Multiple childhood geographies: giving voice to young people's experience of place

  • Barry Percy-Smith

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Cultural geography draws attention to the diverse meanings and values of groups in society, however, despite a growing interest in the geographies of children and youth, there have been few recent empirical studies investigating young people’s experience of place. In particular, comparatively little is known about the multiple realities of young people living in contrasting social and environmental contexts. This study investigates the multiple geographies of young people growing up in inner and outer urban areas of an English Midlands town in the late 1990s. An investigation of this kind is especially apposite in that it provides geographical perspectives on the widening, and increasingly more complex, discourses surrounding young people, space and society. This thesis uses participatory and ethnographic methods to engage young people in evaluating their local environments and to explore in detail the meanings, values and experiences young people associate with different places and place uses. The theoretical framework for this study is based on an extensive cross-disciplinary review of literature and informed by recent theories of childhood and youth, social change, social action, children’s rights, participation and citizenship and contemporary cultural geography. It adopts an holistic approach to understanding the complex and multifaceted world of young people as a product of their reflexive relations with their social and environmental contexts. The study recognises the multiple realities that exist within and between different groups of young people and the variable factors which influence young people’s geographies. It utilises conventional social variables such as gender and age to differentiate between ‘cultures of childhood’, together with contingency factors concerning location and parental influence. The study reveals both commonalities and differences in young people’s experience of place, which cut across social and spatial divides to give rise to a heterogeneity of childhood experiences. A major conclusion is that ‘lifestyle’ or ‘microcultures’ offer a more suitable way forward for future children and youth research. The thesis contributes to discourses of childhood and youth by investigating how childhood is constructed, contested and reproduced in neighbourhood space. The marginal status of young people in urban neighbourhood space is exposed in terms of the neglected spaces of young people, marked by a dearth of appropriate environmental provision, environmental hazards and conflict with adult place users. However, the thesis also reveals young people’s keenness to be more involved in improving their communities, together with a range of different ‘modes’ of participation in local decision making and community development processes. The thesis concludes by highlighting key implications for policy and planning with and for young people with respect to social and environmental provision for young people, environmental quality, and the social integration of young people in everyday community life, local decision making and environmental planning
    Date of Award1999
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Northampton
    • University of Leicester
    SupervisorHugh Matthews (Supervisor)

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