Engaging youth on their own terms? an actor-network theory account of hip-hop in youth work.
Thesis DisciplineSocial Work
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
With origins in the South Bronx area of New York in the early 1970s, hip-hop culture is now produced and consumed globally. While hip-hop activities can be varied, hip-hop is generally considered to have four forms or “elements”: DJing, MCing, b-boying/b-girling, and graffiti. Although all four elements of hip-hop have become a part of many youth work initiatives across the globe, public debate and controversy continue to surround hip-hop activities. Very little research and literature has explored the complexities involved in the assembling of hip-hop activities in youth work sites of practice using these hip-hop elements. This study attends to the gap in hip-hop and human service literature by tracing how hip-hop activities were assembled in several sites of youth work activity in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Actor-network theory (ANT) is the methodological framework used to map the assemblage of hip-hop-youth work activities in this study. ANT follows how action is distributed across both human and non-human actors. By recognising the potential agency of “things”, this research traces the roles played by human actors, such as young people and youth workers, together with those of non-human actors such as funding documents, social media, clothing, and youth venue equipment. This ethnographic study provides rich descriptions or “snapshots” of some of the key socio-material practices that shaped the enactment of hip-hop-youth work activities. These are derived from fieldwork undertaken between October 2009 and December 2011, where participant observation took place across a range of sites of hip-hop-youth work activity. In addition to this fieldwork, formal interviews were undertaken with 22 participants, the majority being youth workers, young people, and youth trust administrators.
The ANT framework reveals the complexity of the task of assembling hip-hop in youth work worlds. The thesis traces the work undertaken by both human and non-human actors in generating youth engagement in hip-hop-youth work activities. Young people’s hip-hop interests are shown to be varied, multiple, and continually evolving. It is also shown how generating youth interest in hip-hop-youth work activities involved overcoming young people’s indifference or lack of awareness of the hip-hop resources a youth trust had on offer. Furthermore, the study highlights where hip-hop activities were edited or “tinkered” with to avoid hip-hop “bads”. The thesis also unpacks how needed resources were enlisted, and how funders’ interests were translated into supporting hip-hop groups and activities. By tracing the range of actors mobilised to enact hip-hop-youth work activities, this research reveals how some youth trusts could avoid having to rely on obtaining government funds for their hip-hop activities. The thesis also includes an examination of one youth trust’s efforts to reconfigure its hip-hop activities after the earthquakes that struck Christchurch city in 2010 and 2011.
Working both in and on the world, the text that is this thesis is also understood as an intervention. This study constitutes a deliberate attempt to strengthen understandings of hip-hop as a complex, multiple, and fluid entity. It therefore challenges traditional media and literature representations that simplify and thus either stigmatise or celebrate hip-hop. As such, this study opens up possibilities to consider the opportunities, as well as the complexities of assembling hip-hop in youth work sites of practice.