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Fields of experience: young people's constructions of embodied identities

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posted on 09.11.2010, 13:00 authored by Rachel A. Holroyd
This thesis is concerned with issues relating to young people, identity and physical culture, and attempts to highlight how the comelex structure of young people's social experiences can influence their constructions of self. It follows a number of calls by various researchers for a multi-dimensional approach to the study of youth lifestyles (e. g. Hendry et al, 1996), and one that, while acknowledging societal influences on young people's practices, does not deny their potential to act agentically (e. g. Christensen & James, 2000). As such, taking into account the concerns expressed over the increasing pressures facing young people in contemporary society, and the problematisation of various youth behaviours, it examines the extent to which young people shape and are shaped by their experiences in a number of interrelating social contexts. The research upon which this account is based focuses on a notion of identity that is ephemeral, reflexive, and embodied, and examines the experiences of young people in five intersecting social sites that were identified from the literature as important contexts for individuals' constructions of identities: family, peers, school, media, and physical culture. These social arenas are likened to Bourdieu's notion of fields, and are perceived to be structured spaces in which the development of an appropriate habitus and the possession of relevant capital can help to determine an individual's practice and position within them. Data were generated through a series of focus group discussions with four groups of five young people (ten boys and ten girls) from three schools in tile Midlands. The young people were selected from a larger sample that had been surveyed and clustered in relation to their motivation to physical activity, and each group comprised an individual from each cluster. The focus group sessions involved semi-structured conversations in addition to a program of activity-based research tasks, and culminated in the creation of individual identity posters. The taped conversations and material infonnation generated through the focus group sessions were then collated, and a grounded theory approach was employed in the thematic analysis of tile data. A number of analytic strategies such as coding, memos, and conceptual mapping were utilised within this process, and, in association with a consideration of tile conceptual tools of field, habitus, practice, and capital, contributed to the development of theory. Within tile thesis, the five main analysis chapters presented the key themes in relation to each field, and highlighted the identity i work that the participants engaged in within each of these social sites. The chapters. map out the structure and practices of each field, and examine their influences on the young people's attempts to construct understandings of self. The final chapter of the thesis then attempts to summarise the findings of these previous analysis chapters, and examine them in relation to the central research questions that guided and underpinned the study. As such, the repetition of core themes, such as the management and presentation of self, a desire for autonomy and respect, and a tension within a dialect of conforinity and resistance, were identified as significant aspects of young people's social practices. Additionally, the evident overlaps between the different contexts indicated the complex configuration of fields within the experiences of young people. In relation to this issue, the final chapter focuses in particular on how the fields configured for the young people in relation to the field of physical culture, as this was identified in the study as a primary site for the construction of embodied identities. Having presented these key findings, the thesis concludes with a discussion of the implications for those working with and for young people, and for the design and implementation of youth policies, particularly in relation to the area of physical activity.



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences


© Rachel A. Holroyd

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Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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