Missing the mainstream

The new issue of Sociological Research Online has just been published. Within it is a special section on ‘The marginalised middle: making sense of the missing middle of youth studies’. Here is the editorial introduction by Steven Roberts and Robert MacDonald. They make the point that youth studies has tended to focus on the margins, and as a result has been overlooking the mainstream/majority. In some ways this is a bit of a tendency in social research more generally. I frame my second year module on popular culture in this way, it is an attempt to tackle mainstream cultural forms. The margins obviously need attention, these people are often voiceless or hidden within wider movements, we need to study the margins, but I agree with Roberts and MacDonald’s point that this shouldn’t lead us to overlook mainstream developments. As they put it:

Research in the field of youth studies has produced many important insights and has been influential in critiquing, shaping, and changing our understandings of, and social policies in respect of, young people’s lives. The social scientific focus has, rightly so, oftentimes been on those young people more obviously situated on the margins of society and possibly at risk of becoming excluded or disconnected from it. There has been some occasional and direct research interest in the lives of more advantaged young people who follow more successful youth transitions through extended education. Often, however, it is taken for granted that those on ‘slow track transitions’ are ‘successful’ – and un-problematic in social policy terms. Regardless, in adopting this dualism – successful versus unsuccessful transitions, slow-track versus fast track trajectories, advantaged versus disadvantaged – youth research is in danger of ignoring the experiences of young people who fall somewhere in-between.

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