Hope and Young People on the Margins: Hope and Utopias as Prerequisites for Sustainability

By Patrick O’Leary and Simon Robb.

Published by The Sustainability Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

A critical aspect of social sustainability is how society encourages and supports marginalised young people to fulfil their potential. Knowledge about young people’s hopes for the future may help society to better engage with them in order to maximise their participation in creating sustainable futures. There is however little engagement with the full range of marginalised young people’s hopes and ideas about the future because much of the effort to assist them has been invested in both etiological and corrective strategies. This paper is based on research with Australian marginalised young people who attended specialised educational institutions because of exclusion from mainstream schooling. The research asked young people how they experienced or imagined hope and the future. A range of methods were used to gather this information including bio photography (or photo-elicitation), individual and group interviews, and art work. The young people were treated as research assistants rather than problems to be solved by research. They were encouraged to think about hope and the future in utopian ways, that is without the constraints of practical reality. The work produced by them formed the basis of a museum exhibition, entitled ‘Hope’ at the 2008 Adelaide Festival of Arts. Analysis of the young people’s accounts of hopefulness and the future shows the importance of personal connections to places and significant others. Underlying some constructions of the future are stands of resistance to ways in which young people have been stereotypically constructed by mainstream society. Young men and women both display ways in which they comply and resist dominant gender scripts. The paper will conclude with some implications for policy and practice when working with marginalised young people that may encourage hope and engagement.

Keywords: Young People, Marginalisation, Hope, Sustainability, Gender

The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp.325-342. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 3.117MB).

Dr. Patrick O’Leary

Department of Social and Policy Sciences, University of Bath, UK & , School of Psychology, Social Work and Social Policy, University of South Australia, University of Bath and Univeristy of South Australia, Bath, Somerset, UK

Dr. Patrick O’Leary is based at the University of Bath, in the Department of Social and Policy Sciences and he is a visiting Associate Professor at the University of South Australia in the School of Psychology, Social Work and Social Policy. His research area has predominantly been in social work and gender based violence. He has worked in both developing and developed countries in domestic violence, child protection and adult survivors of childhood abuse. Dr. O’Leary is a member of a multi-disciplinary team of researchers examining hope and marginalised young people. Many of these young people have been adversely effected by violence and trauma in their lives as well as dominant gender scripts.

Dr. Simon Robb

Research Fellow, Hawke Research Institute for Sustainable Societies, University of South Australia, Magill, SA, Australia

Dr. Simon Robb has Ph.D in English from the University of Adelaide, he has written numerous publications on English literature, art and associated cultural studies and art. He is a lead researcher in the project on marginalised young people and hope, funded by the Australian Research Council.


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