This week we read Studying Urban Youth by Greg Dimitriadis, a primer that tries to get at the heart of what it means to study youth, and how it should be done. The history of youth studies focused on youth as part of a location. Dimitriadis challenges this notion and posits that place is a constantly evolving platform rather than a static site. While the home and the school are where youth spend most of their time, they aren’t solely defined by these places. There is a 3rd space at play – the community.
This is where youth development happens and where kids follow their passions and develop their personalities. Which is why Community Based Organizations (CBO’s) do such critical work by providing a safe space for children to explore and enjoy their youth. In this primer on studying youth, art is set forth as a safe space, at work inside and outside school. Likewise, sports also represent a safe space and can be found in gym classes, after school programs, club teams, and beyond. Sports in this sense create a community within a community and they satisfy this human tendency to be social and to connect with one’s peers.
As researchers, educators, and/or media creators, we have the responsibility to understand the youth to the best of our ability. But they aren’t our subjects, they’re our partners in this field of study – they are our greatest resource. In doing fieldwork and collecting data for media productions, we should approach these events as encounters, not assignments. We should constantly strive to observe and participate, and to do so from within. In the realm of sports, a great way to integrate into these safe spaces is by taking the role of coach and mentor and truly trying to understand where these kids are coming from – what their background is, what they are learning, and how they are developing.
In all this, there is a safe space I’m keen on exploring: girls in sports. Dimitriadis discusses the concept of postsubcultures, a concept of moving away from the traditional concept of subcultures. In other words, playing with the traditional criteria for being part of a group – now punks can wear cardigans, intellectuals can enjoy chick flicks, and women can be jocks. The concept of a safe space is that everyone is welcome, and through this attitude, young children realize that they can choose their future and excel in it.