This dissertation is based on an empirical, qualitative and explorative research project carried out amongst young male immigrants between 14-25 years of age and living in a developing settlement from the 1970’s in a suburban environment north of Copenhagen. It investigates questions relating to immigrant youth and delinquency, social exclusion and responses towards social and economic strain. It focuses on youth groups and their efforts to develop different social, cultural and economic strategies in order to gain upward social mobility, recognition or status. These social strategies are being expressed through the construction of collective identities based on ethnicity and masculinity developed through social, symbolic and physical spaces and a development of a local street lifestyle, No life.
Central themes in the local public debate since the mid 1990’s reflect major concerns about the youth groups from the local housing estates and social problems like delinquency, drug abuse and youths hanging around in the streets within the local area and inside the local shopping mall. This has caused different reactions and initiatives amongst local people as well as the media, politicians and the police. Moreover, public categorisations of immigrant youth represented as gangs has produced labelling and stigmatisation not only of the settlement, but also of the different youth groups. This study investigated the reaction of youth towards this stigmatisation and categorisation by focusing on the processes of identity formation and the development of social strategies by the youth groups in order to gain respect and social recognization in response to social exclusion.
This study describes local initiatives for dealing with immigrant youth as well as the development of different youth strategies in order to gain access to important social and cultural resources as well as social and cultural space. The two youth clubs Club 1188 and Westside were started as a result of a new strategy for dealing with troublesome immigrant youth by on one hand the local council, the police and on the other by the social workers on one hand and the youths themselves, in founding a separate club for immigrant youth groups. It was seen how the youth groups employed different social strategies and formed different collective identities. The first youth group employed a social strategy to avoid social exclusion based on ethnicity. They developed a cultural identity around their ethnic language, Islamic religious values as well as democratic and universal values, and thereby gained access to local and national institutions and hence opened up new spaces of opportunity.
The second group, however, developed social strategies as a response to social exclusion, based on gendered ethnicity and construction of an expressive masculinity expressing ideals of manhood, consumption of global youth culture, hip hop and the development of a subcultural lifestyle on the streets in the local neighbourhood as their cultural and social space.
Whereas the Club 1188 was successful in securing social stability over some years by resolving local conflicts between youth groups, the police and the local inhabitants by using the young people of Turkish origin as voluntary youth workers and as partners and role models in crime prevention, the other club was less successful.
Club 1188 members developed from a spontaneously excluded and stigmatised youth group into ethnic entrepreneurs and they gradually managed to obtain paid positions within the crime preventing networks in the local community. They also helped to socialise their younger brothers within the youth club. Some of them later managed to enter into universities and other kinds of paid employment, thereby gaining access to structures of opportunity and social mobility. Thus, success was achieve by constructing ethnicity, in the form of moral and cultural norms of Islamic values, such as prohibition of alcohol and smoking and gendered segregation and also by using social strategies such as mobilisation of ethnic peers based on solidarity. The peers developed into ethnic entrepreneurs (Barth, 1969, 1994) and entered the social and cultural space and arenas for social upward mobility and the development of a cultural identity. This identity was formulated in terms of a revaluation of Middle Eastern religious and democratic values which became a common cultural identity amongst the peers forming the youth community.
This type of ethnicity was neither taken up nor valued, by the other youth group and the younger brothers, who were heterogeneous in relation to their social and cultural backgrounds. They were engaged in a radically different lifestyle. Drawing on existing social categories employed by the local authorities, including the media and the police, such as ‘gangs’, they emphasized an overall excluded identity in opposition to Danish youth and in opposition main Danish society. They adapted stigmatised social categories into values and ideals of manhood and masculine behaviour, based on codes of respect and brotherhood and meanings and symbols from gangsta rap and from the global hip hop culture The construction of a black expressive masculinity based on models of ’the gangster’ and ’the outlaw’ and subcultural values, such as “respect” and “loyality” towards the brotherhoods was displayed in conflicts with the police and authorities, as well as towards other local youth groups or to the other sex. The ethnic language was exchanged with a local dialect, which could be described as a mixed and sexualised form of piss-taking (Willis, 2000:14-23). This group of boys were engaged in a lifestyle on the streets, which in their own words was called “No life”. The social interaction of this youth group was based on forms of competition in relation to physical strength and material symbols, such as designer clothes, symbols of wealth such as golden chains and physical mobility by scooters or cars and they were copying role models from the global hip hop culture: gangsta rap. Strategies for social mobility were pursued through a consumer lifestyle, made possible by a network of cooperation, such as friends, brothers or families and spontaneous jobs, including street crime, such as robbery and theft.
In order to analyse the youth groups’ response to social exclusion, this process of formation of social and ethnic identity was clearly important, since they seemed to respond to the use of dominant external categorisations. With self identifications, such as “blacks”, “outsider”, “gangsters” and “no life”, forms of social stereotypes were dismantled and subverted by entering into a symbolic space, the streets, in which these youths were dominant, and no longer dominated, and where social categories were being negotiated. Ethnicity amongst these youth groups were interpreted as a language of race and gender domination, and it was employed to control public spaces and places of leisure, and acted out through verbal or physical gender domination and aggression. However whereas the youth groups as teenagers living the local street lifestyle engaged in forms of delinquency and some of them later developed criminal careers in the transition phase from childhood to adulthood where crimes were used as an economic strategy in order to form an independent lifestyle and adult manhood. Crime was thus a way of constructing masculinity in order to gain “respect” and self dignity.
Aalborg: Aalborg Universitet , 2007. , 335 p.
Doktorsavhandling framlagd vid Aalborg universitet 2007-02-27, Rum 1, Aalborg, Danmark.