Disconnection is often associated with notions of community fragmentation, crime and disorder, moral decline and of feral and dangerous young people joining gangs and becoming a threat to the areas in which they lived. In fact, however, we found young people’s lives were best described in terms of a range of connections and disconnections within and across their communities. They often had strong connections with families and one another but, partly as a consequence of the collapse of youth labour markets, the loss of youth services and educational (FE/HE) opportunities, socially excluded and underqualified young people, in particular, were being disconnected from mainstream avenues of opportunity and social mobility. In some areas this meant that they became more involved in illegal local economies, in others, gangs and other forms of age-specific socialisation.
The research evidence in the literature provided ample testimony to the complex and ambiguously connected lives of young people in poor communities and, in feeding our findings back to community meetings, we compared these themes and issues with the issues voiced by community members. Community respondents were concerned, chiefly, by the impact of social change upon lives and communities; by the ways growing inequalities and blocked opportunities impacted upon young people and, above all, by a sense that dis-connection and social fragmentation were resulting from political and economic decisions resulting in the loss of community resources and a diminishing public ‘commitment to welfare‘.
Teaming up with colleagues from the Universities of Kingston and Birmingham, we secured another AHRC Connected Communities research award to pursue further aspects of our work in respect of processes of ‘gangsterisation’ and ‘radicalisation’, two dynamic forms of social exclusion affecting young people.