We’re now about half way through the group interviews with young people aged 14 to 17. When we finish next term we will have talked to about 150 people across six schools in London, the South West and the North West of England. All school names used are pseudonyms. From these data we are going to select 12 celebrities to explore as case studies – delving into the discourses of aspiration that feature in talk about them. In a recent meeting we came up with this list of 12 based on the first half of the interviews…
We were delighted to see Caitlin Moran telling John Lanchester why celebrity culture is too important to leave to the gossip magazines. She explains how celebrity seems to be confined to the likes of OK, Heat and Hello which tend to reduce the discussion to “always being, ‘well, she’s sweaty, she’s fat, she couldn’t hold it together’, end”. Instead Moran wants to see people “treating it with the importance it deserves”. Laura, Kim and I are spending a lot of time doing just that through this project and feel lucky that we managed to convince the ESRC that it was worth £170k. Despite welcoming this intervention from Moran and her earlier one into debates on feminism, we have a few qualms about one aspect of what she said…
After a lot of work finding schools, we have begun fieldwork and carried out six focus groups in two schools. In this post, we (Kim and Heather) share some of the things that surprised us in our 14 to 17 year-old participants’ talk about celebrities – from arguments about diver Tom Daley to animated discussions of classic Hollywood and Bollywood film stars.
Our project aims to collect and catalogue an archive of data on the role of celebrity in young people’s aspirations. The archive will include data from group and individual interviews, online discussion data and celebrity case studies. Data archiving is prioritised by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council raises a number of ethical and practical questions. Archiving enables the sharing of anonymised data with other researchers, creating the possibility of comparative studies and additional analysis of the data. From an ethical perspective, enabling other researchers to analyse existing data sets makes good use of the time and energy that research participants put in to taking part in research projects, encourages rich interpretations of our data and transparency of data analysis.
This post is a shout out to Bryony Kimmings‘ new artistic experiment. Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model (CLSRM for short) is a collaboration between Bryony and her 9 year old niece Taylor. Bryony got in touch with us a few weeks ago when we launched this website. She introduced herself:
I am a performance artist. I am based between Cambridge at a venue called the Junction and Soho Theatre and Southbank Centre in London. A contact in the education department of a big theatre sent me a link to your wonderful website and the research project you are currently amidst. Its raising some attention! They thought it would be useful reading for my current project.
The social statement for Bryony’s new project describes how it:
seeks to promote a non-conventional character as a role model for young people using the current strategies and methods available. The aim is to explore whether this character can have the same amount of influence on young people as the current conventional offer. If this succeeds then we can conclude that there is potential for an alternative offer for young people. If this fails we can make a more informed social comment on the current offer and the powers generating it.
In this post I discuss some of our dilemmas in designing youth-centred research about celebrity using offline and online methods.
The project team will start fieldwork in schools this month. In our first stage of data collection we will explore how young people collectively talk about celebrities and celebrity culture. We are interested in how our participants find out about celebrities, how they make sense of the stories they hear about them and how they relate these to their own lives.
Last week, David Laws, Minister for Education, attacked teachers and careers educators for creating a culture of ‘depressingly low expectations’ and holding back disadvantaged children by discouraging them from ‘aiming for the stars’. Laws argued that the flatlining of ‘social mobility’ (highlighted by Alan Milburn’s recent report) was not simply the result of poverty but a lack of ambition among teachers which led young people to only consider local employers and ‘lower status’ careers:
Even in my own constituency, Yeovil, which would not be regarded as one of the deprivation blackspots of the country, most young people would regard going into investment banking as almost leaving the country, because it’s a different world… They will often be encouraged to think it is beyond them…. there are too many young people who think that the two or three big employers in their local town are the limit of their aspiration.
Laws is not a lone voice here. Only a few weeks ago, Michael Gove spoke at the Conservative Party Conference about a ‘soft bigotry’ of low expectations among teachers which was failing to address the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils.
Scholarship in the sociology of education has critically engaged with the ways in which discourses of ‘aspiration’ circulate across government policy and how these constitute particular kinds of pupil – and parent – subjects. This research, including my own work with Heather and elsewhere with Sumi Hollingworth – has problematised asocial discourses of ‘low aspirations’. As I have previously argued on this blog, such individualising discourses negate the wider economic structures within which aspirations can be realised.
The blog has been fairly quiet over the last couple of weeks because we’ve been focused on finding six schools in which to carry out interviews with young people. With schools busier than ever and having more and more demands on them, fewer and fewer feel able to support research activity. So, in the hope of making this process a bit less painful for others (and for ourselves in the future), we’ve compiled ourtop ten tips for negotiating access to schools below.
For immediate release, Monday 22 October 2012
Major research project to explore how celebrity informs young people’s aspirations launches today
A detailed 20-month study exploring the ways that celebrity informs young people’s educational and career aspirations is being launched today (Monday 22 October).
The research entitled ‘The role of celebrity in young people’s classed and gendered aspirations’, will be carried out by Dr Heather Mendick and Laura Harvey at Brunel University and Dr Kim Allen at Manchester Metropolitan University. These researchers will be talking to young people about their aspirations and how celebrity culture shapes the way they think about their futures.
The research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, comes as last week David Cameron pinned his hopes on Britain becoming an ‘aspiration nation’. However, in recent comments, David Hanson, chief executive of the Independent Association of Prep Schools, pointed to growing concerns that celebrity culture is impacting negatively on the aspirations of young people.
Aspiration is the engine of progress. Countries rise when they allow their people to rise. In this world where brains matter more, where technologies shape our lives, where no-one is owed a living: the most powerful natural resource we have is our people. -David Cameron
In this post I take a critical eye to the use of ‘aspiration’ in David Cameron’s speech yesterday. What does he mean when he talks about aspiration? And what is left out?
David Cameron’s speech to the Conservative Party conference yesterday focused strongly on the topic of aspiration, positioned as the solution to economic crisis and the tool to ‘meet the challenges our country faces’.
Language is not a transparent thing. The words that we use and how we define particular terms construct certain versions of the world; what gets to count as ‘true’ in any given moment – what Foucault referred to as ‘truth effects’.
Cameron’s speech is a fascinating text to examine the construction of the notion of ‘aspiration’.