Reclaiming Youth Culture to Create the Safe City: Young People’s Activism As Collective Caring in Sweden

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 17:45
Oral Presentation
Anna-Britt COE, Sociology Department, Umeå University, Sweden
Malin RÖNNBLOM, Umeå Center for Gender Studies, Umeå University, Sweden
In this paper, we explore how young people’s activism reclaims youth culture regarding the safe city. Although adult elites rarely involve young people in addressing urban safety, they frequently draw upon youth culture for this purpose. Youth culture is represented as a cornerstone of the safe city by generating fun and excitement linked to nightlife, shopping, music festivals and sporting events. Alternatively, youth culture is depicted as a threat to the safe city by displaying anger and rebellion connected to pub brawls, sexual harassment, vandalism or graffiti.

We draw upon a qualitative study in two Swedish cities that investigated the understandings and practices of young people’s activism for creating the safe city. Our findings captured three processes. First, young people’s activism entailed getting to know first-hand how young people feel unsafe in relation to a variety of social situations, ranging from interpersonal violence (i.e. bullying) and achievement pressure in school to sexism, racism and homophobia in society more broadly. Second, their activism addressed young people’s unsafety by moving where young people are and when, thereby developing youth-to-youth strategies. Third, their activism created safety by being there for young people so that young people feel seen and heard.

We refer to these processes as collective caring, and contend that through them, young activists reclaim youth culture regarding the safe city. Collective caring involves re-negotiating feeling rules (Hoschild 1979) as young activists reject depictions of youth culture merely in terms of fun and anger regarding urban safety. Moreover, collective caring entails relational activism as young activists use the relationships they have formed in their communities as catalyst for social change (O´Shaughnessy and Kennedy 2010). Collective caring constitutes a form of resistance to precarization as young activists refuse governing through a permanent state of insecurity (Lorey 2015).