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  • Author or Editor: Janet Batsleer x
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The Social Conditions of Loneliness

Anchored in accounts of young people’s personal experiences of loneliness, this book addresses important questions about tackling today’s epidemic of loneliness among young people.

It explores experiences of loneliness in early life, how it is navigated when first encountered and considers how social conditions of poverty, precarity, inequality and competitive pressures to succeed can dramatically influence these feelings.

Presenting diverse and nuanced social accounts of loneliness, the authors explore ways to harness the creative and positive potential of loneliness and provide evidence-based recommendations for policy makers, practitioners and young people to help tackle the crisis.

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Young people are often at the forefront of democratic activism, whether self-organised or supported by youth workers and community development professionals. Focusing on youth activism for greater equality, liberty and mutual care – radical democracy – this timely collection explores the movement’s impacts on community organisations and workers. Essays from the Global North and Global South cover the Black Lives Matter movement, environmental activism and the struggles of refugees.

At a time of huge global challenges, youth participation is a dynamic lens through which all community development scholars and participants can rethink their approaches.

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Poverty intensifies loneliness. The impact that lack of money has on the ability to take part in small celebrations and get-togethers that others take for granted intensifies loneliness. The inability to join in and a failure to be able to provide for oneself at a time when young people are meant to be learning to ‘stand on their own two feet’ is accompanied by a strong sense of shame. Poverty is associated with physical isolation in ‘uncared for places’. There can be an association between the shame of poverty and a cycle of mental ill-health and drug use/abuse which intensifies isolation. The concept of ‘social abjection’ is introduced as a means to understand the loneliness associated with poverty.

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Places that pride themselves on their sense of community and belonging can be very lonely places for those who do not fit in. These issues of inclusion/exclusion are illustrated in accounts of experience of growing up with a sense of being an outsider, including stories of growing up with a disability in a town where it is assumed you will not therefore be able to cope with mainstream schooling; growing up LGBT in an area with strong conservative religious views; being a foreigner in a segregated and low paid form of employment; trying to keep away from low level criminal activity in a neighbourhood where this has become the norm. These themes are explored in relation to segregation; stigma; racism; and the meaning of difference.

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The normalised pressures which the current education system places on young people, into their twenties and beyond, mean that the regular summer reporting on the exam results of particular cohorts of young people are followed by reports of an increasing incidence of mental health problems and suicidality. Beginning with young people’s discussions of aspiration during the research project,this chapter points to the fact that discussions of aspiration,achievement and failure of aspiration in educational research have not engaged with the emotional dynamic created especially for working class students leaving their families through educational mobility nor by the belief that ‘success is individual.’ The subheadings of Instrumentality and Achievement; Individualism; On (Not) Disappointing Parents and Unhappiness as Loneliness frame the discussion.

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This chapter considers specific ‘normative’ moments, including of education/work transition and what is involved in undergoing a change process in which there is a risk of loss of connection. Specifically it considers the change of schools from primary to secondary school; the sixth form; star and the experience of moving to a new town to go to University; starting work: common experiences were widely discussed during the research pointing to moments in which loneliness had been intensely felt. The experience of being left out of the system –for a variety of reasons – becoming classified as ‘NEET’- is also presented. The immersive theatre production ‘Missing’ was developed in response to this theme of an ordinary moment of transition and is introduced in this chapter.

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Loss is strongly present in early experience of loneliness. This may be bereavement, but it may also be an experience of parental divorce and separation, of moving into foster care. Sometimes a loss of a feeling of safety and good connection which is the result of violence is accompanied by a loneliness; and the stigma, shame and self-reproach which is associated with becoming a victim of violence is then multiplied in a further stigma associated with loneliness. Using examples of attempted suicide, the trauma of witnessing domestic violence and the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder experienced by a young refugee this chapter’s sub-themes are loss and grief; shame; and social isolation.

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This chapter presents the experience of being left out and not fitting in from a variety of perspectives and draws on the thinking of Audre Lorde and subsequent queer theory to reframe difference as a resource. Ranging from the ways in which children and young people are horrid to one another to the ways in which adults maintain control of groups by harnessing the power of exclusion, it focuses on the micopolitics of exclusion and control. Even when norms seem to have shifted to a greater inclusivity and acceptance of ‘difference’ the experience of being ‘the only one’ in a group is still a lonely one and can be made more so when it is mobilised by others in the interests of retaining power and control. Examples here are of young people exploring non-normative gender and sexuality; of autism; and of young people being cold-shouldered without knowing why.

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This chapter works challenges sensationalising media narratives that claim a deterministic relationship between youth engagement with social media and loneliness. Instead the chapter attempts to contextualise the emphasis on social media in terms of historical shifts in communication technology, as an aspect of young people’s lives, and uses of the Internet more broadly. Evidence is presented of young people’s experiences in managing the pressures of living life online and FOMO or the Fear of Missing Out. The chapter concludes with the description of an arts project developed as part of the project’s legacy to co-produce an online resource to help young people navigate FOMO.

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The complexity of asking for help and giving and receiving it at a time of life when independence is prized above everything is explored. Requests for and offers of help and connection intersect with flows of power where control can masquerade as care. Such masquerades carry the marks of patriarchal control, class-based symbolic violence as well as of individual personalities and life stories. The small acts and everyday connections presented in this chapter are often ingenious and creative forms of mutual support and friendship, subtly undermining expectations about status and control.

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