Young people’s access to housing is under the spotlight in the UK. The Housing and Planning Bill is currently being debated in the House of Lords, and there are campaigns across the country for people to have a right to secure housing. Many of the young people we spoke to as part of the celebyouth project talked about where they lived now and in the future – with popular culture being one resource they drew on to talk about their lives. In this guest blog post, blogger and writer Chris Smith discusses how reality TV represents housing, and what impact this might have on young people’s aspirations.
What are some of the first ideas about social class that children are exposed to? For many children, movies provide early ideas about class inequality. About one third of young children watch a movie every day and many watch the same movies repeatedly. Children tend to grow up in neighborhoods, schools, and families that are all of one class, so movies offer children a key glimpse into a social class that is not their own. In a recent article in the Journal of Poverty, Jessi Streib, Miryea Ayala and Colleen Wixted present findings from their analysis how class is portrayed in children’s movies. As Jessi discusses in this guest blog post, their analysis illustrates that children’s movies provide a consistent and worrying message: that social class inequality is benign.
As the CelebYouth project has demonstrated there exists much public concern that young people today are too heavily influenced by ‘popular culture’ and in particular the ‘cult of the celebrity’. There have been particular concerns that children and young people admire individuals whose short-lived fame is based on luck, physical prowess or limited talent, rather than more enduring and socially beneficial achievements based on ‘hard work’. Relatedly, it has been claimed that the ‘cult of the celebrity’ is creating a climate in which young people seek to realise themselves through ‘fame’ and reject the more traditional pathway to success – academic achievement, hard work and educational qualifications. Despite all these concerns, very little research has been done on who it is that children and young people actually admire and dislike. In a recent paper in the journal Discourse, Sally Power and Kevin Smith address this gap, drawing on research into the heroes and villains of 1200 children and young people living in Wales. In this blog post they present an insight into their findings.
Back in December, I was interviewed on Radio 5 Live about my opposition to Syrian air strikes. The interviewer clearly had doubts about my politics but also about my job, evident when she introduced me in a sceptical tone as “Heather Mendick, who describes herself on Twitter as a freelance academic”. The idea of working as a freelance academic is unfamiliar, even to many university-based academics. The most common question I get asked by them is “What do you do?” In this blog I answer that question.
Like many researchers, at CelebYouth, we hope that our research is not just academic but can play a small part in social change. Through telling stories about the young people who participated in our study, we hope that those who read or hear them will gain a greater understanding of social inequality and be provoked to act. These are huge aspirations, but we see ourselves working within a collective of critical social researchers and see this change as something we do together through collaboratively building ideas and analysis. With these goals in mind, when we tell stories about our research participants, we usually seek to do so in ways that generate empathy in readers and listeners. But in this post, I suggest that provoking alienation may be a better strategy.
An important strand of UK government education policy over the last two decades has focused on ‘raising aspirations’ as a way of increasing social mobility and overcoming disadvantage. Within this, some aspirations are classified as high and others as low. High aspirations are generally equated with middle-class pathways into higher education followed by professional occupations. This is evident in 2014 statements from a government advisor that ‘working class children must learn to be middle class’ and ‘that children from poor homes need help to change the way they eat, dress and conduct personal relationships to get ahead in life’. Similar attitudes have pervaded Labour Party education policy. But last September, Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader gaining the votes of an unprecedented quarter of a million people. His policies and ideas mark a significant shift for the Party. In this post, I argue that we can we take inspiration from the Corbyn political revolution to reclaim the word ‘aspiration’.
Beyoncé definitely knows how to cause a stir by dropping this amazingly pro-black video in (US) Black History Month argues Jaimeel Fenton in this guest blog. Click here for a contrasting view of “Formation” from Kwame Ibegbuna.
Beyoncé’s newly released song “Formation” has garnered a lot of attention, admiration and no little controversy. But once again, the actual lyrical content is far less powerful than the undoubtedly spectacular visuals. The lack of critical attention to the song’s lyrics however, is unsurprising given the less than revolutionary nature of them, argues Kwame Ibegbuna this guest blog. Click here for a contrasting view of “Formation” from Jaimeel Fenton.
Last month we (Heather, Kim, Laura and Aisha) signed a contract with Bloomsbury Publishing for a book entitled ‘Celebrity, Aspiration and Contemporary Youth: Education and Inequality in an Era of Austerity’ based on the CelebYouth study. We’re currently writing the first chapters with the final manuscript due in February 2017. We’re very excited about this book and the interest we’ve had in our work meant we felt optimistic about finding a publisher. However securing a deal for the book we wanted to write turned out to be trickier than we thought. I describe that process in this post.
‘A public fascination with a family possessing incalculable wealth should itself signify an interesting academic puzzle’ – Michael Billig
As Michael Billig’s classic study of how ordinary people talk about the Royal Family demonstrated, The Royals present an interesting ‘academic puzzle’. Yet, in recent years relatively little academic attention has been paid to the cultural and political significance of the Windsor family. As scholars working across both Sociology and Cultural Studies, Laura Clancy and Kim are both interested in how the Royal Family are mediated, particularly against a backdrop of austerity, ever-growing inequality and declining social mobility. As they show in this blog, academic research into inequality would be greatly enhanced by a critical examination of the Royals.
Elsewhere we have examined how the Royals’ position of immense wealth and privilege is justified and legitimated, arguing that constructions of ordinariness and authenticity are pivotal in erasing structural inequalities and enhancing public perception of the Royals. In this blog post we will further examine these processes by considering a recently aired television documentary, When Ant and Dec Met the Prince: 40 Years of the Prince’s Trust.