Writing to members of the Choose Youth Alliance, Doug Nicholls comments,
The alienation and discontent that leads to rioting has a record in British history over hundreds of years. We have warned over the last few years that the circumstances in which young people now find themselves are different from anything previously and that a positive approach to their care and support and development needs to be adopted as a matter of policy. Henry Giroux’s book, ‘Youth in a Suspect Society’ well outlines this predicament. As it happens the government has taken a different view about the welfare of our young people and has been entirely negative for youth. Cuts to children’s and young people’s services coupled with outrageous youth unemployment figures have created a new situation which in both rural areas and in large conurbations is leading to new difficulties.
It would be fascinating to study how youth policy historically followed the Notting Hill riots in 1959 then the early 1980’s riots. But the situation has become very urgent indeed and the manifesto of Chooseyouth and our Lobby of Parliament on October 25th take on a new significance. I hope that you will be able to assist the campaign in publicising and promoting both events with renewed urgency. Our campaign remains positive for youth in a real way.
As a member of the Campaign we will be doing everything within our power to build for the Lobby.
Speaking of Henry Giroux, Doug has contributed a succinct introduction to his life and thought on the INFED site, Neo-liberalism’s Nemesis
And if you’ve a moment or two, this article by Giroux, Youth in a Suspect Society: Coming of Age in an Era of Disposability, is well worth investigating. Within it he argues that in the USA there is a war on Youth.
The War Against Youth
The intensifying assault on young people today can be understood through the related concepts of “soft war” and “hard war.” The idea of soft war considers the changing conditions of youth within the relentless expansion of a global market society. Partnered with a massive advertising machinery, the soft war targets all children and youth, devaluing them by treating them as yet another “market” to be commodified and exploited and conscripting them into the system through creating a new generation of consuming subjects. This low intensity war is waged by a variety of corporate institutions through the educational force of a culture that commercializes every aspect of kids’ lives, using the Internet and various social networks along with the new media technologies such as cell phones to immerse young people in the world of mass consumption in ways more direct and expansive than anything we have seen in the past. The influence of the new screen and electronic culture on young peoples’ habits is disturbing. For instance, a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that young people ages 8 to 18 now spend more than seven and a half hours a day with smart phones, computers, televisions, and other electronic devices, compared with less than six and a half hours five years ago.(4) When you add the additional time youth spend texting, talking on their cell phones and doing multiple tasks at once, such as “watching TV while updating Facebook – the number rises to 11 hours of total media content each day.”(5) There is a greater risk here than what seems to be emerging as a new form of attention deficit disorder, one in which youth avoid the time necessary for thoughtful analysis and engaged modes of reading. There is also the issue of how this media is conscripting an entire generation into a world of consumerism in which commodities and brand loyalty become the most important markers of identity and primary frameworks for mediating one’s relationship to the world.
As public spheres are replaced by commercialized spheres and public time is replaced by corporate time through the use of fast-paced technologies that penetrate every aspect of kids’ lives, many young people are commercially carpet bombed endlessly and feel like they are caught on a consumerist treadmill that speeds up and never slows down. The stark reality here is that the corporate media are being used to reshape kids’ identities into that of consumers rather than citizens. And as Bauman points out, “life and politics are now shaped after the likeness of the means and objects of consumption.” Young people are not being invited to participate in a dialogue of what ails society; they are bombarded with images and messages that multimedia corporate giants want them to see and hear – and go to the great lengths and expense conducting all kinds of marketing and psychological research to ensure that kids will accept them. Kids may think they are immune to the incessant call to “buy, buy, buy” and to think only about “me, me, me,” but what is actually happening is a selective elimination and reordering of the possible modes of political, social and ethical vocabularies made available to youth. Corporations have hit gold with the new media and can inundate young people directly with their market-driven values, desires and identities, all of which fly under the radar, escaping the watchful eyes and interventions of concerned parents and other adults.
The hard war is more serious and dangerous for certain young people and refers to the harshest elements of a growing crime-control complex that increasingly governs poor minority youth through a logic of punishment, surveillance and control. The youth targeted by its punitive measures are often the young people who, like their parents, are viewed as failed consumers and can only afford to live on the margins of a commercial culture of excess that eagerly takes in anybody with money, resources and leisure time to spare. Or they are young people considered to be troublesome and often disposable by virtue of their ethnicity, race and class. The imprint of the youth crime-control complex can be traced in the increasingly popular practice of organizing schools through disciplinary practices that subject students to constant surveillance through high-tech security devices, while imposing on them harsh and often thoughtless zero-tolerance policies that closely resemble the culture of the criminal justice system. In this instance, the corporate state is transformed into a punishing state and vulnerable segments of the youth population become the object of a new mode of governance based on the crudest forms of disciplinary control.
Poor minority youth are not just excluded from “the American dream,” but become utterly redundant and disposable, waste products of a society that no longer considers them of any value. Such youth, already facing forms of racial- and class-based exclusion, now experience a kind of social death as they are pushed out of schools, denied job training opportunities, subjected to rigorous modes of surveillance and criminal sanctions and viewed less as chronically disadvantaged than as flawed consumers and civic felons. No longer tracked into either high- or low-achievement classes, many of these youth are now tracked right out of school into the juvenile criminal justice system. Under such circumstances, matters of survival and disposability become central to how we think about and imagine not just politics, but the everyday existence of poor white, Aboriginal, immigrant and minority youth. Too many young people are not completing high school, but are instead bearing the brunt of a system that leaves them uneducated and jobless, and ultimately offers them one of the few options available for people who no longer have available roles to play as producers or consumers – either poverty or prison.
Not only have social safety nets and protections unraveled in the last 30 years, but the suffering and hardships many children face have been greatly amplified by both the economic crisis and the austerity policies that are being currently implemented, with little justification, in the current historical moment. What is happening among the marginalized and socially disadvantaged people in the United States should serve as a dire warning to policymakers. Current statistics paint a bleak picture for young people in the United States: 1. 5 million are unemployed, which marks a 17-year high; 12.5 million are without food; and a number of unsettling reports indicate that the number of children living in poverty will rise to “nearly 17 million by the end of the .”(6) The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth reported that there are over a million homeless students in the United States.(7) A 2009 study counted nearly 6. 2 million high school dropouts.(8) Increasingly, kids are forced to inhabit a rough world where childhood is nonexistent, crushed under the heavy material and existential burdens they are forced to bear.
In what amounts to a national disgrace, one out of every five American children lives in poverty. At the same time, 60 percent of all corporations paid no taxes last year. These figures become even more alarming when analyzed through the harsh realities of economic deprivation and persistent racial disadvantage. Nearly half of all US children and 90 percent of black youngsters will be on food stamps at some point during childhood.(9) Nearly one in every ten male high school dropouts in the United States is in either jail or juvenile detention.(10) For African-American male youth, the incarceration rate jumps to one in four high school dropouts ending up in prison.(11) What becomes clear is that social marginalization, poverty, low levels of education and high unemployment are increasingly driving staggering incarceration rates for young people, with some youth clearly being affected more than others.