Ecologies of Meaning: Methods and Youth Politics

Monday, 11 July 2016: 09:00
Location: Hörsaal 50 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Rob WATTS, RMIT University, Australia
Judith BESSANT, RMIT, Australia
One unintended consequence of the increasing ubiquity of research informed by a globalisation theoretical frame has been a tendency to assume that local ’ecologies of meaning’ no longer matter (Sassen 2015). We report on a research project that responds to the challenge of research on youth activism across a number of sites in ways that preserve a regard for the local.  We situate the project within a tradition of comparative research, much of it reliant on quantitative approaches and assumptions eg., about the role of ‘structural determinants’ which we argue are highly problematic.

Drawing on Flyvbjerg’s (2012) phronetic conception of  ‘social sciences’ we firstly describe the way we have developed a number of ethnographic and qualitative methods for use in the transnational study. These include the use of focus groups, intensive one-on-one interviews,  ‘guided tours’ of activist Facebook and other online sites (Gallante 2015), auto-ethnographic accounts by activists  as well as content analysis of activist blogs and other sites (Picard 2015). Ferrer and Soler I Marti (2015) argue that this imbrication of methods reveals new kinds of political engagement. The paper shows how these approaches are used to achieve a ‘deep description’ (Geertz 1974) of youth politics as well as  reveal the way  various political imaginaries inform the political mobilisation of young people. We then argue that  ethnographic and qualitative methods can be enriched using a figurational sociology (Elias 1999) or an ecological  frame (Bateson 1971). These essentially conceptual propositions are then grounded in a case study showing how young people in different sites develop responses to common Austerity policies in diverse ways.