and ‘non-contact’ sports such as tennis, while others maintain there is no relationship at all (Best, C., 1985; Lemieux et al, 2002; Brettschneider et al, 2005). Some studies attempt to dig deeper into the specific qualities that organised sports programmes pursuing social objectives should feature if they are to have any effect on desistance (Eccles and Gootman, 2002; Nichols, 2007). In a wide-ranging meta-analysis of such studies, Mutz and Baur (2009) conclude that the desistance-promoting potential of sport is entirely contingent on the context in which it is mediated. Participation in sport does not automatically prevent youth delinquency. To pursue this purpose, specially designed


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intervention programmes are needed which intentionally combine sport related aims with socially spirited objectives. (Mutz and Baur, 2009, p 318) This suggests a need to dig deeper into the specific qualities that organised sports programmes pursuing social objectives should feature if they are to have any effect on desistance and explore how (rather than whether or not) sporting activities have desistance-promoting potential. In this chapter, we seek to shed some light on this question by presenting a detailed case study that centres on one of the project partners, Rheinflanke, in Köln, Germany. We look at one relationship between a youth worker and a young person to illustrate how they view each other and specifically how the sport of boxing figures within their relationship. We hope to illustrate how using sport within youth work can form a meaningful response to youth violence, using our psychosocial theoretical frame to highlight the central importance of worker reflexivity, that is, youth workers bringing a deep understanding of self to the task.

Rheinflanke, Köln, Germany Rheinflanke is a relatively ‘young’ youth work project based in Köln, Germany. Workers are drawn from a variety of backgrounds, some of whom possess sport-based qualifications and others with social work backgrounds. Rheinflanke’s focus is on preventative measures to indirectly or directly counteract a range of social ills (integration, violence, unemployment) using sporting activity (mainly football and boxing). Specific projects include ‘Mobile Jugendarbeit’ within urban and more rural settings such as Köln and its outlying areas, focusing on ethnic communities from Russian, Kosovan, Turkish, Moroccan and other African backgrounds. A major strand of its pedagogical approach revolves around organised football utilising a ‘fair play’ approach (Pilz, 1987), whereby young people are encouraged to reflect on how they approach the game, and how this is linked to social behaviour. Alongside customary informal education approaches, experienced youth workers also facilitate combat sports such as boxing, sometimes in the street environment. One particularly innovative approach includes the provision of boxing-related activities in public space such as car parks or other meeting places. We closely observed one youth worker (whom we shall call Henry) who had a background as a boxing trainer and was using a converted minibus to visit groups of young people. Henry brought sports equipment, including boxing


A sports-based response to youth violence

gloves and pads, to various sites in the outlying districts of Köln where young people were gathering and where there had been reports of nuisance behaviour, which sometimes spilled over into violence. He then facilitated informal sparring and other boxing-related exercises in an atmosphere of banter and light-hearted physical exertion, while also providing food and drink from the bus. These informal activities were then developed organically over time into more formalised training sessions in local premises. The following data is drawn from several interviews, conducted by the research team and peer researchers, with Henry and one young person (Karl) who had trained with Henry for several years. Henry explained the circumstances that had led him to take a job as a youth worker and some of the challenges he had faced himself when growing up. “For me, I was street fighting very much when I was young, as a child. I was a little hot-tempered. My parents were teachers. They had a lot of trouble from me. I kept saying to my mum I would stop it. I started to stop it when I was about 14, just because my mother was the main force. I took the [youth work] job just for money, but I discovered that boxing can bring some more valuable things. I had the job at a youth centre and this centre was in one of the worst spots in Köln, and it had some kids, but it was out of hand a bit. But I discovered they respected the boxing trainer more than some very patient social worker and that’s when I thought, ‘Hey, you can bring some valuable things with boxing, not just fun.’” One of the young men Henry met, Karl, described himself as someone who also had a history in low-level crime and violence and how this had brought him into contact with the local law enforcement authorities. “I haven’t always been a nice guy. Ha! Because my adolescence, when I was 13, 14, then I had a social life, how shall I say this? Well, we were very carefree, very happy go lucky. And we were involved in fights, here and there and then one day, yes, there was the first complaint of an offence in a letterbox. You don’t really notice and if you continue mixing with the boys, you don’t really notice.”


Responding to youth violence through youth work

Karl had come across Henry as a result of Rheinflanke’s arrival into his neighbourhood with the minibus project. Over time, Karl had come to respect Henry both as a boxing trainer and a friend. Karl valued Henry’s experience and knowledge of boxing, and he looked to Henry for an honest appraisal of his ability and where he needed to improve. “He is patient and he always tells the truth, and with boxing, that is something to appreciate, because many want [sic? want what?], there are some coaches who give you a good feeling, although it’s nothing.” Henry’s acceptance of minor scuffles and horseplay within the group was clearly attractive to the young men (and young women) he was working with. The presence of a responsible adult gave the activity some boundaries and prevented it deteriorating into bullying or intimidation.

A hook for change with masculine currency This initial appeal of boxing as an engagement tool tallies with Giordano and colleagues (2002), who suggest that desistance requires a ‘hook for change’, that is, a factor that, when introduced, initiates some form of motivation to change, is recognised to have value or meaning and then becomes incompatible with continued violent or criminal behaviour. Henry was keen to stress two factors he felt were integral to his ability to engage with young people: the familiarity he had built up over the time he had spent interacting informally with them, and an emphasis on keeping activities, first and foremost, enjoyable. “Some kids know me. They know I always have gloves with me and in the bus there is other equipment, some ropes and things. It’s good for fun, they just have fun. “ The mobile provision allowed Henry to capitalise on young peoples’ enthusiasm ‘in the moment’, that is, as and when it materialised. “Sometimes around the bus it is better training than an hour at the gym because the people are more in the mood to do it.” For Karl, this accessibility was further enhanced by the fact there was no monetary charge for training with Henry, in contrast to other local


A sports-based response to youth violence

clubs and sporting facilities that were priced out of the reach of him and his friends. “Yeah, I met Henry so once a week, we train boxing with him. For me that’s really good, because it’s free, you don’t have to pay because in Grevenbroich it’s expensive to box in a club. You have to buy all the equipment so it’s money and you can expend it easily.” Beyond this monetary factor, Henry sought to stress that boxing was an effective engagement tool for young people who might be involved in violence precisely because its combat element was close to the mindsets and existing interests of young people. “Combat sport is a good thing to teach young people who are in a danger of getting into violence themselves because it deals with the subject they already have in their mind.” Sugden (1996) describes how certain activities such as boxing might have appeal to young men especially as a result of how they are gendered. This takes the form of what he calls ‘masculine currency’, a form of sub-cultural capital that operates at the micro level in the form of status differentiating interactions. For Henry, boxing provided the arena for these interactions to be explored. He felt the young men he was working with were keen to test their emerging potency, and that unearthing this in order to then challenge it was central to the desistance-promoting potential of boxing. “We talk about violence now, and fighting, and you see as you grow up, more as a male and not as much as a female, in those years everything grows up. You get stronger and bigger and the world gets better for you as far as your physical things are concerned. I talk about physical things now, that makes them want to try it out.”

Involvement According to Travis Hirschi’s classic social control theory (1969), one element that can affect youth ‘delinquency’ is what he calls ‘involvement’ in conventional (as opposed to criminal or deviant) activities. Social control theory stresses how this involvement promotes pro-social values that control our behaviour, and hence criminal behaviour too. Karl


Responding to youth violence through youth work

felt that the lack of appropriate provision for young people locally as he was growing up, and therefore opportunities for such involvement, led to boredom and a need to relieve it, often through petty crime. “I have to think, well, how it was back then when I was younger, nah, back then there weren’t so many youth centres, so many youth clubs. And that’s why boys could, erm, weren’t kept busy and then they simply get ideas into their heads. Yes, and I think that today it is much better, that they have better opportunities than back then.” The arrival of Rheinflanke’s minibus in his neighbourhood had provided a much-needed opportunity to become ‘involved’ in something other than crime and violence and of a more pro-social nature. Testimony from Karl suggests that this relationship between lack of involvement and lack of control was something he felt intuitively to be related to his own self-destructive behaviour. “Before the boxing, before being a boxer, I was often outside with my friends. And, we have, how shall I say that? We have sort of, chilled. And if there is nothing to do, then you simply get ideas into your head. And yes, if you have some stupid ideas, you usually stick with them. And the result is that you usually mess things up.” Karl felt that the value of boxing lay beyond its initial appeal and diversionary function. It had affected what he was interested in doing with his remaining spare time, and even his sense of self. Through his engagement with Rheinflanke, Henry and taking up boxing seriously, he felt he had become more reflexive and self-aware. “Well, boxing definitely helps people who have been violent before, because above all, for a start, the time you spend with boxing, you don’t spend this time outside with friends, and you don’t mess things up. You don’t mess things up, you are kept busy, and meanwhile you get to know yourself better and better.”

Self-control: from hostile to instrumental aggression Some studies suggest that participating in sport may facilitate the socially acceptable and cathartic release of aggression, but may also have


A sports-based response to youth violence

negative effects if the activity in question supports aggressive (physical or verbal) behaviour patterns. A distinction is drawn between hostile and instrumental aggression (Baron, 1977; Berkowitz, 1993, 2000), which is goal-directed and bound to tactical considerations. Henry believed that boxing involved the cathartic release of aggression but in an instrumental, goal-directed form. “People who stick with boxing usually they have some aggression burning inside or making them act in some way and that makes it easy for them to get into problems. And boxing first of all, like any sport, helps them to burn energy.” Henry described how sparring within box training, under tightly controlled conditions, allows those struggling to contain their aggression, to what he called ‘play with the moment of escalation’. Swapping blows with sparring partners, he claimed, facilitated increased awareness of when physical blows became mutually harmful rather than beneficial. “I don’t like sparring because it gets heated up very quickly and they are not very experienced. One hits the other too hard and the other hits back and you get the same thing as on the street. If I give a role, I call it dummy boxing, one person is allowed to punch the other, allowed to do defensive things, but the one who is punching is only allowed to push the punches not [gives hands a loud smack]. He does it slow so the other person is able to do some defence, to duck below or to block and this role changes. So this is quite good. Even wild kids get quite fast into this exercise and are able to perform this thing. The main thing is you learn to stay cool in the situation of escalation.” Encouraging experimentation with physical contact within controlled boundaries allowed young people to identify when, or at what point, playful, physical rough-and-tumble became unwelcome. Henry felt that young people’s aggression was often rooted in earlier biographical experiences beyond their control. The sublimation of this aggression helped prevent its manifestation into more harmful and dangerous forms of expressive violence. “They have aggression and they are not responsible for the reasons why that aggression has built up. So we play


Responding to youth violence through youth work

the combat that they are heading for anyway. We take that combat and deal with it in a controlled manner. They learn to control themselves and they see it is better, even if they still want to fight.” Observing Henry’s approach over several evenings, we felt, as he did, that the ‘will to win’, an integral part of these young men’s masculine identity, was being reconfigured to include self-control and restraint, with a tangible benefit in a new sporting, and therefore pro-social, context. “In boxing we have a lot of ways to deal with the escalation of that situation, that two people go physical against each other. And in one thing boxing is really convincing, is that if you are not in control you are bad, you lose. Sure, you can beat some beginner, but if you have control, if you have balance, the balance of your mind, the balance of your gravity and body, you are stronger; you are the winner in the end.”

Social learning theory Social learning theorists such as Bandura and Walters (1977) suggest that more long-lasting changes in behaviour require constant reinforcement. Through participation in sport, young people may come in contact with people who may disapprove of their violent activities, opening up the possibility that new patterns of behaviour might be learned through imitation and observation. Transgression of rules might mean immediate negative consequences that would be detrimental to young people themselves or the peer group/team. Karl’s peer group had shifted when he started regular training. “I was more often at boxing training than being together with my friends, and some time later, yes, I didn’t have, how shall I say that? Didn’t have any contact to them anymore. And then I gave them the go-by, so to speak. And I focused more on my boxing. And eventually I went to the box training every day. And well, if I wanted to go out somewhere now, they would be there, but, my so-called friends were my boxing gloves, my bandages and yes, the boxing.”


A sports-based response to youth violence

In some sporting clubs, as with other associative groups, the influence of coaches can come to bear on young people, along with that of fellow participants. As beginners begin to commit to new more pro-social groups with norms of high levels of self-control and commitment to fairness, their status shifts and they move from the periphery to the centre of the peer group. Success in sport invariably requires a strengthening of self-discipline and self-control and the sticking to moral codes, even in critical situations. A simple cost–benefit analysis emerges where transgression of rules results in undesirable effects for the young people, for example where illegitimate street fighting could result in the loss of a professional license to box. We found some evidence of young people who had been engaged by Rheinflanke moving from the periphery to the centre of informal groups centred on football and boxing and as they did so, beginning to adopt the norms of the older group members. Admittedly, many young people who engaged in the street-based boxing did not then go on to engage more fully in organised training; they showed initial enthusiasm but then dropped off when the level of commitment required for progress was revealed. However, there were some notable cases where young people seemed to exhibit attitudinal change through exposure to new role models and expectations of behaviour, Karl being one. He claimed boxing had brought him into contact with a new set of peers and this had the potential to reinforce a change in his whole perspective on his life choices. “Because of the boxing you get to know new contacts, new people. More often than not, they have the same ideas too. And you can do a lot with them. They are just like you. We also got along. They have, how shall I say this? The same preferences, and they simply get along much better than the guys on the street.” Over time these ‘preferences’ can become imbued with moral and ethical questions as to how treat others. Work by Dobraszczyk (2012) examines how the nature of interactions with sports leaders/trainers can encourage or discourage young people to move through stages of moral reasoning. He suggests that the development of intrinsic (as opposed to extrinsic) moral reasoning is more likely to occur when values are communicated through dialogue, as part of an effort to build young people’s meta-cognitive ability. Henry explained how he sought to build recognition of the value of reciprocity into his training regimes.


Responding to youth violence through youth work

“Today I did with some youngsters three punches each. One does three punches, while you do your defence, and then you do the same thing. And along with this is the idea of social behaviour. Don’t do the things that you don’t want others to do to you. If I punch hard on these three things, then I know he will give it back hard to me later.”

Sport, self-esteem and masculinity In addition to the opportunity to cathartically release aggression and gain exposure to new norms of behaviour, Henry also felt that boxing in the gym had a positive impact on young men’s self-esteem and self-respect. This could, he believed, lead to a decrease in the need to assert dominance in the face of provocation. “If I stay cool, I’m superior. A good thing if you fight in the gym, you don’t have to prove yourself on the street, it gives self-esteem.” Another young man he was training, Ahmed, described how this new-found physical confidence altered his interactions with others in crowds and in public space. “Well, it’s self-control. It’s like when somebody is in front of me. Somebody hit me with his shoulder. Not turn back and hit him again, just stay cool. Maybe he done it extra, maybe not. Just move your way and if he came back and touched you, then you can defend yourself, and that helps me especially to control myself more than before.” For Karl, the physical and emotional appeal of boxing was explicitly and viscerally linked to this confidence too. He enjoyed testing himself against other men. This was part of a considerable psychic investment in a kind of gladiatorial masculine discourse. “You have to fight only for yourself, against yourself. And that’s why I like boxing. Now if you go back to history, then you get such a feeling somehow, to be in a boxing ring, man against man. And how shall I say that? It’s simply beyond words, the feeling.”


A sports-based response to youth violence

In combat sports that require the execution of physical violence (such as boxing), there is arguably a danger that the belief that violence is ‘manly’ can come to dominate young men’s self-image and self-esteem. The work by Connell (1995), mac an Ghaill and Haywood (2003), Woodward (2004) and Messerschmidt (2000) detailed in Chapter Two is relevant here in helping to understand the interplay between masculinity, violence and sport. Without sufficient guidance and an appropriate pro-social ethos, sports such as boxing can lead to the internalisation of normative imperatives that legitimate and value the ‘win at any price’ attitude. Young people, and young men especially, might behave aggressively within the sport as a means of asserting their identity/self-esteem or confirming their place in the peer group hierarchy. In the absence of a clearly stated value base, violent or aggressive behaviour can be rewarded with recognition, respect and prestige from peers and then be translated to outside the sports arena.

Moving to a psychosocial perspective on masculinity, violence and sport Impelled by these legitimate concerns we put our psychosocial theoretical frame to use in order to dig deeper into the relationship between masculinity and violence and how sport-based youth work might most meaningfully respond to it. Recent work by Gadd and Dixon (2011) has shed light on how the hostility young people express through violent acts has complex and contradictory roots in their own biographies – feelings of loss, poor self-worth, and weakness – feelings that often operate at an unconscious level and are triggered by both the structural disadvantages they face and the dynamics of their early life experiences. In order to understand violent behaviour, they argue, research needs to engage in a detailed qualitative phenomenological analysis of how individuals construct meaning and do or do not ‘identify’ with those seeking to enter into relationships with them. Here we wish to highlight the central importance of the relationship between sports coaches and young people and the possibility for both negative and positive effects on desistance. When the worker exerting control over the activity is also someone with whom young people can identify, the young people are presented with a blueprint on which they can begin to construct an alternative identity. If this model has seemingly secured status and respect through legitimate means, this opens up new cognitive filters that characterise previous experiences as negative, detrimental and unwanted.


Responding to youth violence through youth work

Seeking to move beyond more deterministic accounts of behaviour, Gadd and Dixon argue that for young people to become receptive to the idea that their behaviour is detrimental to society and themselves they need to develop a degree of meta-cognition or reflexivity, that is, an ability to reflect on their own thought processes and view of the external world. The extent to which this occurs will lead some young people in the same social circumstances to react differently to the huge obstacles they face through social disadvantage. Look how Karl links his own social situation and status to his ability to remain calm when provoked: “If you are going for a job and you go along like a loser, nobody wants you. But if you have a realistic reason to be proud of yourself, well I am somebody, then it’s easier to be calm and see what’s up.” This illustrates how important it is for workers to take into account the impact of social environment on young people from deprived communities, and helps explain why some similarly placed young people from those communities become violent and others do not. The internal processes at work in young people involved in violence are better understood by locating them in a social world. Henry had a rudimentary awareness of the impact of the social in young people’s lives. “In their social life, youngsters sometimes don’t do the right things out of frustration, something has gone wrong and emotionally they are not able to overcome these things.” Involvement in boxing, according to Henry, facilitated a significant shift in the young people’s inner, psychic world that created an ability to ‘walk away’ from trouble in their outer social world. “Boxing helps them in their own way. It’s difficult for me to explain in a foreign language. It helps them to be stronger, to protect their own dignity, it gives you self-esteem. And if you have self-esteem, self-assured, it is easier not to be provoked. If I’m an insecure person and I’m walking along some road and some people are watching, ‘What are they watching, what’s up?’, that’s how most things start from that kind of motivation.”


A sports-based response to youth violence

Karl seemed to confirm this, suggesting that the inner assurance gained through greater control of (and confidence in) his body produced a decreased desire to exert power through his body, especially when provoked. “You get to know your own body and, how shall I say this, you learn how to assess yourself. If there is someone who provokes you by looking at you the wrong way, you’re just more relaxed and I don’t know, you know that you don’t beat him down to the floor. That’s why you back out. You’re cool, you’re cooler, you’re more relaxed, you take it all very easy. Yes and there’s a certain composure, you get through boxing.” For Karl and some of his peers, involvement in combat sports facilitated by this youth worker allowed them to ward off feelings of vulnerability. Some young men’s involvement in violence serves to deny their previous weakness and victimisation. As Henry succinctly put it: “Weak people are happy when they see weaker ones.”

Summary There is some evidence in our data that for some young people, involvement in box training under the supervision of a coach with clearly defined values and social objectives can begin to develop skills of reflexivity and compensate for the feelings of inferiority that can result in them becoming ‘defended subjects’ – that is, young people who are unable to see how their behaviour, often characterised as respect seeking, is triggered by unconscious motivations to gain control and mask their own weaknesses. Such projection of their own unacknowledged feelings might be behind their attacks on others who they perceive to possess the traits they most fear in themselves. When these fears are shared by others within their peer group and allowed to take form within fiercely held notions of territoriality on the basis of postcodes or other allegiances, they can become amplified and hardened as the young people invest more and more in their ‘reputations’ as a form of psychological selfdefence. It seems that the extra self-confidence and sense of personal security that boxing and other forms of physical training can provide could, when delivered within a strong pro-social and value-led framework, mitigate against these feelings and allow young people (and especially


Responding to youth violence through youth work

young men) to contain them more successfully. This then forms the basis of them being able to build reflexive ability and recognise themselves in the hitherto unrecognisable ‘other’ – the target of their aggression. Thus, increased self-respect and self-esteem for young people, hitherto often decimated by the effects of poverty, unemployment and educational underachievement, becomes the means by which they can withstand criticism and or provocation by others and more easily walk away from potentially violent scenarios. And notions of masculinity, rather than being tied to physical and sexual power and domination, are freed up to include self-restraint and responsibility. By walking away from such scenarios, this in turn challenges their attackers’ perceptions of otherness and begins to break down the sharp divisions within young people in communities. Karl made it very clear in his interview that since engaging with Henry, he had completely and permanently ceased involvement in violent behaviour, a fact that we had no reason to doubt. As he describes here, sports-based youth work, when delivered by a reflexive worker, can facilitate the kind of introspection that begins to break down rigid perceptions of self, and thereby open up new possibilities: “Going to the centre, my boxing, having that respect from my trainer, what he expected of me, not what I wanted to do, what he expected of me, when it all came together, that’s when I started to look at myself and think, ‘Who am I then? What am I?’ Because in the house when the door closes, I want my mum to be happy. But when I’m out that door and that door closes, I want to be a man on the street. I’m going here and there but really I don’t know really who I am myself.”



Exploring ‘confrontational pedagogy’ ‘Confrontational pedagogy’ (CP) is an umbrella term for a number of educational approaches to working with aggressive and violent young people (including ‘anti-aggressiveness training’ and ‘coolness training’) developed primarily in Germany. Its proponents argue it can be applied in a variety of settings or ‘action fields’ (Handlungsfelder) including schools, residential care homes, prisons, hostels and youth work settings (including the street), and with a range of different ‘target groups’ (Zielgruppen). Despite it being in existence for over 20 years, there are currently no translated documents in English that explain its theoretical basis or practical applications. It has been heavily criticised (see, for example, Heyder, 2008) and legally challenged, but also utilised within youth justice programmes. At present it is not practised outside of Germany, Switzerland, Austria or Luxembourg, although many aspects of it are present in current EU practice under other guises. This chapter offers an analysis of CP based on a reading of literature produced by the Institute for Confrontational Pedagogy (Handbuch Konfrontative Pädagogik, Weidner and Kilb, 2010); a conference organised through the University of Manchester School of Law in December 2011; and three follow-up research visits to Germany. The first included a visit to a high-security (adult) prison in Celle, near Hannover, and included two days of observation of an anti-aggressiveness training programme and a number of focus groups with prisoners serving life sentences for serious violent offences. The second included observation of a coolness training programme in a high school.

An overview CP was developed within the Frankfurt Institute for Social Work and Social Education, the Universities of Applied Sciences in Hamburg and Mannheim, and the German and Swiss Institute for Confrontational Pedagogy. Since 1994 approximately 1,200 social workers, psychologists and teachers have been certified as trainers. Today, in Germany and Switzerland, over 100 training programmes are in existence, involving


Responding to youth violence through youth work

more than 1,500 violent offenders, including football hooligans, gang members and neo-Nazi groups (Weidner et al, 2010). Proponents of this approach characterise CP as intensely pragmatic and seeking to find practical solutions to violence from a wide range of theoretical paradigms, rather than adhering to one overarching world-view. CP claims to rest on a multi-disciplinary theoretical basis as well as building on some long-standing traditional social and youth work approaches in Europe such as Thiersch (1977, 1986) (lifeworld oriented social work) and Paulo Freire (1973) (dialogue-based practice). Its practice includes many forms of intervention currently used elsewhere within work with young people, such as crime confrontation, group work, forum theatre (Boal, 2000) and peer-based intervention. There are clear parallels with well-established programmes such as aggression replacement training, cognitive behavioural therapy, restorative justice, crime confrontation and other anger-management techniques currently employed in youth justice settings in the EU. Weidner and Kilb (2010) stress that CP is a social pedagogic style of action that seeks to promote self-responsibility through the use of challenge in the face of violent individuals. This style of action or stance manifests in several different forms/levels of practice, ranging from what could be described as the practitioner’s attitude to their informal interactions with young people, through to a more structured approach with groups or individuals. The approach seeks to challenge young people’s misinterpretation of social cues and distorted perception of reality whereby their own violent acts are interpreted as defence or somehow ‘neutralised’ (Matza, 1964). The intention is to increase young people’s control of their behaviour and motor functions through challenging selfdeception and dehumanising victims so as to bring about a change in young people’s cognitive structure, where to yield, give ground or acknowledge mistakes is no longer seen as weakness or a collapse of their entire authority, but as an increase in their self-mastery. Such a change requires young people to distance themselves from the rules and norms of their sub-culture, and to nurture increased levels of sensitivity towards others.

A note on language and conceptual clarification The subtleties and nuances of this approach suffer from translation issues and more work needs to be done to clarify how best these ideas can be expressed in English. The word confrontational (konfrontativ) itself is an example of this. In English, a ‘confrontational’ approach could


Exploring ‘confrontational pedagogy’

imply an unsupportive, unreflexive, disciplinarian, reactionary response to behaviour, devoid of empathy – one that confronts for its own sake and fails to respect the dignity or personal space of the individual. However, in this context, Weidner and colleagues are seeking to characterise confrontation as pedagogy that shifts responsibility for behaviour and change from the professional to the young person, and the self-image of the young person away from that of aid recipient only. Ideas or thoughts might be juxtaposed for contrast or comparison within a constructive dialogue between worker and young person or within their peer group. Attempts to shift responsibility for the young person’s own actions on to others are exposed as illogical and illusory through the use of forward-focusing, authentic ‘straight talk’ (Klartext reden), although that person’s self-worth is never attacked. As such, the notions of ‘affirmative challenge’ or ‘constructive conflict’ might be more accurate translations. Interestingly, the term confrontational pedagogy has also been used in some feminist literature (see hooks, 1987, 1989) to describe an approach that seeks to uncover underlying structural oppression. Ronald Strickland (1990) uses the term for an approach that acknowledges rather than represses conflicts. He calls it a form of ‘productive contestation’ involving an ‘interrogation of existing paradigms’ (Strickland, 1990, p 292) and a ‘flushing out’ of unconscious resistance. Within the supporting literature, the word provoke recurs, which again could lead to some misunderstanding. In this context the word is being used in such a way that reflects its etymological derivation, in the sense that the intention is the active call for a response from someone in the moment, rather than an act of malicious incitement. Also, many of the methods are described as training. A linguistic and philosophical distinction can be drawn between training and education. In English the former carries with it connotations of behaviour modification that seeks to inculcate certain competencies or traits in the trainee and might even carry connotations of more ‘drill’-like activity. The latter, which encourages autonomy and behaviour based on the learner’s intrinsic motivation, sits more easily with more progressive education principles. CP has many elements that do not translate meaningfully as ‘training’ in English.

Theoretical basis Within the Handbuch Konfrontative Pädagogik (Weidner and Kilb, 2010) cite as influences, the risk factor prevention paradigm (Patterson, 2002; Farrington, 2005), emotional intelligence (Goleman et al, 2002),


Responding to youth violence through youth work

behaviourist and cognitive learning theory (Bandura and Walters, 1963), humanistic psychology (Buber, 1923; Rogers, 1961), father deficit (Mitscherlich, 1963) and a problem with the ‘feminisation of education’ (Tischner, 2007), neuroscience and other sociological theories such as that of Bourdieu (1987). CP practices on the ground, however, are drawn primarily from a range of other areas, mainly psychotherapeutic in nature, such as confrontative therapy (Corsini, 1994), Gestalt therapy [Perls et al, 1951], provocative therapy (Farrelly and Brandsma, 1986) and psychodrama (Moreno, 1959). The work of Sam Ferrainola and the Glen Mills School in the US is also clearly highly influential, including Ferrainola’s stress on a so-called ‘paternal principle of education’. This revolves around notions of authority, role models and sets of behavioural norms, as well as an emphasis on sporting and other physical activity.

Practice This broad theoretical basis generates a number of self-contained practical programmes under the CP umbrella. The anti-aggressiveness training (AAT) programme works with groups of people aged 14 and older, and runs over five to six months, usually in weekly sessions lasting several hours. The time frame is never less than four months to allow sufficient time for the development of a constructive working alliance between the worker and each participant and to allow for appropriate individual attention. Participation in the programme can be as part of a court order or a voluntary basis, often as a last resort before custody or within the custodial system. Where the programme is not undertaken voluntarily, the first four sessions are structured differently. All participants must freely give their consent to participate and this includes giving a clear mandate to the facilitator to be continually challenged. This is then built into a group contract and the programme does not proceed until willing consent is given by all participants. AAT is always delivered by a pair of workers, ideally male and female, a feature that is seen as key to maintaining balance and the moderation of facilitator power. The aspects of learning include a focus on the analysis of aggression triggers and an increase in victim empathy. The participant is unrelentingly ‘confronted’ with his/her own ‘rule violations’ whether minor (such as adopting an inappropriate posture) or more serious (threatening another group member). The programme curriculum is divided into phases: an initial ‘integration’ or ‘orientation’ phase deals with group cohesion, motivation and identification of triggers. These triggers are then built into a series


Exploring ‘confrontational pedagogy’

of provocation tests within the ‘confrontation phase’ (phase 2), including the hot-seat (Heiße Stule) exercise – the most ‘provocative’ element of the programme. A prerequisite is that all workers need to have had experience of the hot-seat feature themselves before facilitating the exercise, ensuring that the bodily, visceral experience of confrontation is embedded in their own awareness. This experience is then continually reflected through supervision, which (it is argued) mitigates against the insensitive or abusive use of the hot-seat method, such that it might be excessively gruelling or demeaning. The participant sits in the centre of the group and the other group members sit around in close proximity. The participant is then provoked by the facilitator and the group, and challenged on how he/she is neutralising their behaviour, relentlessly and ad absurdum, but without sarcasm. Whereas in the past the hot-seat exercise could, and did, involve physical contact, since 2005 all AAT programmes are entirely ‘non-touch’ and any programmes failing to adhere to this may have their license removed. Despite its highly emotive nature, the atmosphere should, Weidner and colleagues insist, remain supportive; underlying the provocation is an assumption that everybody understands and buys into the rationale behind the process. Once completed, the other group members congratulate the participant and a reflection on the exercise begins. It is hoped that having withstood such an experience and refrained from a violent reaction, the participant will begin to build a new self-image and see a different way forward in similar situations in the future.The third stage (‘violence reduction’) aims at a cognitive shift in the values of participants so that non-violence is seen as sovereignty and strength, not cowardice and weakness, and a commitment is made to move away from previous peer groups. In the final phase, ‘reflection’, there will often be some kind of concluding event such as a theatrical performance, film screening or open evening with invited guests including relatives and other stakeholders. Participants make a short speech based on their experiences. After a few months, a followup meeting is organised, often based around some kind of enjoyable activity and those who have completed the programme remain in the group and work with newcomers as peer educators. Whereas AAT is designed for perpetrators of crime and violent offences in the criminal justice system in particular, so-called ‘coolness training’ programmes are designed for use in schools and youth settings with young people who are not involved with the youth justice system, with the specific aim of violence prevention. It has been applied in schools, children’s homes and young people’s hostels to address issues of bullying, cyber bullying, racism and conflict.


Responding to youth violence through youth work

The aim is to enable young people to resolve conflict without violating others. Participation is entirely voluntary. Rituals of encounters in public space and value conflicts are rehearsed with the aim of modelling conflict resolution and de-escalation scenarios. There is one main rule: no-one is allowed to insult or marginalise another group member. Such behaviour, if it occurs, is challenged immediately. Provocations are admissible only when the intended recipient has confirmed a willingness to respond in a positive way. All participants may request an end to any game, exercise or role-play activity at any time. The training usually runs for three to five months in two or three sessions per week. The full cooperation of teaching staff or youth workers, strong relationships between the young people and the teacher or youth worker and full informed consent are all prerequisites. After preliminary ice-breaker exercises, designed to be fun, a discussion is initiated as to the physical indicators of aggressive feelings and the notion of personal space. Young people complete questionnaires that address their tolerance of frustration, their ‘hierachies’ of provocation and an understanding of their own triggers. Physical games are introduced, involving experimentation with physical contact using padded equipment and the concept of personal space and territory. In a similar vein to the box sparring described in Chapter Twelve, these games are designed to enable some experimentation with ‘the moment of escalation’. Young people are encouraged to hit each other with the pads and reflect on where the boundaries lie between playful fun and inappropriate aggression. Role-play, visualisation, forum or statue-theatre exercises seek to bring to life past experiences involving unacceptable actions that are then confronted, often through critical commentary generated within the group. This might include discussion of racism and sexism, power and powerlessness, some recognition of role behaviours (male/female, adult/adolescent, and so on) and role-reversal exercises or activities to develop cooperation, personal responsibility and victim awareness/ empathy. These might include group cohesion exercises, cooperative and trust games, or the use of victim letters, film material or medical reports. Finally, most sessions culminate with de-escalation techniques, including anger and stress management, and relaxation and breathing exercises to improve body awareness.

Eligibilty The AAT programme is specifically designed for repeat violent offenders and includes an extensive integration phase that allows time


Exploring ‘confrontational pedagogy’

for further selection and consideration of the make-up of the group and group dynamics. There is also an expectation that the programme be age appropriate. There is an exhaustive list of those considered not suitable for the most intensive AAT programmes that arguably could exclude the majority of young offenders, and identifying which offenders fall into which category can be problematic. Participants are selected through preliminary discussion, existing file material, the facilitator’s intuition or potential participants’ behaviour in initial sessions. Those not considered eligible include young people under 14 years (the age of criminal responsibility in Germany); first-time offenders; those involved in high-level organised crime; those who are suicidal or have diagnosed psychiatric problems such as mental illness, depression, self-destructive tendencies and self-harm; those who are classified as sex offenders with serious alcohol or drug addiction; those judged to be unable to cope linguistically with the programme content and demands made on their communication skills; and those who have suffered trauma. This excludes large numbers of young people (including those who are heavily involved in gangs, for instance) and poses many questions around classification, definitions and methods for making meaningful judgements. It also highlights the question as to what extent similar programmes undertake similar processes of assessment and selection before embarking on intensive group work.

Observations, discussion and analysis There have been several evaluations of CP programmes (Schanzenbächer, 2002; Eggert and Feuerhelm, 2007). On initial analysis, there is some evidence that AAT may have an effect on levels of aggression as measured by questionnaires, but the research struggles to demonstrate impact on violent reoffending over and above other methods. Many of the studies are relatively positivist and quantitative in nature and some include the use of brain-imaging technology to establish a decrease in levels of aggression. These, however, do little to address how reduced levels of aggressive feelings translate into reduced aggressive behaviour. If AAT could be proved to reduce levels of violence and recidivism, can we be sure it is ethically justifiable? Aspects of AAT could arguably be said to amount to further stigmatisation of offenders, and an invasion of their own rights. Having said that, many other forms of psychiatric or therapeutic intervention (such as exposure therapy for obsessive compulsive disorder) entail the same ethical tensions. For offenders who have been through trauma, AAT methods such as the hot seat


Responding to youth violence through youth work

risk exacerbating the damage already done. Any closely monitored selection process claiming to exclude those who have suffered trauma is at the least potentially unreliable, and as the experience of trauma is so often present in the lives of people involved in violence those deemed suitable could be very small in number. Other questions remain too, such as how to protect those in institutions who undergo a major identity change and are then seen as weak and targeted by others as a result of their increased sensitivity. This highlights the importance of a ‘positive peer culture’ (Opp and Unger, 2006) within the group setting, but maintaining this outside of the group, for example in a high-security prison where bullying and brutality is rife, or on the streets of a community controlled by organised gangs, would be practically impossible. How does the newly sensitised person sustain his/her new identity and negotiate such environments? Any stand-alone method needs to sit within a broader intervention strategy that includes partner agencies that can provide ongoing support. Unfortunately, such support may not be forthcoming. The ‘hot-seat’ exercise could be conceived of as the public pillory or degradation of an individual. The bringing of an individual to their mental breaking point, which this exercise appears to involve, could be classed as systematic harassment. If unwanted, such penetration into an individual’s psyche and the deliberate inducing of shame could be viewed as brainwashing and a violation of personal integrity. Our observation of AAT in a prison confirmed that participants were fully informed about the nature of the programme in advance and it was made clear that all participation was entirely voluntary at all times. The participants gave the facilitator a clear mandate to confront them at every opportunity. The ‘hot seat’ was not introduced until a relatively late stage in the development of groups, after dynamics had been effectively explored and made explicit, and trust had been engendered. Weidner and colleagues are adamant that CP trainers require a high level of professional competence before beginning work with violent offenders. First, all workers need to be acutely aware of their own experiences of violence as victims, perpetrators or witnesses (Sellinger et al, 2009) and of their own anger triggers, in order to avoid unwitting transference and projection. A deep sensitivity to all forms of communication, including non-verbal body language as a signifier of emotional states, is seen as essential. Workers need a deep understanding of how their own use of intellect and language is, in itself, a form of power. If misused, workers could fail to communicate effectively, or worse, could alienate participants. All of this raises questions about the


Exploring ‘confrontational pedagogy’

nature and length of training/qualification required and the importance of academic support, regular supervision and external observation. A lot rests on workers’ capacity for self-criticism and self-awareness and if they lack experience, AAT sessions, for instance, would carry a real inherent danger.The group leader we observed in the prison in Celle closely monitored the whole process and their role changed over time from one that was authoritative to one that was more cooperative and democratic. Confrontational moments were mixed with empathic moments, interaction and communication. The individual at the centre of the process could stop the exercise (without any consequences) at any time, simply by saying so. The method operated within a demarcated field: the participant’s own violent behaviour. Pressure was exerted, but always included an element of self-determination. The hot-seat exercise is underpinned by psychodrama (with its element of ‘staging’), which is a well-established aspect of psychotherapeutic work. Other more nurturing group processes, which rely on open displays of sensitivity, can feel equally intrusive to individuals whose cognitive and moral frameworks interpret such acts as weakness. The challenge inherent in AAT seemed to appeal to some of the German prisoners’ sense of drama, and the facilitators made a genuine attempt to address the core problems and values of each person. The final stages of the process, which stress pride in achievement, do sit in marked contrast to some other measures used within criminal justice that seek to mark out offenders for public disgust and stigmatisation. Compared with the brutality of what happens in prison (and is often sanctioned by authorities), the confrontational approach we saw did appear to rest on a fundamental respect for the dignity of the individual. CP could be portrayed as a particularly harsh form of social control, or, alternatively, as an attempt to mediate a balance between welfare and justice, motivated by a genuine desire to combat and prevent cycles of violence. Clearly, though, for the youth work profession in the EU, which still maintains the principle of voluntary engagement as a basic tenet, the use of some methods such as AAT within practice raises serious practical and ethical concerns. Serious consideration needs to be given to how such methods would play out in different cultural contexts. Confrontational work with members of far-right groups, for example, involves a different set of parameters than that with black and Asian British young men involved in violence. There is a real danger that certain approaches could backfire, with serious consequences. Immediate concerns arise that some methods (and in particular the


Responding to youth violence through youth work

deliberate use of intense verbal disputes or provocation in the hot seat) could result in violence within the setting itself. Although the CP literature talks extensively of the need to be aware of sub-cultural constraints and structural violence, it is far from clear how any structural analysis informs practice on the ground. As an approach driven primarily by a psychological paradigm, it is unsurprising that social action (that is, action that is designed to challenge structural determinants of behaviour and the status quo in society) receives relatively less emphasis. It is not clear how the return of the offender to their own family or community is addressed through the confrontational approach any more effectively than other forms of intervention. The provocative, confrontative and physical nature of some of the interventions in coolness training also carries substantial risk and requires expert handling. In a sense, though, it could be argued that by its very nature coolness training is more reflective of young people’s interests, experience and perception of reality.The use of padded equipment, for example, appeals to young people’s sense of fun and desire to demonstrate their strength under pressure. Those aspects of coolness training that are most contestable are perhaps (ironically) those that might be the most innovative and attractive – its straightforward, direct approach; its immediate, improvised nature and focus on the here and now; its visceral elements; and its appeal to young people’s preference for authentic, honest interactions rather than the maintenance of ‘professional distance’. As we suggested in Chapter Four, some youth workers seem unwilling to confront the behaviour of young people who persist in the illusion that they are not responsible for their own actions. Practitioners can collude with demands made by young people for others to deal with matters for which the young people should be solely responsible if they are to develop into autonomous adults. In our view, coolness training is a useful articulation of a practitioner mindset that rejects such collusion, and challenges self-defeating dependency. Translating the wider aspects of CP into a workable method within youth work settings is more problematic, however, and further research would be required to establish its potential in this context.



Embedding community work In this chapter we present a short case study of one of the project partners, West Bowling Youth Initiative, examining its methodological approach including the development of home-grown workers from the Pakistani community. We analyse how workers and young people from the project, encountered what we call ‘near peers’ from other projects involved in the Touch Project, and show how learning across difference can mitigate against mistrust in communities.

Overview The West Bowling Youth Initiative (WBYI) is a local, voluntary sector organisation working with young British Pakistani Muslim men in Bradford. It was established in 1991 to provide a space for young people to express themselves and encourage them to get involved in community life. West Bowling is an area close to Bradford city centre, within the wards of Little Horton, Odsal and Bowling. It suffers from high levels of poverty and deprivation; Little Horton has been ranked the 42nd poorest ward in England and Wales (IMD, 2000). The WBYI primarily works with ‘hard to-reach’ young men of Pakistani heritage, who experience high levels of social and economic exclusion. (DfEE, cited in Barn, 2001, p 41) While this has been a priority of WBYI for some time, in the light of the Bradford riots and the London terrorist attacks of 2005, young Muslim Pakistani men have been the focus of local and national governments with a plethora of initiatives variously promoting cohesion between communities (Home Office, 2001), fostering a stronger sense of Britishness (see, for example, CRE, 2005), building active citizens (see, for example, Goldsmith, 2008), challenging extremism (DCLG, 2007) and encouraging a sense of ‘shared futures’ (COIC, 2007). According to Gill (2008), WBYI offers a useful example of how to provide an inclusive space where young British Muslim Pakistani men


Responding to youth violence through youth work

feel safe to express their identities, faiths and beliefs without ridicule or discrimination, and in a context where project workers and volunteers have respect and understanding. From our observations it was striking how the project workers were able to effectively strike a balance between recognising the backgrounds from which the young people came, understanding the pressures and expectations of the community while not overemphasising the role of faith of those they engage, and building trust locally among other, non-Pakistani Muslim people. Over the course of 20 years, WBYI trustees, project workers and volunteers have managed to secure ownership of a significant number of community hubs in the area. These youth spaces have been beneficial to adopting programmes for local people and have attracted support from local business, and other local and national bodies. WBYI is not considered locally as a community centre but rather a small network of people building a membership base through programmes, community activity and wider inclusive work within the BD5 postcode area. Local community organisations, partners and elected officials and councillors acknowledge the important work done by WBYI, and promote WBYI members as ‘community ambassadors’. A legacy of 20 years’ work at WBYI is represented by a number of past users of the service who now enjoy posts within a wider network of community and public sector institutions. As Gill says: WBYI makes the most of local knowledge and talent by employing project workers from West Bowling. A firm but fair approach means that the young men accessing WBYI look up to project workers as mentors and role models. (Gill, 2008, p 1) WBYI has been able to keep connect local people to wider community networks of health, education, sport and regeneration partnerships. By involving workers, young people and members over many years, the project has built a reputation among peers and local partners for good community development practice and is seen as an important community resource. Its open-door policy brings people together and helps develop a sense of belonging and encourages participation in community life.

The ‘home-grown’ worker approach Over the past 20 years, WBYI has supported many young people, in particular young men, towards positive employment outcomes


Embedding community work

directly and indirectly. The project offers volunteering opportunities for younger trainees as a first step for the WBYI ‘workers in training’ model. As a general rule, trainees complete a year of volunteering, undertake some recognised formal training (part time), then take up paid sessional work as tutors, sports leaders or youth support workers, as positions become available. WBYI’s ethos and management structure enables experienced workers to coach and mentor upcoming trainee workers through existing and new projects, maintaining a strong community network that ensures workers and young people are connected to each other. Sustaining this ethos can be difficult. We met one young person (with a history of offending) who had developed through the ranks at WBYI and was now a vocal youth ambassador on the local parish council. His approach did not always fit squarely with the required professional protocol in meetings and at other times the views he expressed were not always representative of the views of the organisation or its members. Despite these ongoing challenges, WBYI can be credited for its achievement in developing community workers who act as figureheads to inspire young people to volunteer, broaden career aspirations or advance their educational goals. These home-grown workers, who live locally and understand the community from within, become a resource to that community as it strives to address its problems.

Near peer and the artificiality of the bonding/bridging capital divide WBYI worked with young men almost exclusively and made no apology for doing so. The approach adopted over the years by West Bowling Youth Initiative deserves recognition. It makes no excuse about prioritising work with young men of Pakistani Muslim heritage, while being inclusive of others who choose involvement. (Gill, 2008, p 3) The Joseph Rowntree Foundation felt this was a positive feature of the WBYI model. While many policies now push for community organisations to work with a range of ethnic groups, WBYI shows that it is possible to work positively with young men of one ethnic background and encourage them to be more


Responding to youth violence through youth work

actively involved with their own community and other communities. (Gill, 2008, p 4) The group of young men was not entirely homogenous; some were from Mirpuri backgrounds, others Kashmiri, and the age range varied considerably. The centrality of faith to their identity also varied, as did the stability of their family backgrounds. Often the young men faced issues that added individual nuances to their experience. These issues, while not exclusive to Muslim communities, nevertheless had a particular expression that made them more difficult to combat. These might relate to school and education, gender issues, and more general unease about future life prospects. Issues of domestic violence, family breakdown and arranged marriages surface on occasion, but matters of mental health, drug and alcohol abuse are not uncommon. (Gill, 2008, p 5) We use the term ‘near peer’ to recognise that, when brought together through community work, young people have neither totally different, nor totally parallel, experiences. They will simultaneously see similarities and differences in their peers, but in a way that, if skilfully managed, can create dynamism rather than conservatism. Rather than reinforcing a static view of self and other, contact with other near peers begins to facilitate the shifts in identity that can be part of an evolving process of desistance from violence. Enough similarity and affinity with each other leads young people to feel safe enough to explore the differences. Enough difference means that their perceptions are challenged and the meanings they place on their lives, and the lives of others, can evolve. As a result of the young men’s involvement in the Touch project, their pre-existing perceptions of difference and similarities with each other, as well as with the groups of young people they met from other partner projects, changed. Some of their pre-conceived ideas turned out to be false or more nuanced than previously perceived, as part of a creative dynamic triggered by exposure to groups of people they would never have met had it not been for their involvement in the project. Such a dynamic was especially marked during a trip to Austria for a conference, when the young men from Bradford encountered young Muslim men of Turkish, Tunisian and Moroccan backgrounds who shared a faith background but had a very different way of expressing that faith. One young man, originally from Turkey, was shocked and confused at the way the men from Bradford expressed their identities.


Embedding community work

The latter followed a much stricter regime in terms of what they ate and drank, yet in other respects their faith seemed to be less significant in their everyday lives. An interesting point of learning was the part that national affiliations played in people’s identities. The young men from Bradford identified as British Pakistani, and within this their identification to Bradford and to Yorkshire were similarly strong. They debated often about the order and balance of this affiliation, but saw themselves as distinctly British. However, the young men from Germany saw themselves as Turkish, Tunisian or Moroccan first, and not German. Their workers similarly did not identify them as German, even if their family had been in the country for several generations. Aside from faith, this difference in national identification allowed the young men from Bradford to bond with the young people from London, who were predominantly white and with whom they initially had some antagonism, a uniting feature being their affiliation as British. This bonding allowed them also to explore and learn from and about each other’s differences and similarities. Some of the initial antagonism focused on cultural background, although issues of gender were equally contentious. The London group comprised predominantly women and reacted very differently when confronted by the young men from Bradford, in a way that that the latter were not used to. Regional identities between the north and the south were also at play. One young man from Bradford talked of his surprise at how Londoners, and white Londoners at that, were not affluent, and in many ways were poorer than them. Similarly, despite some of their differences, during the final residential programme the young men and women from Austria and Germany bonded across a racial divide in terms of their experiences of education. They all felt they had been streamed into vocational training too early for different reasons such as punishment, discrimination or misplaced assumptions on the part of authorities concerning language ability. They were brought together through talking to the young people and workers from the UK, some of whom had been to university, but had followed non-traditional routes, an option that was not open to the young people from Germany and Austria in the same way. This then opened up dialogues around experiences of police harassment, an issue in common, albeit with many nuances, across all the young people. Eventually this oscillation between bonding and bridging allowed the young women, who were probably not as dominant in the research as they should have been, to come together of their own


Responding to youth violence through youth work

volition to explore the similarities and difference in their experiences and to learn from them. We think that this suggests that the distinction between bridging and bonding capital is not always a helpful one; rather it is from the interaction between the two that learning, and a willingness to learn, emerges. An example from the Bradford workers’ focus group illustrates how an over-exclusive focus on building bonding capital (intra-group cohesion) alone may hamper developmental personal change and can actually mitigate against the issuing of effective challenges to preexisting worldviews. A Pakistani origin woman worker expressed her frustration at trying to challenge some of the young people’s closed views about certain aspects of Islam. When she tried to do so, other members of the focus group often closed her down, saying the subject was ‘haram’ (forbidden). However, the very different lived forms of Islam, such as those practised in Tunisia and Morocco, could not be dismissed in the same way. Other workers in the Bradford focus groups recognised that sometimes their bonding capital projects re-enforced a static, often romanticised, view of their own community, rather than an evolving, questioning one. A worker recognised this trend, and the need for it to change: “Young people are growing up with it now, where they need to have that mix, blend, something should have been done at the end of the day, but we did not.” Leonard (2004) agrees that bonding capital can sometimes undermine the conditions for bridging capital, especially when bonding involves the rejection of others. As we saw in Chapter Nine, some of this might be related to a desire to provide bespoke services or be related to funding regimes. “How are you mixing, where’s the culture in that, you’re labelling people. That’s a good example of cultural awareness but it’s actually counter-productive, you’re not making people aware of culture. How can we learn about each other if you’re saying you stay out, you stay out.”

Summary We hope this case study illustrates the strengths of embedded community work. Our outline of WBYI shows how such projects, when present


Embedding community work

in an area over time, can form part of a meaningful response to a range of issues faced by communities, including violence. Developing home-grown workers has its challenges, but is an important part of building a community’s own ability to address issues such as violence. WBYI also illustrates the nuanced approach needed if youth work is to strike a balance between building social capital within communities and creating opportunities for young people whose horizons may be relatively restricted by lack of opportunities. International exchanges such as that facilitated by the Touch project facilitate valuable learning across difference, something we feel is key to the development of reflexivity, self-esteem and self-efficacy that can then mitigate against feelings of hostility and mistrust. As part of their response to violence in communities, - youth workers need to be able to articulate the importance of this ‘near peer’ work as part of the subtle skill set needed to build bridges between communities.



Ethnopraxis in action This chapter is taken directly from an action research project conducted by a youth worker working in a gang intervention project in the Midlands, UK. We have stayed faithful to his original written style in order to capture the character of his approach, as well allowing the reader to reflect on its limitations. We feel this illustrates how ethnopraxis might potentially be used to understand youth violence and how to shape local, meaningful responses to it. Within this chapter I am going to describe a piece of action research I carried out to improve my practice as a youth worker. Part of my work is to prevent young people from joining gangs. Gangs continue to be presented by the government and the media as a threat to the general public and young people who live in disadvantaged areas. In 2011-13, the Home Office committed £18 million of funding with the aim of preventing young people from engaging in a life of crime (Home Office, 2011b), with £4 million being specifically invested to inhibit their involvement in knife and gang crime (Home Office, 2011b). Research into why young people engage in gang activity is currently a priority for many academics and young people’s organisations. This research seeks to further explore the experiences of young people and identify a range of influences linked to their involvement in gang activity in the area in which I work. I also used three definitions to describe types of gangs. • ‘Wannabe groups’: young people who band together in an unstructured group primarily to engage in activities and exciting, reckless, criminal activity, including collective violence against other groups of youths. Wannabees will often claim ‘gang’ territory and adopt ‘gang-style’ identifying markers of some kind. • ‘Street gangs’: groups of young people and young adults who band together to form a semi-structured organisation, the primary purpose of which is to engage in planned and profitable criminal behaviour or organised violence against rival street gangs. They tend to be less visible but more permanent than other groups.


Responding to youth violence through youth work

• ‘Criminal business organisations’: groups that exhibit a formal structure and a high degree of sophistication. They are composed mainly of adults and engage in criminal activity primarily for economic reasons and almost invariably maintain a low profile. Thus while they may have a name, they are rarely visible. In my role as a ‘practitioner-researcher’ (Bradford and Cullen, 2012), I felt that my research strategy had to reflect the nature of my role as a youth worker, so I adopted a phenomenological, qualitative approach. The purpose of the phenomenological approach is to illuminate the specific and encapsulate experience. Qualitative researchers place importance on personal perspectives and interpretation and seek to gain understanding into people’s motivations and actions by immersing themselves within their research environment (Sherman and Webb, 1988; Lester, 1999). A purposive sample of case studies, gathered using unstructured interviews, was selected to record young people’s individual experiences in depth. Participant ‘A’ was selected as a self-identifying wannabe group member. Participant ‘B’ was selected as a self-disclosed current affiliated street gang member. Participant ‘C’ was selected as a self-disclosed ex-affiliated gang member who identifies as being part of a criminal business organisation. Data was initially coded into three broad categories of young people’s experience: • Personal – a young person’s psychological thought process, individual attitude, behaviour, mindset and biography. • Community – a young person’s interactions with friends, peers, schools, family and extended family, local businesses, social networks and community organisations. • Structural – a young person’s interactions with social structures such as the education system, benefits system, housing, and so on. The results below detail the primary themes that emerged from the second of these categories and were coded under ‘community influences on young people’s entry into gang involvement’.

Rejection The participants talked extensively about rejection. Rejection is a very powerful experience that can cause severe psychological wounds and affect the wellbeing of the individual. A person can be rejected


Ethnopraxis in action

on an individual basis or by an entire group of people; both create vulnerabilities. Social rejection occurs when an individual is deliberately excluded from a social relationship or group. As human beings we rely on social inclusion and relationships to improve our wellbeing and meet our basic needs. Social rejection causes a cascade of emotional and cognitive responses. This then leaves the individual feeling isolated and desperate, which causes erratic behaviour and in some more serious cases can affect physical and mental health (Bierman, 2003; Weir, 2012). This was identified in the case of Participant B, who stated that being rejected by family members resulted in him then becoming rejected by people within the community. He also identified this as the cause of his change in behaviour. He described his emotions at that point: “It all started with my fam really! My dad didn’t want to know me, nor did that side of my fam! They just didn’t give a shit. Man felt shit, started to hear my mom’s friends, [school] chatting shit, saying he’s just like he’s pops.” He described how he experienced this rejection: “Man was treated differently, don’t know how, don’t know how to say it! Just, don’t give a shit!” He then explained how this led him to behave in ways he hadn’t previously: “’Cos they didn’t give a fuck, why should man, so man started to mess about at school and at home, man slapped that dickhead Mr [X]. [Starts to laugh] … funny but man felt bad, ’cos that’s not me! I did it ’cos no one was there for man! I needed man to recognise.” Later on he described his emotions: “Man was lone ranger, don’t want to feel like that again bruv, they took me to doc’s, to get tablets, just didn’t know what man was doing, man was 13 too.” He suggested this rejection changed how he reacted to situations more aggressively, which in turn made others reject him:


Responding to youth violence through youth work

“I was at bus station, my man fronted me out. ’Cos I knew it was just me, I just turned and fucked him up.” I asked him to explain more about ‘it was just me’. His response was: “Just me and my nan, no fam [no family].” He described how no-one came to visit him in prison when he was arrested for the incident: “Fucking feds, got me on tape, you think anyone come to back man, nah, left man to rot.” Weir (2012) suggests that rejection can sometimes make individuals become aggressive and turn violent. Rejection can also increase anger, anxiety, depression, jealousy and sadness, contributing to aggression and poor impulse control. Participant C was able to articulate how this played out for him: “My mom hated me; my dad wasn’t bothered, that really hurt. I remember doing well at school and no-one coming to parents’ evening. When I first knew how people felt about me, it made me feel sick, scarred and confused. Walking through ends now, people say hello, look at me and smile. But when I was younger people looked at me like I was gonna rob ’em, crossed the road from me but they didn’t know me, it’s the worst I’ve ever felt. But I started to take advantage of that, making sure people knew me and loved how they became scared of me by doing stupid stuff.”

Relationships and community ties A young person’s bond to the community or society is essential to their development, strengthening their position to engage in positive relationships and opportunities. Hirschi (1969) suggests that a weakened bond to family, school and other aspects of society may heighten the chance of an individual becoming criminally active. Hirschi’s theory suggested that there were four levels of social ties: • Attachment: weak relationships within the family, extended family, peer group and school allow young people to engage in deviant activities. • Opportunity: a young person with opportunities and aspirations to attend college, university or gain employment with good career prospects has a high stake in conformity.


Ethnopraxis in action

• Involvement: involvement in activities serves to further bond an individual to others and leave limited time to become involved in deviant activities. • Belief: a stake in wider social values and respect for authority figures restrain tendencies towards deviance.

Attachment All the participants’ relationships with family were weak. It was also evident that when behaviours changed, participants’ relationships with school also were weakened. Participant C suggested that once he was removed from school, his peers changed. “I got to year 10 ’cos they wanted me to play ball, but soon as that finished they got rid of me, don’t remember why, something stupid. I do remember Miss [X] saying we’ve tried everything. They didn’t provide anything, I was left! So starting hanging on road wid olders.” Opportunity Participant C stated that once his opportunities (in his case to play football) had been taken away, it left him feeling helpless: “I was at Wolves, you know that! That kept me going. When [X] came to me, and said we have to release you that was me done! Went on a rampage for a while.” Hirschi suggested someone with little confidence in future success drifts toward deviance. Participant B stated: “What’s man’s got, nothing! No work or shit, just road.” Involvement Hirschi suggested those who simply ‘hang out’ have time and energy for deviant activity. Participant A suggests this had an impact on him: “Man just cotching [hanging out around the area] now, was going gym, need Ps (money) for that bruv.”


Responding to youth violence through youth work

Belief Hirschi suggested people with weak belief in authority or community are more vulnerable to temptation. Participant B describes his feelings towards the local police: “Man always gets stopped, pigs stopped me before, man said, ‘I know who and what you are.’ Fuck dem, just fucking pigs! Talk to man like that, pigs are mans who use to get bullied.”

Labelling Labelling consists of tagging, defining, identifying and segregating a young person who conflicts with the community’s norms and values. This process can be very detrimental to a young person as in essence it allows the emphasising of the very traits attributed to them. (Tannenbaum, 1951). Participant B suggested that when he engaged in deviant behaviours, members of the community suggested that he was like his father, who was an affiliated gang member. “Man’s pops is certified (affiliated gang member), never had a chance, man knew I was going down same road, wasn’t that bad when man was younger.” Sometimes the person labelled incorporates the label into their selfconcept. Participant A talked about being labelled after an incident. “Did you see the papers? It was on news and YouTube. [Starts to laugh and gets his phone out to show me.] See what it says, you know me, is that me, trying to make me out as Scarface [starts to laugh].”

Seeking out role models who have commonality In society there are many influential role models such as family, extended family, peers, community members and media figures. Young people witness both positive and negative models and encode their behaviour accordingly. There is a strong chance the young person will start to imitate the behaviours observed, especially if commonality is found between the young person and the model. When a young person is rewarded for imitating a particular behaviour they are more likely to


Ethnopraxis in action

continue showing, or engaging in, these behaviours. Approval of the behaviour by role model constitutes external reinforcement, while the young person’s pleasure at being the object of approval is an example of internal reinforcement. A young person will behave in a certain way if he or she believes it will earn approval in this way if he/she believes will earn approval. The motivation to identify with a particular role model is that they have a quality the individual would like to possess. Identification with a role model involves adopting the specific observed behaviours, values, beliefs and attitudes of that model. Identification involves adopting a number of behaviours, whereas imitation usually involves copying a single behaviour (Bandura, and Walters, 1977). Each participant spoke about learning the ‘game’. Participant C articulated this when describing how he first joined a gang, learnt his behaviours through imitating the olders, then continued the behaviours to improve his status: “I was grinding with some mans, nothing bad just a bit of smoke [weed], we were ordered by the olders. Some people think they taught me but we had to learn. When the olders see that you’re ready, they bring you in! That’s when you do as they do ’cos if you fuck up, it’s gonna be peak [bad], once you’re in the game that’s it, you work your way up by not fucking up, and earning.”

Conclusion It seemed that rejection was the first influential incident that led to participants becoming more deviant, which then led to family, community and educational ties becoming weakened or non-existent. These changes in attitudes, values, beliefs and behaviours gave the community the opportunity to label individuals as deviant, so creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that these young people would become involved in violence. This exclusion and labelling led to all the participants looking for role models with similar aspirations, attitudes, values and beliefs as themselves. A community consisting of gang members gave the participants the opportunity to observe and witness individuals taking part in gang activity. Positive influences and role models within the community and local educational establishments had already rejected these participants, so the young people found other models who accepted them and reinforced their imitated behaviours, which in turn led to identification and gang affiliation.


Responding to youth violence through youth work Figure 15: Process of gang affiliation

Young people then join current gang within community

Young people seek out role models who have commonality

Young people experience labelling, weakened relationships and community ties

Young people experience rejection

Young people from an environment with current gang affiliation

Carrying out this research allowed me to change my practice within my employment as a gang project worker. As a gangs unit we would predominately receive referrals when young people already were firmly on the path to becoming gang-affiliated. We created a project from fresh called STREET. STREET is a community outreach project that aims to build positive relationships with the all members of our target community, from young people to the elderly, from shop keepers to local services and emergency services. We aim to target the most disengaged young people, providing them with holistic support to meet their complex, diverse needs. This includes responding to incidents immediately and introducing young people to services that can support


Ethnopraxis in action

them within the moment, rather than three or four days later.Our aim was to engage and introduce these young people to services that can support them within the moment and not 3 or 4 days later. This research was fed back into the work of the local team and facilitated discussion as to how to respond meaningfully to each of the themes identified such as rejection and labelling. The references below were made available to the team of workers. Further reading Carrabine, E. and Cox, P. (2009) Criminology: A Sociological Introduction. 2nd edn. Oxon: Routledge. Cohen, S. (2002) Folklores and Devils. 3rd edn. Abington: Routledge. Coleman, C. and Norris, C. (2000) Introducing: Criminology. Cullompton: Willan Publishing. Harris, P. et al (2013) Responding to Street Violence: Guidelines for Street-based Youth Workers EU Daphne Unit Home Office (2011a) Ending Gang and Youth Violence. London: HMSO, available at www. (accessed 29 December 2013). Muncie, J. (2009) Youth and Crime. 3rd edn. London: Sage Publications.



Imagining realistic alternatives In this final chapter we hope to present an accessible, realisable vision for research, practice and policy in the field of youth work responses to youth violence. This is a vision that needs to be brought alive. First, we summarise some of the main findings and recommendations from our project. Then, perhaps less typically, we produce a fictional scene from an imagined youth work project, one that might exist if some of our recommendations were actualised. We acknowledge that many barriers to this vison will inevitably remain within different national and local contexts. We have taken a good deal of poetic licence in describing events and people, but we hope that this snapshot will stimulate some debate as to how it might be possible to shape worker attributes, training and supervision, project structures and policy environments that can more meaningfully respond to youth violence.

Key findings and recommendations • Youth work needs to be framed as a socio-educational approach to violence prevention and encourage interventions at personal, community, structural and existential levels. • Workers should capitalise on spontaneous encounters and not be afraid to use them constructively to confront violent behaviour. • Workers need to recognise how violent behaviour is meeting psychological needs and help young people find ways to meet these needs in other ways. Part of this process may involve the worker presenting him or herself as a blueprint for change, in the context of a relationship characterised by warmth that does not collude with neutralisation or abandon the young person in the face of structural forces. • Workers need to remember that a community can both resist and exacerbate violence. • Initiatives aimed at preventing violence should focus on helping the community overcome its learned helplessness and develop selfefficacy and self-belief.


Responding to youth violence through youth work

• Workers need to help communities explore the part violence plays in their culture and the organic solutions to combat such violence. Workers may need to be embedded in the community for a number of years before they become truly effective and funding/evaluation regimes should reflect this. • An emphasis should be placed on building bridging as well as bonding social capital. • Other agencies should understand that youth workers may at times need to keep a professional distance from those aspects of partnership working that hinder the maintenance of relationships with young people involved in violence. • Just as with violence at the personal and community level, youth workers need to consciously seek to avoid collusion with structural violence and celebrate symbolical resistance to it. • Workers should recognise that young people, particularly at times of trauma or stress, often ask existential questions. Workers should take these moments seriously and encourage young people to emphasise the meaning that they put on their experiences. • Workers should challenge formulations of youth work that stress rational detachment and practice drawn from prescribed repertoires. • Workers need to be constantly on the look-out for how their worldview is colouring their approach to their work. Training needs to provide time and space for the development of reflexivity and critical thinking but still stay within reach of community members. • Workers need to critically interrogate their privileging of ‘relationships’ with young people and not develop a ‘crab’ mentality towards other agencies. • Contracting and commissioning regimes should be minimised in order to facilitate strongly collaborative (rather than competitive) partnership-working cultures. Other professional training courses should include sensitisation to street-work methodologies. • Workers need to develop conceptual clarity when working with respect and trust. • Workers should be allowed flexibility in interpretation of boundaries, where it aids the building of trust. Risk assessment policies should recognise the importance of this. • Workers should adopt ‘constructive confrontation’ as a mindset that rejects collusion with violence and challenges self-defeating dependency. • Workers using sporting activities as part of their response to violence need to be reflexive and committed to clearly defined social objectives.


Imagining realistic alternatives

• Policymakers should facilitate regular ‘round-table’ discussions involving workers and young people. • Workers should embrace a culture of research and reflection to prevent an over-reliance on external monitoring in evaluating effectiveness. • Job descriptions of youth workers should include active support for young people’s engagement with the social issues that affect them, thereby directing their frustrations into democratic activity. • Policy should formally recognise the positive value of young people’s social mixing, especially in public space.

Area youth work team meeting, 9 July 2017, 10 am “Ok, is everyone here?,” asked Gill, the area youth work team manager. “Team meeting starts in 10 minutes.” Everyone nodded in agreement, although Lenville was still making a cup of tea. Gill smiled to herself. When she had taken over the team, the members had all resisted their weekly team meetings, especially when they heard that as well as dealing with operational issues, the meetings were to include space for reflection. “I haven’t got time to reflect,” the full-time worker Martin had bemoaned. “I’m too busy getting on with the job.” Two part-time workers who had just been recruited had also refused to engage, saying they just couldn’t see the point. Gill had thought that perhaps they would come on board eventually, but she had come to the conclusion, reluctantly, that their practice was questionable. They had made vague, unjustified statements in the meetings about knowing how to deal with the violence in the area but seemed not to realise how inappropriate their reactions to young people and colleagues often were. More to the point, at that time the team appeared to be having little or no impact on incidences of violence in the neighbourhood. The fights between local young men would die down for a while in some areas, but in reality Gill felt they had just been dealing with the symptoms rather than the underlying causes. They had used their relationships with certain individuals in the community to keep a lid on things, but the violence always came back, and often with a vengeance. There was still a lot of damage to property and verbal abuse posted online in YouTube videos, and the adults in the community seemed powerless to make any impact. These workers who had not wanted to reflect were the ones who needed to do so the most. Gill was planning to introduce the team to some new guidelines recently produced by the EU that were designed to help youth workers, managers and policymakers respond more meaningfully to youth


Responding to youth violence through youth work

violence. She felt they were a bit vague and open to interpretation, but at least they had clarified a few things in her mind. She was looking forward to telling her team that the EU had recommended that work with young people and communities should be funded on a long-term basis. Ever since she had graduated as a youth worker (the first in her family to get a degree), it had seemed like the politicians had always been messing around with the funding formulas, or trying to bring in specific targets to measure ‘impact’, all of which she thought was pretty meaningless and had led people around her to make up statistics, or spend most of their time at a computer screen when they could have been out with young people instead. Finally there seemed to be a clear directive from politicians and strategic managers: they believed that some kind of service for young people had to exist, and that such a service had potential to respond to youth violence. Gill knew at first-hand how violence had affected many people in her community in recent years. She had lived and grown up in this community so she knew what it meant as a young person to have no adult to turn to who understood her needs. She could now see why her friends had kept getting into trouble with the police back then and she was determined that things would be different for the young people who lived on the estate now. Things had started to change when she had come back from a conference about community development and violence two years ago. She had sat in some really good workshops about ‘intersectional identities’, ‘masculinities and violence’ and ‘structural violence in public space’. She’d always known that just sending her workers off to the latest hot spots for violence was counter-productive. But when she had told the journalist from the local paper that just chasing violence was a waste of time, she had been worried that her manager would reprimand her. But now, with the message coming from that conference and other policy forums that reducing youth violence was contingent on workers being embedded in the community, local politicians had started to listen. She knew she had a fighting chance of offering her workers (all of whom were on 12-month contracts) permanent contracts. That meant that those who were looking for other jobs, who were always her best workers, might stick around for longer. Gill reminded herself that she needed to talk to Des, the new team member who was still at university. He had shown an interest in doing some ethnographic research as part of his work placement. He always had his head in some book or another. He had said he could do something with the community on how they understood violence. She had decided to allow him to devote some time to this during the


Imagining realistic alternatives

course of his work. She also thought that Des could bring his report to the next ‘round-table’ meeting between local workers, agencies, policymakers and young people. These meetings were now a top priority for all parties locally. At first, they were difficult for everyone, as individual agencies had become bogged down in discussions about how to gain more funding or how their approach was the best one. Eventually, however, the young people had challenged this approach. Gill was still surprised at how positive and assertive the young people had become, and how responsive and considered their views were. Most importantly their maturity had impressed many of the local councillors and the police. Once taken seriously, the young people had blossomed and many local initiatives, like the football and boxing projects, had come from them. Some of what they had to say had been challenging, such as the revelation that the best relationships they had were not always with youth workers, but with certain police officers who had been on the beat for years. This had been hard for youth workers to hear, but they had listened. It turned out that the whole ‘responding in the moment’ thing that was now valued as ‘good practice’ was not exclusive to youth workers; certain individual police officers had become very skilled at doing it too. The young people also told some stories that had embarrassed the local superintendent, who hadn’t realised how some of his officers talked ‘down’ to the local young people. He had spoken to these officers about it, and they had changed their approach in recent weeks. The young people said they had noticed the change in attitude and would be more willing to consider reporting incidents of violence to the police in the future. Similarly the youth workers’ explanation of their so-called ‘highthreshold’ model where they tolerated some low-level nuisance behaviour had begun to spread to workers in other agencies who previously had not understood why the youth workers took a different approach with young people at times. Relationships among agencies had improved too; everybody seemed to be less defensive. It had been agreed that youth workers were often best placed to develop relationships with young people, and that they would need to be given licence to be flexible, albeit remaining professional, in order to build trust with young people. It was also agreed that local street-based youth workers were probably best placed to help those young people who were most deeply involved in violence. Each agency had contributed to a small pot of money for the new Hope project, and workers had begun to devise a number of


Responding to youth violence through youth work

activities they could do on the street or on the residential weekend planned for the summer. As the team brought their coffee into the meeting room Gill heard Mark and Des talking about one of those ‘in the moment’ encounters often discussed among the team. Gill knew these were crucial and had asked the workers to keep diaries so they could share such stories in meetings. Mark was saying something about how it was the first time he felt Darren, a young man he had been working with for a while, had seen him ‘as a person’, and even though Mark had challenged Darren strongly about his attitude to girls locally, their relationship seemed to have got stronger for it. It sounded like Mark had been having a conversation about respect and what it really means. First on the agenda was the next round-table meeting. “Bloody Councillor Hedges ain’t gonna go on about us wearing badges again, is he, Gill?”, asked Tom, the longest-standing member of the team. Gill winced. “You know he will.” They had won that battle a long time ago, but despite the ‘Understanding Youth Work’ training that Gill had delivered Councillor Hedges was still insisting that they needed to wear corporate badges. “How else will the young people and the community know that they work for the council?”, he always argued. “The point is that they won’t!”, Sakesha, one of the young people on the board, had retorted. Gill knew this wasn’t strictly true; the young people and community members all knew exactly who the workers were and that they were council employees. It seemed like the whole community had been at the ‘Take Place in Public Space’ event the previous summer. This never quite seemed to satisfy Councillor Hedges, though. Gill tried to move things on. “The round-table board has to react to the new EU directive about young people having a right to be in public space. The council have asked us to help them work up a strategy.” Everyone perked up at this – the directive had been a long time coming. Gill and her team had been very involved in lobbying for it. Councillors had been quite resistant at first, seeing it as a voteloser, but were convinced otherwise after the success of the public space event where young people had lobbied community leaders, and the involvement of universities in building up an evidence base. Probably the biggest battle in the early days had been worker pessimism about affecting this kind of change. Time restrictions and past failures had made people cynical. Despite their good intentions, many workers were simply not experienced in using new media to launch campaigns and actions, but the young people were, and they had led the way.


Imagining realistic alternatives

Some of the community actions the team had organised had certainly been controversial, such as when the young people had covered over the CCTV cameras in the local area for a week, with banners saying ‘We are watching you too!’ The banners had eventually been taken down, but the young people still felt it had been a symbolic victory while it lasted, and it had certainly triggered some debate among some of adults in the community when an article appeared in the local paper attacking the young people. After all, the newspaper had still printed all the letters of support that had been sent in. “Well, first of all, what are they doing about curfews?”, Lenville asked. This was a difficult one. Many services and council representatives, and even young people themselves, were in favour of them, at least in a partial sense. The curfews were often restricted to a few areas and a few people now, but Gill knew that at heart it was not addressing the root problem. Lenville was particularly passionate about it. He had been picked up by the police as a teenager when he and his mates were drinking and smoking weed in the park. Even though he had only been given a caution, this was still on his record and had almost stopped him getting the job at the youth project. It had taken a trainer at a local boxing club who was also a youth worker to re-engage him and restore his trust in adults. This had led to Lenville becoming a trainer, and then a youth worker, himself. The journey had been tough at times, but the grant from the local home-grown worker initiative had put him through college. The course had really challenged him at times. One of the female students had pointed out that while his masculinity might give him leverage with some young people, he had had to use it to challenge, rather than collude with, the hyper-masculine behaviour he often encountered. “You need to be in it to spin it”, was the phrase he always used. Gill jokingly quoted the ‘spin’ bit back at him, particularly when she felt Lenville might be over-identifying with the young men. She knew Lenville was learning to work through some of his own issues and hang-ups, and recognised that he had, at times, colluded with the homophobia exhibited by some of the young men, making things worse. On a positive note, new continuing professional development courses were allowing workers to explore new ideas. Some of the workers had resisted them, particularly the add-on course for those who were already qualified. Workers weren’t sure about having to learn new skills and the courses delivered by the university had been challenging. Workers had slowly realised that at times they had colluded with young people in ‘neutralising’ their violent behaviour in the name of being supportive or ‘person-centred’. Something that had helped, and even surprised


Responding to youth violence through youth work

some workers, was that academics had also wanted to learn from them and asked them to help with their research. The workers had turned out to be pretty skilled at interviewing and had been able to record some interviews on flip cameras when things were happening in the community, there and then. Indeed, Martin, who had been one of the most resistant to further training, now taught on some modules, particularly a confrontational pedagogy course from Germany. Gill was still unsure about this one herself; she thought it might be taken by some of the more combative workers as justification for confrontation. However a lot of work had been done on adapting this model to a UK context. Now Martin would frequently talk about needing to take a psycho-social approach, and Gill would tease him about being an academic, something neither of them could have imagined some years ago. There had been a change of culture in that young people were starting to see themselves as researchers. The peer and participatory research initiative with the universities had started to have an impact. There was still some way to go; there was often a division between those workers who did the degree and those who did the postgraduate courses, the latter having much more of an emphasis on research, but these barriers were slowly being broken down. The next item on the staff agenda was a spin-off of one of those pieces of research – the international exchange. Every year, young people involved in the ‘near peer’ project that had sprung up came together to explore their commonalities and differences. The last two exchanges had been around trust and respect and several of the young people who had been involved had gone abroad for the first time to attend them – they were still buzzing about it. Gill was still proud of the speech that two young people had made at the national near peer conference to a panel of newspaper editors about the portrayal of young people in the media. This year’s exchange was around interpretations of Islam. Adil, another worker, had been initially suspicious, having been involved in and subject to many government initiatives that were meant to work with Muslim young people, but had instead marginalised and demonised them. This international exchange was about young people from different traditions of Islam coming together to learn from each other and exploring what part faith played in their lives, Adil took part too and had learnt about his own faith through interactions with some very different interpretations of Islam that he had encountered from other Muslims.


Imagining realistic alternatives

Gill and Adil occasionally reflected on how the mutual trust between them would have been difficult in the old days when anti-oppressive approaches had dominated. Both would have taken oppositional stances, on gender and race respectively, that would have made finding common ground difficult. The new emphasis on intersectionality had made them recognise that notions of race, gender, class and sexual orientation often intersected with each other and it was possible to be both oppressed and privileged at the same time. The two of them had talked about how this necessitated a similarly intersectional response from them as workers. They’d also noticed that things had changed since they were young. The young people seemed to have this insight already and had been mixing up cultures and identities for years. This did not stop them from being sexist and racist at times, though, and this still needed challenging, but in more nuanced ways. The meeting was almost over, but Lenville wanted to present a case study for the group to reflect on. Lenville reminded the group that he was not looking for solutions, but wanted the group to reflect on the wider issues the case brought up and what resonance it had with their work. Lenville had worked with the young man in question (Daniel) and his family for some years. He had tried everything and Daniel had engaged up to a point, but the pull of his peers had always drawn him back to violence. Lenville had been trying to talk to Daniel about the violence he had been involved in, and subject to, in his life, some of which was gang-related. He had involved him in the Hope programme, and they had talked through the night on the residential course about how he had the freedom to decide the meaning he placed on his experiences. However, after the residential course he had returned to illegal activities that involved violence, and attacked a rival gang member, seemingly deliberately. Lenville wondered if it was time to try to move him out of the community for a while, both for his own, and, to a degree, the community’s safety. The team spent some time talking and reflecting about Daniel, thinking through the different types of violence he was involved in and subject to. They drew up a plan to respond at all of those levels the best they could, but acknowledged they still had some way to go.


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Index A


AAT (anti-aggressiveness training programme) 212–18 African-Caribbean community  37, 40 Alinsky, S.  21 Althusser, L.  16 Anderson, Elijah  33 anti-oppressive practice  16, 28 anti-social behaviour  2 apperception 128 Asian community  37–8, 54, 55, 159, 161, 162, 217 attachment, and social ties  230, 231 authenticity and existentialism  130, 131 Avruch, K. and Black, A.  45, 107

Camus, Albert  130 Caritas 189 Caritas Jugendstreetwork, Graz, Austria  60, 74, 105, 106, 120, 127, 147, 189–92 Catholic church  19, 189 CCTV  114, 243 Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, Birmingham  16 Centre for Social Justice  33 Chambers, R.  49, 57, 58, 64 choice lack of  122 moments of  127, 128 and self-invention  129–30 Christian existentialism  17, 41, 130–2 chronology 128 citizenship  17, 116, 158, 159 city-centre regeneration  113, 114 Clarke, J. E.  50 cohesion, intergenerational  99, 100, 101 collective referents  40 Collins, P.  29 communitarianism 16 ‘community ambassadors’  220 community level responses  6, 16, 91–108 ambivalence of elders  95–7 and attitude  237 and community leaders  101 and development  101 and learned helplessness  97, 98–9 and long-term work  103–6 and nostalgia  91 and relationships  230, 231, 232 and risk  103 and safety  187 and undermining of young people  94 violence as habitus  92–4 community philosophy  51, 60 ‘confrontational pedagogy’ see CP Connell, Raewyn  35, 37 Masculinities 34 Connexions service, UK  105 consent in participatory research  53, 54 Conservative government, UK  18, 19 conspiracy theories  98 constructive confrontation  78–80, 116, 238 continuous learning  14 Cooke, B. and Kothari, U.  57, 58 Participation: The New Tyranny 50 Council of Europe  13–14 counselling  20, 21

B Back, Les  34 Baier, A. C.  145 Baizerman, M.  7, 17, 127–8, 130–1 Baker, N.  91 Bartusch, D. J. and Matsueda, R. L.  32 Batsleer, J.  34, 35 belief, and social ties  231, 232 Beneditt, T.  143 ‘Big Society’  19 binary concepts  16, 27, 28, 50, 162 biography  8, 17, 56, 88, 128, 201 Blair, Tony  2 Böhnisch, L. and Münchmeier, R.  21 Bolton, G.  14 bonding capital  99, 100, 161, 223, 224 Boud, D. et al (1985)  57 boundaries  99, 146, 238 Bourdieu, Pierre  16, 92 Bourdieuan analysis  44 boxing  196, 197–202 Bradford attitude to older people  96–7 city-centre regeneration  113 de-escalation 95 ethno-centricity 159 ‘home-grown workers’  138 identity and race  38 police and  93, 111 and pushing boundaries  99 service provision  160, 161 West Bowling Youth Initiative  219–25 Bradford, Professor Simon  62–7 Braun, K. and Wetzel, K.  19 bridging capital  99, 161, 223, 224, 238 ‘brokers’ 59 Bundesjugendplan 19 bureaucracy 167


Responding to youth violence through youth work CP (‘confrontational pedagogy’)  209–18 anti-aggressiveness training  212–18 evaluations of  215–18 and language  210, 211 theoretical basis for  211, 212 Craig, G.  103, 104 Crenshaw, K.  29 criminal business organisations  228 criminalisation 2 critical discourse analysis  31, 32 critical pedagogy  15 critical race theory  39 critical theory  6, 7 cultural analysis  107 cultural initiatives  45 culture  31, 190, 191–2 curriculum, youth work  18 cynicism  96, 98, 242

D data sharing  169 Davies, B.  14 decontextualisation  106, 125, 140 dehumanisation  78, 128, 129, 141, 210 desistance desistance theory  38–40 existentialism and  41, 42, 131, 132, 133 ‘hook for change’  198 and identification  5, 85, 89 and maturity  4 near peers and  222 and reinvention of identity  84 and sports  195–6, 198–9 youth worker relationship and  43, 139 detached youth work  22, 102, 177, 178, 186, 188, 189–92, 238 Deutsches Jugendinstitut  2 Dewey, John  14 Dhamoon, R.  29 dialogical approach, policy development  166, 167 Dillon, R. S.  142, 144 Dobraszczyk, D.  203 Dolovich, S.  33, 34 domestic violence  93, 152 doxas 92 Du Blois, B.  52 Duelli Klein, R.  52 duplicity 97

E East London, University of  30 éducation populaire  173 effectiveness, evidence of  18, 239 El Saadawi, N.  16 embedded community work  6, 103–6, 219–25, 238, 240 empathy  76, 77–9 empowerment, types of  161, 162

epiphanies  87, 88, 125, 126 epistemological stance  63 Erikson, Erik  43, 87 escalation avoidance of  93, 95, 190, 214 ‘moment of ’  9, 201, 214 reasons for  93 ethnocentricism 159–60 ethno-conflictology 107 ethnopraxis  45, 67, 107, 108, 227–35 Eurogang guidelines  53 European Commission  195 European Convention on Youth Work, 2nd 13 existential response  7, 41–2, 43, 121–33 crises  125, 126, 238 and lack of opportunity  121–2 nihilism  122, 123 passionate responses  124, 125 policy regimes  124 worker inertia  123, 124 expressive violence  23, 30 external reinforcement  233

F facilitator, role of  51 faith-based youth work  130–2 Fanon, F.  16 Farrall, S.  43 Farrall, S. and Calverley, A.  41, 42, 125 father absence  40, 157–8 ‘father role’ of youth workers  156 Federal Ministry for Family, Youth and Consumer Protection, Austria  19 Federation for Detached Youth Work  54 Feinberg, J.  141 feminist research  28, 32, 50, 52, 211 Fenley, M.  91 Ferrainola, Sam  212 film making workshops  55, 56, 59–60, 190 football 196–200 formal partnerships  169–70 Foucauldian analysis  44, 50 Frank, R.  143, 144 Frankfurt Institute for Social Work and Social Education  209 freedom and existentialism  130, 131 Freire, Paulo  14, 15, 16 Frost, L. and Hoggett, P.  30 funding  18, 21, 100, 186, 187, 188, 227

G Gadd, D. and Dixon, B.  36, 205, 206 gangs  24, 227–35 and community  230, 231, 232 female involvement in  33 and labelling  232 and participatory research  53


Index process of affiliation  234fig and race  40 and rejection  228, 229–30 and respect  143 and role models  232, 233 as self-protection  75–6 types of  227, 228 and youth worker presence  82 gender  32–5, 36 and race  40 constructions  155, 156 gender violence  59 gendered discourses  151, 155 identity  150, 152 generativity  5, 16, 42, 43, 87, 88, 126, 130 ‘ghettoisation’ 163 Gill, S.  219, 220, 221, 222 Gilroy, P.  16 Giordano, P. et al (2002)  39, 198 Giroux, H.  15 Glen Mills School, US  212 Glynn, Martin, Black Men, Invisibility and Crime  39, 40 good practice  165, 166–7 as social practice  172, 173–6 structural threats to  169–70 government policy, fashions in  103, 104 Grace, P. and Taylor, T.  13 group collaboration  17 groupthink  58, 64 Guijit, I. and Shah, M. K.  58 gun crime  106, 150

hooks, bell  16 hopelessness  121–2, 123, 124 Hornstein, A.  147 humanistic psychology  17 hyper-masculinity  37, 140, 151, 156


H habitus  6, 92, 94, 101 Hamburg, University of Applied Sciences 209 Handbuch der offenen Jugendarbeit, Braun and Wetzel  19 Handbuch Konfrontative Pädagogik 209, 211, 212 Harris et al (1997)  54 Haywood, C. and mac an Ghaill, M.  34, 35 Heidegger, Martin  41 helplessness  97, 98–9, 231, 237 hetero-normativity  155, 156 Hickey, S. and Mohan, G.  66 Participation: From Tyranny to Transformation 50 Hill, T.  144 Hirschi, Travis  199, 230–2 holistic approach  171 ‘home-grown’ youth workers  101, 102–3, 138, 139, 188, 220, 221 homelessness 128 homology relatif 166 homophobia  35, 156 homosexuality, public attitude to  35

identification  85–8, 139–40, 188, 223, 233 identity formation 31 and postcodes  114 and race  37–8 reinvention of  42, 43, 84, 205 identity politics  27, 28–9 Illich, Ivan  137 immigration  116, 117, 158, 159–60 imprisonment  40, 73, 74, 97, 125, 216–7 improvisation  42, 64, 65, 171 In Defence of Youth Work  18 ‘informal education model’  17, 19, 22 institutional youth work  19, 20 instrumental violence  23 inter-agency cooperation  6, 147, 148, 238 internal reinforcement  233 intersectionality  28, 29, 149–64 father absence  157–8 local responses  163 masculinities 150–1 racialisation and ethno-centrism  158, 159–60 ring-fencing of services  160, 161 white working class  161, 162 worker collusion  155–7 young men and  153–4, 155 young women and  151, 152, 153 invisibility  40, 109, 122, 190 Islam 219–25 heterogeneity of  163 and nationalism  38 and state discrimination  116, 117 targeting by police  111 and universalism  98, 99 Islington, London  183–9 Islington Targeted Youth Support Team London 56

J Joseph Rowntree Foundation  221 ‘Jugendkultur inmitten der Hochkultur’ event  190, 191 Jugendstreetwork, Graz, Austria  189–92

K key findings and recommendations  237–9 Kierkegaard, Soren  41 Klein, Melanie  30 knife crime  106, 227


Responding to youth violence through youth work knowledge evolution of  14 ‘expert’  62, 64, 66 local 102 new 67 ‘on-road’ 86 professional 137 Kumar, S.  49, 56, 57t

L labelling 232 Lather, P.  52 Laub, J. H. and Sampson, R. J.  39 Lave, Jean and Wenger, Etienne  137 learned helplessness  97, 98–9 Leonard, M.  224 liberation theology  103 Lippens, R. and Crewe, D.  41 local authority youth services, closure of 18 loyalty  73, 114, 143, 184

M managerialism 18 Mann, S.  44, 115 Mann et al (2004)  44 Mannheim, University of Applied Sciences 209 Maruna, S.  42 masculinities  31, 150–1 assertion through violence  142 hegemonic  34, 35 and hierarchy  34 and identity  32–5, 36 ‘marginalised’ 35 and powerlessness  36, 37, 153–4, 155 psychosocial framework  36–7 and race  40 and social discourse  150 and sports  198–9 Maslow, Abraham  17, 71 material violence  23 McNay, L.  44 meanings  127, 128–31 Messerschmidt, James  155 Mies, M.  52 misogyny  79, 155 Mobile Jugendarbeit  22, 196 moral reasoning  203 morality system  131 multi-dimensionality of practice  168, 169 music and misogyny  155 Mutz, M. and Baur, J.  195, 196

N nationalism 38 ‘near peer’ youth work  10, 222 needs, suppression of  74, 237 neo-Nazism  111, 112

neutralisation of violence  5, 78, 80, 140, 210, 243 New Labour government, UK  2, 18 ‘new public management’  18 Newman, John Henry, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent  125 Nietzsche, Friedrich  41 nihilism  122, 123, 132 non-formal education  20 North America  32, 33

O Oakley, A.  52 ‘object relations’  30 Observantia  141, 144, 145 Olympic Games, impact of  186 opportunity, and social ties  230, 231 organisational defensiveness  137, 147, 148 ‘otherness’  29, 37, 100, 143, 208 over-identification  137, 138, 139–40 over-interpretation 31 ÖVP (People’s Party), Austria  19

P participatory research  47–52 action 66–8 critical analysis  63, 64 critiques of  50, 51 impact 67–8 and information dissemination  54 ‘mindset’  49, 56 and new knowledge  67 process 48 reliability and validity  50 unpredictability of  64 in youth violence  62, 63 ‘paternal principle of education’  212 patriarchy  35, 155 PCSE model of discrimination  45–6 peer pressure  4, 76 peer research  52, 56, 65–6 peers, importance of  21, 216 perception 128 permanency, and learned helplessness  98 personal response  71–89 ‘constructive confrontations’  78–9 empathy  76, 77–9 generativity  87, 88 identification 85–6 motivations for violence  73–6 reinvention 84 removal 83 ‘teachable moments’  80, 81–2 personal agency  17, 31, 41, 71, 210, 211 personhood  7, 132, 145 phenomenology  17, 31, 36, 205, 228 Philosophy for Children programme  51 pluralist approach  20 police


Index attitude towards  93, 94, 232 physical and verbal abuse by  110–12, 187, 188 surveillance  112, 113 policy development, and coproduction  8, 9, 165, 166–7, 238 political context  2, 15 political education  117–19 ‘positive peer culture’  216 post-structuralism  8, 28, 29, 35, 36 poverty 73–6 power relations  22, 29, 66 Pring, R. et al (2009)  177 private security  112, 113 privatisation 18 problem areas, demarcation of  185 process, importance of  171–2 professional relationships  43, 44, 76, 77–80, 138 projection  74, 139, 207, 216 pro-social responses  117–19 ‘proxy trust’  62, 66, 103 psychoanalysis 30–2 psychodrama 217 psychological violence  23, 75–6 psychosocial framework  30–2, 74, 78 and masculinity  36–7 and professional relationships  43, 139 and sports  205–7 public image, ‘being tough on crime’  2 public spaces  22, 113, 190, 191–2, 239 punishment, physical  93 Putnam, Robert, Bowling Alone 99

R race and racism  34, 37–8, 39, 40, 94, 95, 99 racialisation  37–8, 39, 40, 158, 159–60 reality, distortion of  210 reciprocal identification  85–8 reflection, social models of  168 reflective practice  14, 37, 57, 58, 137 reflexivity  139, 206, 238 Reid, C. et al (2006)  50, 68 reinforcement and change  202–3, 204 rejection, social  228, 229–30 religion and identity  38, 40 see also Islam removal of young people  83 research mentality  167, 168, 169 Respeckt  141, 142, 143 respect  140, 141–3, 144 and elders  96–7 reconstruction of  143 self-respect  142, 143, 144, 145, 206, 208 and violence  73, 150 Respectia 141 Rheinflanke, Köln, Germany  196–200 ring-fencing  160, 161 risk assessments  8, 82, 186, 187, 238

Rogerian concepts  77 role models  102, 232, 233 ‘round table’ discussions  166, 239 Rumgay, J.  39

S Sartre, Jean Paul  17, 41, 130–2 Schön, D.  14, 58 Seal, M. and Frost, S.  15 secular youth work  130–2 self-control and escalation  20, 200, 201–3, 204 self-disclosure  52, 58, 62, 65 self-esteem  142, 154, 204–6 self-respect  142, 143, 144, 145, 206, 208 self-segregation 38 Seligman, M. E.  98, 99 Shor, I.  15 Simmel, G.  65 social spaces  112, 177, 178 social capital  6, 43, 99, 100, 119, 184, 225, 231 social control theory  199 social environment, impact of  71–2 social learning theory  202–3, 204 social pedagogy  21, 22 social work  21, 77, 138, 170, 173 socialisation process  21 socio-educational approach  237 ‘sousveillance’ (inverse surveillance)  44, 115 SPÖ (Socialist Party), Austria  19 spontaneous encounters  5, 82, 89, 157, 237 sports and desistance  195–208 and masculinity  204–7 objectives 238 release of aggression  200, 201 Stanley, L. and Wise, S.  52 state violence see structural response status of elders  96 and gangs  233 impact of Olympic Games  186 and masculinity  199 self-respect and  144, 145 and sport  199, 203, 205 through violence  73 of victims  33 stereotypes  27, 147, 163 ‘street gangs’  227, 228 STREET community outreach project  234, 235 street-based youth work see detached youth work Strickland, Ronald  211 structural response  23, 44–5, 109–20 case study  189–92 direct state violence  110–12 immigration policy  116–17


Responding to youth violence through youth work legitimacy of  109 political education  117–19 and self-respect  144, 145 ‘sousveillance’  44, 115 surveillance  114–15, 116 symbolic violence  112, 113, 114 violence as cyclical  119 structural inequality  44, 50 structuralism 31 sub-cultural capital  37, 86, 139, 188, 199 sub-cultural groups  20 Sugden, J.  199 surveillance  44, 112, 114–15, 116, 185 Sutherland, E. and Cressey, D.  76 symbolic resistance  44, 126–7 symbolic violence  35, 44, 112, 113, 114

T ‘tall poppy’ syndrome  94 Targeted Youth Support Team, Islington 186 targeting  18, 104, 105, 106–7, 171 teachable moments  81–2 temporality (long term projects)  176–7 territoriality  112, 113–14 ‘therapeutic trust’  145, 146 Thomas, D. N.  101 Thompson, Neil  45 Tiffany, Graeme  51 Touch project  52, 53–62 data analysis  62 data gathering  59–60 ethical concerns  53, 54 guidelines 61 independent evaluation  57 ‘near peers’  222 preliminary findings  61 project partners  56 sampling and demographics  54, 55 workshops ground rules  57t workshops methods  59 trade unions  19 transference 139 transgression of rules  202, 203 travailleurs de la rue 22 Truscott, D.  45 trust  137, 145–6, 147, 238

U unemployment and masculinity  153, 154, 187 uniqueness, personal  131, 132 universalism  98, 106–7, 142

V Vaughan, B.  39 verbal violence  79

victimization, and masculinity  33, 34 victims of violence  23, 72, 184, 185 violence, youth consequences of  80, 81 definition  22, 23 importance of challenge to  3 intergenerational attitudes  92, 93 prevention and intervention  25, 82 and youth work  24–5 voluntary sector organisations  18, 19 volunteers  20, 102, 126, 220, 221

W ‘Wannabe groups’  227, 228 Waterman, H.  50 weapons  34, 75, 106, 110, 150, 227 Weidner, J. and Kilb, R.  210, 211, 213, 216 Weir, K.  230 West Bowling Youth Initiative (WBYI), Bradford  56, 219–25 Whelan, M.  34 white working class  161, 162 Williamson, Howard, Finding Common Ground 13 witnesses to violence  23 women crime rates  32, 33 gender identity  152 and participatory research  55 psychological violence  59 sexual exploitation of  152 young, and violence  151–2, 153 see also gender

Y youth associations  19 youth work  24–5 Austria 19–20 European definition of  13–14 Germany  20–1, 22 ‘open’  20, 21 paradigm 14–17 participation 21 spatial approach  21, 22 UK  17, 18, 19 as voluntary  14, 18 youth workers alienation of  124 collusion by  155–6, 157, 238 and community  238 and inertia  123, 124 job descriptions  239 life experiences  87 threshold 86 see also professional relationships


Ross Deuchar, University of the West of Scotland This book draws on the findings of a two-year European research project to offer answers to the ‘problem’ of how to respond to violence involving young people that continues to challenge youth workers and policy makers. Responding to youth violence through youth work combines elements of critical theory, psychosocial criminology and applied existential philosophy to present a new model for responding meaningfully and effectively to these issues, demonstrated through a series of case studies and insider accounts generated through peer research. Mike Seal is Principal Lecturer and Head of Criminology and Youth and Community Work at Newman University, Birmingham. He has worked in the field for 25 years and worker, manager, trainer and consultant. He has written five previous books on homelessness and youth work. Pete Harris worked for 15 years as a youth worker, was Chair of the Federation for Detached Youth Work and is now Senior Lecturer in Youth and Community

ISBN 978-1-4473-2310-5

Mike Seal Pete Harris

Social work / Social studies

Responding to

youth violence through youth work

Work and Criminology at Newman University, Birmingham.

Responding to youth violence through youth work

“Impressively steps outside of the norms associated with existing youth work scholarship, making an important, wideranging contribution to our knowledge of youth work’s role in responding to youth violence.”

mike seal pete harris @policypress

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15/08/2016 16:24