727.4 Ambivalence and distinction in young people's perceptions of risk

Saturday, August 4, 2012: 1:15 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Steve THREADGOLD , Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Newcastle, Australia
This paper discusses research conducted at three very different schools in Australia: an expensive private school; a public academically selective school; and a public school in a low socio-economic area. Using this data, the paper analyses young people’s perceptions of risk through the lens of and by bringing together social theories from Bourdieu, Bauman, Foucault and Beck.

Firstly, using the work of Bourdieu, the distinctions between how young people with differing levels of social and economic capital perceive, define, engage and deal with risks will be discussed. The data highlights how habitus diffuses risk, both real (experience) and perceived (discourse). In this regard, class needs to be understood and maintained as a central concept to understand how risks are mediated.

Secondly, the paper discusses young people’s attitudes towards two distinct future risks: on the one hand, their perceptions of achieving their individual ambitions, on the other, their perceptions of the future of the world, particularly in terms of environmental issues. The data is analysed as a disjuncture between these issues where the positive perceptions of achieving ambitions are rarely linked to their pessimistic visions of societal collapse. This is discussed in regard to social theories of ambivalence and governmentality.

In conclusion, the paper will further contribute to the debate in the Journal of Youth Studies about Beck and inequality by making some theoretical suggestions as to the future direction of youth sociology. Specifically, by interlinking notions of habitus, governmentality and ambivalence to the complex ways risks are negotiated, we can endeavour to better understand the contours of inequality in reflexive modernity.