Is Good News No News? Stereotypes about young people in the East End of Glasgow Lisa Whittaker

A recent report by Demos and the National Citizen Service (NCS) revealed young people feel they are unfairly represented in the media and this is having a negative impact, not only on their self-esteem, but also their search for work:

Four-fifths of teens (81%) feel they are unfairly represented in the media. Most of them (85%) go on to argue that negative stereotypes are affecting their chances of getting a job – with ‘unemployment and access to work’ being the biggest concern of this age group as they look to enter the workforce   mbackfromgettingjobs

This adds yet more weight to the argument that young people want to work. Not only do they lack opportunities to enter the labour market but the limited opportunities that are available could be being further restricted due to false stereotypes.

This report made me reflect on the stereotypes and assumptions about young people – and researchers – that I have encountered during initial stages of fieldwork in the (Re)Imagining Youth study. The study is exploring youth leisure in Scotland and Hong Kong, building on Pearl Jephcott’s landmark sociological research from the 1960s. In my role as researcher, I am focussing on the East End of Glasgow and hope to speak to young people aged 16-24 years. In her sample of 600 young people in 1967, Jephcott found only 12 who were not working 18 months after leaving school. I doubt I will find the same situation today, due to the recession and structural changes in the labour market.  Given the recent Demos report, I wonder how stereotypes about young people will impact upon work and employment opportunities for those in the East End.

I have begun by familiarising myself with the area and meeting key local stakeholders (e.g. youth workers, youth training providers, police, community intervention workers and community council members) to find out more about their work and their thoughts on how young people spend their free time. When meeting stakeholders I have explained that we are interested in the broad topic of youth leisure and how young people spend their free time. Despite this, almost everyone has focussed on ‘gang’ behaviours, with young people being seen as trouble, having low aspirations and unrealistic expectations of work.

It could be argued that the over-emphasis on young people’s negative behaviour, particularly gang activity, is an indication of the stereotypes attached to the East End of Glasgow. Glasgow East is routinely presented as a ‘problem’ area in both the national and local media, where much of the focus is on anti-social behaviour, youth disorder, knife crime, and a violent gang culture. This is one recent example of how young people are portrayed in a local newspaper:


The image used in this article has not been taken in connection with the story, but is a photograph used regularly by local and national press when reporting stories of young people and anti-social behaviour in Scotland, particularly young people in Glasgow, specifically those in the East End of the City. The pixilation of facial features strikes me as problematic, because it objectifies the young people portrayed and conjures up associations of crime.

The East End of Glasgow is often represented as a homogenous place and there is little recognition of the diversity that exists locally, particularly in terms of the contrasting life chances of young people from different areas. In my various trips to the ‘field’ I have seen a range of activities on offer to young people in some areas in the East End of Glasgow, but hardly any in others. Where provision is good, I have witnessed young people engaging positively with the projects on offer. Where it is poor, I have seen young people hanging around in groups on derelict football pitches, presumably due to having nowhere else to go. Rising costs to access facilities have also created barriers for young people with little disposable income.

Of course the stereotypes proffered by local stakeholders may also reveal something about assumptions about researchers. Have people assumed that as a researcher this is the kind of information I am interested in? It is fair to say that the East End of Glasgow has had more than its fair share of academic attention in recent years, with much of the research on young people focussing on gangs and knife crime. Ross Deuchar (2010), for example, documented the experiences of 20 young men from the area, exploring the ways in which a preoccupation with anti-social behaviour, gang culture and punitive interventions impacted on their lives. Likewise, Fraser (2010) explored the social meanings and lived realities attached to the phenomenon of youth gangs for children and young people growing up locally. More recently academic attention has shifted to the legacy of the Commonwealth Games, for example the ongoing study by GoWell: Studying change in Glasgow’s East End. The Games are of huge interest to many people, not only those living in the East End, and it will be interesting to read the findings of this study and what they reveal about the area.

It is also interesting to note how the Demos survey has been reported in the media.  By contrast to the many negative media headlines the title of the report is “Today’s teenagers are more engaged with social issues than ever…” but other than a couple of brief stories there has been minimal mention of this finding, compared to bad news stories. As part of the (Re)Imagining Youth study we will continue to identify and unpack people’s images of young people, their self-esteem, job prospects and the relationships they have with the police and other agencies/organisations.

One thought on “Is Good News No News? Stereotypes about young people in the East End of Glasgow Lisa Whittaker

  1. Pingback: Commonwealth City: Challenging or reinforcing stereotypes of Glasgow’s East End? | (Re)Imagining Youth

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