Youth Collectivities: Making them Visible and Researchable

Convenor: Valentina Cuzzocrea (Università di Cagliari), Ilaria Pitti (Università di Bologna)


Theories of individualisation, from Ulrich Beck onwards, have largely influenced the study of young people across approaches and contexts. While the meanings and value of ‘being together’ have received attention along specific research interests (for instance, in relation to peer relations in educational settings), scholarship has at times subtly suggested, and often implied, that young people are sole travellers, and that it is alone that they face the difficult socio-economic circumstances that have hit them the most among generations. Attempts to account for the relation between the individual and the collective have been few in youth transitions studies. In youth cultural studies, a critique of traditional Birmingham School accounts of ‘subculture’ and their collective aspects – often related to the sociologist of ‘tribes’ Michel Maffesoli – seems to have lost its energy. The criticism of this lies especially in the fact that a marked disinterest in collectivity per sé may impede to investigate in sufficient depth the very nature of youth interactions and youth life-worlds. Simultaneously, the lack of attention on aspects of collectivity within a fast growing youth research corpus, has left researchers short of adequate methodological instruments to study youth collectivity phenomena.

Therefore, this session seeks to discuss how young people come together in ways that are significant to them (a) and push this interest further in the direction of how we might study these aggregations (b). The focus on youth is meant to be both relevant in itself and strategic to reflect on wider societal changes.

This proposal is built on work in progress, including the edited collections Forms of Collective Engagements in Youth Transitions: a Global Perspective (edited by Valentina Cuzzocrea, Ben Gook and Bjørn Schiermer for Brill) and Youth Collectivities. Cultures, Objects, Belonging (edited by Bjørn Schiermer, Ben Gook and Valentina Cuzzocrea for Routledge). Following this, it seeks to further sensibilize to the topic and encourage to reflect on the best ethnographic strategies to investigate it.

Open Questions

- Are existing ethnographic methods adequate to capture the meanings of youth collectivities? How do we relate, as researchers, with settings which may be very normative (e.g. in education, inside schools, and school to work programmes etc.), or at the contrary very fluid and spontaneous (e.g. in the streets, in leisure, consumption etc.)?

- Can we solve all power and ethical issues with participatory methods?

- And how far can we experiment with new research methods in ways that on one side keep the dialogue open with practitioners and policy makers, and on the other, stay theoretically sound?


Youth, subculture, transitions to adulthood, individualization theory, participatory methods.

Fields of Study

Sociology, cultural studies, youth studies, leisure studies, consumption.

Posted in