Journal Article

Young People, Risk Taking and Risk Making: Some Thoughts for Social Work

Elaine Sharland

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 36, issue 2, pages 247-265
Published in print February 2006 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online October 2005 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
Young People, Risk Taking and Risk Making: Some Thoughts for Social Work

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Policy makers, professionals and the public have become increasingly concerned with identifying and managing young people who are not only troubled or at risk, but troubling or risky. Social work, however, has been relatively silent on the subject. In social work practice, young people have become largely ‘someone else’s problem’; in the academy, relatively little critical attention has been given to their risk taking, or to the way we ‘make’ or construct it. This paper takes an exploratory rather than systematically comprehensive journey, across a range of discursive terrains, to open up the debate. Examining current concerns with youth and risk, it explores some of the social and psychological theory bases whereby youth is constructed as a risky business. Drawing on empirical research from several disciplines, it examines patterns and dynamics of young people’s risk taking, and explores concepts of risk culture and cultural learning, identity capital and Bourdieu’s notion of ‘habitus’, to frame these. The discussion highlights the need for critically reflective social work to understand the complex interplay of identity and agency, structure, culture and context that underpins young people’s risk taking. It encourages us to scrutinize our judgements of what is acceptable or unacceptable riskiness, what within and what beyond the pale.

Keywords: young people; risk

Journal Article.  9022 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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