Young people and territoriality in British cities

Remember that stuff about territory, crime and young people?  Well the JRF have published new research on a similar theme.

They find:

  • Young people see territory as part of everyday life and that’s particularly true of areas where there’s a strong sense of identity.
  • Young people get there sense of territory from older people.
  • Boys are particularly territorial, and that goes on into adulthood where territory is tied to criminal behaviour.
  • Being involved in disputes about territory can mean constrained mobility, problems with access to amenities, and the risk of violent assault and criminalisation.
  • These negative effects of territory are most felt by those most involved in the dispute, but are also felt by young people who are not involved.
  • Even low level territoriality could be a sign of links to gang crime.

The researchers suggest the motivation for being involved in this sort of behaviour is multifaceted:

  • Territorial affiliations were a source of friendship and group solidarity that provided an alternative to household and family affiliations.
  • Young people sought recognition and ‘respect’ among their peers.
  • Participation in territorial conflict was sometimes motivated by a sense of ownership over the area, and the desire to protect the area or oneself. Simply crossing a boundary into a neighbouring territory was regarded as an insult and could lead to conflict.
  • As male teenagers became sexually aware, territoriality was intensified by the protection, or perceived ownership, of girls and young women in that area.
  • In some places, territoriality was a leisure activity, a form of ‘recreational violence’ where ‘gang fighting’ was ritualised.
  • Territoriality was sometimes associated with material crime for financial gain.

They suggest that current activities that are designed to reduce positive associations with being involved in territorality are unable to challenge the underlying causes, particularly unemployment and social deprevation.  They authors say:

These projects faced a number of challenges including reaching out effectively to those most affected, and were hindered by limited capacity and access to funding. On the whole across Britain these schemes appeared opportunistic, temporary and somewhat randomly distributed.

As any good researcher does they conclude that there’s a need for more research, pointing out that:

addressing problematic territoriality would support the current theme in planning and housing policy to encourage social mix in both existing and newly developed residential areas and, within them, to consider the institutions and spaces that are necessary to allow social mixing to occur.

About Andrew Brown

I live in Lewisham, South East London, and spent 9 years as a Labour councillor in the borough between 1997 and 2006.
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