Introduction: New Directions in Feminist Youth Research. (Focus on Younger Women)

By Harris, Anita | Hecate, May 2001 | Go to article overview

Introduction: New Directions in Feminist Youth Research. (Focus on Younger Women)


Harris, Anita, Hecate


Feminist youth research marks itself out as an area within both youth studies and feminism, creating a space for critical inquiry into the lives of young people that also reflects critically on the mode of this inquiry for researchers. Currently, particular challenges face those engaged in this project. Young people no longer (if they ever did) fit the categories that youth researchers constructed for them when the field of youth studies was demarcated. The very ground on which this discipline has been built is shifting beneath it, as the boundaries around 'youth' become more fluid and contested. Further, young people are increasingly political and reflective about the process and purpose of research with them, and demand new standards in ethics and responsibility to participants. Finally, the issues facing young people in a contemporary context press for new analytical frameworks. The language of pathways, transitions, singular identity formation and linear development toward a fixed adulthood no longer appl ies. Young people's own cultures and expressions of creativity and productivity bump up against corporatised and commodified images of youth. The construction of subjectivity in youth is a process of active contention with forces that appropriate youth culture. And amidst this, still remaining, are normative paradigms about adolescence that police young people, particularly in regard to sexual identity.

Several of the papers collected in this section come from a one day conference on May 17 entitled 'New Directions in Feminist Youth Research', hosted by the Centre for Women's Studies and Gender Research, at Monash University. This conference sought to address emerging issues and approaches in the content and conduct of feminist work with young people. Papers explored intersections of class, gender, culture and sexuality in young women's and men's lives, and the formation of new identities for youth in the context of globalisation and cultural postmodernity. This collection of articles and essays reflects on some of these changing meanings of young people's lives under late modernity.

A theme that runs across each of these pieces is the pressing need for an expansion of the categories that have been constructed to contain, analyse and control young people. Both Kirsten McLean and Lynne Hillier argue that attention to lived experience, which always exists across simple classifications, is critical in understanding the circumstances of young people. For example, discrimination across gender, location and age must be interrogated in analyses of youth who explode the limiting categories of sexual 'preference', 'identification,' or 'desire'.

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