‘(Re)imagining Youth: A comparative study of youth leisure in Scotland & Hong Kong’

Research Assistant Lisa Whittaker, based at the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow, shares with us some details of her experiences working on an exciting new project.

‘(Re)Imagining Youth: A comparative study of youth leisure in Scotland & Hong Kong’.
Susan Batchelor, Alistair Fraser, Leona LI Ngai Ling and Lisa Whittaker

(Re)Imagining Youth is a research project about youth leisure in two geographically and culturally diverse research sites: Scotland and Hong Kong. It is being carried out by Susan Batchelor and Lisa Whittaker at the University of Glasgow and Alistair Fraser and Leona LI Ngai Ling at the University of Hong Kong. The project runs from September 2013 until August 2015 and is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong. Building on landmark sociological research from the 1960s (Jephcott 1967, 1971), the study will explore socio-cultural meanings and changing experiences of youth leisure in the two case-study locations.

In 1967, Jephcott published Time of One’s Own, a pioneering study of youth leisure in Scotland which captured the social and leisure habits of 15-19 year-old at a unique point in social – and sociological – history. The study was remarkable for its prescient sociological analysis of youth, but also in its research design and methodology, utilising a range of innovative visual methodologies (photography and illustration). The study is not only a landmark of youth research, but also a benchmark against which to measure continuity and change in the experiences of young people. Though there have been significant alterations to young people’s work, education, and leisure in Scotland since the 1960s, there are striking continuities in contemporary preferences for street-based leisure, as well as changes. The (Re)Imagining Youth study aims to establish a contemporary baseline for analysing these changes, through a revisiting to one of Jephcott’s original fieldsites, in the East End of Glasgow, giving insight into the impact of social change on youth leisure.

Jephcott’s pioneering work on the sociology of youth was not simply restricted to Scotland. Jephcott spent a year in Hong Kong – then a British colony – surveying work, leisure and educational conditions for children and young people (The Situation of Children and Youth in Hong Kong, Jephcott 1971). Her Hong Kong study represents a detailed overview of the circumstances of youth at a critical point in Hong Kong’s history, in the hiatus between the 1967 youth riots and a wide-ranging programme of reforms in the 1970s. In the study, young people were reported as being committed to work, with leisure very peripheral; reflecting deep-seated Confucian values of filial piety, alongside a manifest need to earn in a manufacture-based economy. Given that compulsory secondary education was not introduced in Hong Kong until the 1970s, there was an expectation of work amongst 14 and 15-year-olds that simply did not inhere in the Scottish case. However, like Scotland, Hong Kong has undergone substantial socio-political and economic change since this time. This has led to some apparent convergences in youth leisure between Scotland and Hong Kong – for example the rise of technology, consumerism, and extended youth transitions – but also a strong distinctiveness, with ‘risky’ leisure activities less apparent in Hong Kong, though youth drug-taking is relatively significant.

The study will involve concurrent data-collection in case-study locations in Scotland and Hong Kong using a variety of qualitative methods – including ethnographic observations, stakeholder interviews, focus group discussions, oral history interviews and participatory photography– using common procedures to and ensure comparability. Approximately 150 young people aged 16-24 years, with a cross-section of age, gender, socio-economic background, and work/study status, will be recruited through local youth organisations in both case-study locations. In recognition of the increasing importance of on-line leisure spaces for young people, these methods will be complemented by a range of ethnographic and interview data from young people’s online environments.

We expect the study to contribute to theoretical, methodological and empirical debates relating to youth, globalization and social change across the fields of sociology, criminology, leisure studies and youth studies – through comparison of Western and non-Western settings and development of innovative and rigorous methods. Moreover, we anticipate that the findings will inform public policy relating to children and young people; improve the delivery of public and private leisure provision; and, enhance the health and well-being of young people and their communities.

My experiences so far…
I am really enjoying working as a research assistant on this project. I have spent time in the ‘field’ on a weekly basis since December 2013 and I am finding the East End of Glasgow a fascinating and diverse place. It is interesting to look beyond the stereotypes and stigma that often surrounds the East End of Glasgow and gain an insight into what life is like for young people living there. We are using traditional qualitative methods including interviews and focus groups, but I am also looking forward to using more innovative methods including walking or go-along interviews, participatory photography and digital methods. Having now interviewed several key stakeholders I am now looking forward to speaking to young people over the summer. As this project is a historical and cross-cultural comparison, I am gaining an excellent insight into what life was like for young people in Scotland in the 1960s and what it’s like for young people in Hong Kong.
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