The Centrality of Class Analysis for Research on Youth Collectivities

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Steven ROBERTS, Monash University, Australia
Alan FRANCE, University of Auckland, New Zealand
Interest in collectivities has a long history in youth sociology. While collective experience was for a long time the core business of the sub-discipline, it is our contention that this focus has been disrupted by (until very recently) a lack of sustained focus on social class. In this presentation, we argue that this diminishing centrality of social class analysis arises from two trends in youth research, both of which undermine the possibility for a renewed focus on collectivity. First, we concur with the idea that youth sociology has in recent times often emphasized the individual, but this usually occurs at the expense of structural analysis rather than an omission of a discussion of peer interaction or intersubjectivity, per se. The absence of a focus on collectives that emerges from moves towards understanding the heterogeneity of young people’s biographies and subjectivities is, however, augmented by its polar opposite – the homogenizing of youth experience. In recent years, calls to understand young people’s lives through lenses like ‘social generation’, precarity, and even the political economy approach of understanding ‘youth-as-class’, have intersected with public discussion on inter-generational ‘wars’ in ways that inadvertently marginalize differences within and between young people, such that youth is painted as an inherently difficult phase of the life course at the collective level. Retaining a constant focus on shared conditions of existence (at the level of both the material and cultural) would, we argue, provide a better frame for understanding the existence of a variety of collectivities among the youth population. These collectivities differentially experience and negotiate similar but not identical realities in a contemporary hostile economic landscape marked by growing underemployment, unemployment and rising housing costs.