Young people and the everyday antisocial
Social concern about deviant, delinquent and disorderly behaviour has a long history in the UK. Propelled by the New Labour government’s Crime and Disorder Act 1998, the ‘antisocial behaviour agenda’ reframed the problem and constructed a punitive solution (Newburn, 2007). While in recent years Scottish policy has diverged from the punitive rhetoric established in Westminster, the ‘antisocial’ individual continues to be conceptualised as part of a disruptive minority that fails to conform to societal norms of behaviour. This antisocial minority has, invariably, come to be associated with young people and, in particular, young people from ‘disadvantaged’ socio-economic circumstances. While there is a growing body of empirical research on this topic, most has focused on young people’s relationship to antisocial behaviour in terms of their role as victim or as perpetrator. Alternatively, studies have evaluated how young people experience specific policy interventions. The principal aim of this doctoral research is to shift away from attempting to explain why young people become involved in antisocial behaviour and instead explore the diverse ways they define, experience and relate to it. Its gaze, therefore, is upon young people’s everyday interactions with antisocial behaviour and, in so doing, seeks to produce a more rounded understanding of young lives. The research was based within ‘Robbiestoun’ (a pseudonym): a predominantly social housing estate in the suburbs of a Scottish city and, as such, was able to situate young people’s experiences of antisocial behaviour alongside their experiences of living in a ‘disadvantaged’ socio-economic place. It employed participatory ethnographic methods to engage with a range of young people across multiple research sites. The empirical analysis found that understandings of what is, and is not, normal behaviour were fundamental to young people’s relationship with the antisocial. Social and physical disorder was a regular occurrence, and for many, it was an established, even normal, part of everyday life. Nonetheless, young people were aware of external categorisations of Robbiestoun and its residents as ‘abnormal’, an identity which most young people resisted and challenged. Young people’s behaviour in public spaces was similarly contested. Professionals (and many adults) had clear ideas about what constituted normal, social behaviour and these frequently conflicted with those held by young people. Such conflict was most evident for those young people actively engaged in criminal and antisocial acts. Not only was antisocial was a label these groups identified with, but they also rationalised their involvement in antisocial behaviour as an expected, and indeed necessary, part of growing up in Robbiestoun. The research revealed that young people utilised a range of strategies, techniques and rationales which enabled them to navigate the area’s ‘abnormal’ identity and ‘get on’ with ‘normal’ life. Such tactics were not universal across Robbiestoun, but rather varied according to young people’s own behavioural standards and social norms. The research concludes by arguing that the different relationships young people have to antisocial behaviour were, in fact, expressions of economic inequality, poverty and material disadvantage. This is an important point, but one not adequately addressed by policy makers. Rather than pursuing policy objectives based on the pursuit of ‘correct’ social values and norms, it is contended that more attention must be given the role of local norms in shaping young people’s definitions of, and relationships to, antisocial behaviour. Only then can a more rounded understanding of everyday lives in a disadvantaged place be developed and, in turn, workable solutions be found and delivered.