Categories
Health and Wellbeing

COVID, Lockdowns and Young People’s Mental Health and Well-being; A perspective from Geelong

The Challenge

The COVID-19 pandemic is a public health crisis that has mostly impacted the physical health of older people, and people with underlying health concerns. Which is not to say that the health impacts of COVID are not also significant for a number of young people.

However, the series of lockdowns that Melbourne and other Victorian regions and cities have experienced since March 2020 have produced a range of social, economic and policy crises that have had a particular impact on young people – most notably in terms of massive disruptions to schooling, education and training, enforced periods of ‘social distancing’ and isolation from family and friends, and severe impacts to the businesses and labour markets that mostly employ young people.

Around the world, across Australia and Victoria, these disruptions and crises have posed significant health and well-being challenges for different groups of young people, and these challenges have generated much expert and adult commentary. 

Nadia Daly, for example, reported for @abcnews_au that ‘Health experts warn young people are at centre of impending mental health crisis following COVID’ (July 2021).

Professor Patrick McGorry  – one of Australia’s most prominent commentators on mental health – has observed that younger Australians are ‘bearing the brunt of the adverse effects of COVID on mental health’ and that the ‘surge in demand for care hasn’t been met due to inadequate resourcing’. 

Early in the pandemic in 2020 the Melbourne based Commission for Children and Young People conducted surveys with over 640 children and young people, and 170 plus staff from 70 service and support organisations on the impact of COVID-19 on children and young people. 

In those surveys, and in other reports, young people, and the service providers who work with young people, reported increased uncertainty and anxiety about the present and the future, and increases in issues related to feelings of isolation and disconnection. 

The National Youth Commission (NYC) – a leading youth advocacy organisation – Youth Futures Guarantee outlines three key dimensions of the challenges of young people’s health and wellbeing now and in the future (National Youth Commission, The National Youth Commission Inquiry, Youth Futures Guarantee 2020, p.11).

  1. Having greater access to health and wellbeing community supports
  2. Create structured opportunities for healthy peer to peer relationships to develop
  3. Enhanced early interventions services for young people

Under each of these dimensions, the NYC lists a number of concrete interventions to meet these challenges. 

If these interventions are introduced, the NYC makes claims for a number of positive outcomes that will flow from them, including:

Also in 2020, the Youth Affairs Council of Victoria’s (YACVIC 2020) ‘A COVID-19 Recovery Plan for Young People’ identified elements of the emergency and what the future might hold for young people’s mental health and well-being:

The Mental Health Emergency

The stress and uncertainty of the pandemic have challenged young people’s mental health and wellbeing. Social isolation, disruptions to education, unemployment, financial insecurity and uncertainty about the future have contributed to feelings of hopelessness, loneliness, and anxiety.

Increased Ongoing Demand

The mental health impact of the pandemic is likely to continue even after the immediate public health emergency ends…Young people will also take time to recover from the many other negative experiences and sacrifices they have made during the pandemic. Experience from previous recessions shows that young people will experience higher suicide rates and mental ill-health for decades. This means that…ongoing and expanded mental health support is critical to ensure that young people are not left without adequate services as the mental health emergency continues long after the pandemic.

Madeline, and a View of this Emergency from Geelong

For many young people COVID-19 enters a world in which their concerns about the climate crisis and the community, business and political inaction in relation to this crisis, to ongoing concerns about racism, sexism and discrimination on the basis of sexuality or disability all impact on their well-being, their sense of self, and their experience of the present and the future.

In the COVID-19 Recovery Scenarios in Melbourne’s Inner North project, we developed a brief video in which a number of young people spoke about their sense of these challenges:

In the COVID-19 and Young People’s Education and Employment Aspirations project in Geelong, many young people that we have spoken with have canvassed a range of these health and well-being challenges, and the influences these challenges have on their futures and their education, training and employment pathways – and their sense of belonging in families, neighbourhoods and communities.

Madeline is one of these young people from Geelong. She is 17 years old and studying Year 11 while working part-time at a local supermarket. Madeline lives at home with her family, and the pandemic has impacted her significantly:

My life at the moment, especially during COVID-19 has really been affected. I haven’t been able to go to school. I feel disconnected with the world because of

all the different things that have been happening. I feel like I’ve lost friendships out of all this. I think it’s because we don’t see each other at school and especially with all of the education part of it as well. I feel that I’m behind in school as well because of online learning.

Her contribution here relates to the way in which she talks about the impacts of the pandemic, not only on herself, but in terms of how she understands its impact on the mental health and well-being of other young people in Geelong.

There are generational impacts here that will likely echo for a number of years to come. What does the future hold for young people’s health and well-being in a ‘COVID normal world’ and how do we think about these challenges in ways that can lead to productive and ethical innovations? 

In this post we want to build on a model that we have been working with for a number of years – socio-ecological models of young people’s well-being – and introduce the concept of young people as biocultural creatures whose well-being is shaped by the biocultural habitats in which they live.

Socio-ecological Models of Young People’s Health and Well-being

One way that we have been understanding young people’s health and well-being, is through a socio-ecological model that points to:

“…the interaction between, and interdependence of, factors within and across all levels of a health problem. It highlights people’s interactions with their physical and sociocultural environments.”

“…Ecological models recognize multiple levels of influence on health behaviors, including:

Intrapersonal/individual factors, which influence behavior such as knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and personality.

Interpersonal factors, such as interactions with other people, which can provide social support or create barriers to interpersonal growth that promotes healthy behavior.

Institutional and organizational factors, including the rules, regulations, policies, and informal structures that constrain or promote healthy behaviors.

Community factors, such as formal or informal social norms that exist among individuals, groups, or organizations, can limit or enhance healthy behaviors.

Public policy factors, including local, state, and federal policies and laws that regulate or support health actions and practices for disease prevention including early detection, control, and management…”

At the base of the pyramid are all the elements that contribute to a young person’s physical and mental and emotional health and well-being. These elements shape the different ways in which young people are able to imagine and ‘do’ their engagement with/in education, training  and work. If young people are engaged, then the possibility exists for them to develop skills, capabilities, attitudes and dispositions, that can create the opportunity to journey on further education, training and employment pathways.

Of course these pathways will look different for different young people, and at different times (boom, recession, pandemic), and in different places (inner city, outer urban, regional and rural).

The socio-ecological model for considering health and well-being provides a powerful way to imagine the relationships and connections that shape young people’s lives – up close and personal where they live, but also at the global, national, state and regional level.

Again, think microscopic virus originating in China, shutting down the global economy, closing Australia’s borders, locking down some cities, regions and towns as the rest of the country stays open.

But, in our recent thinking, we are looking to build on this model.

Young People as Biocultural Creatures who Live in Biocultural Habitats

In an upcoming book chapter –  ‘Being young’, ‘living well’, in/beyond the pandemic: Exploring the entanglements between COVID-19, the Anthropocene and young people’s wellbeing – and in a recent post, we (Seth Brown, James Goring and I) discussed in much greater detail Samantha Frost’s (2016) concept of young people/humans as biocultural creatures who live and thrive, or not, in diverse and different biocultural habitats.

To think of young humans (all humans) as ‘creatures’ is, for Frost (2016: 3-4), a means by which we can be ‘held to account for human creatureliness, for the ways that humans, like all other creatures, are alive and are able to stay alive because they are embedded in and draw manifold forms of sustenance from a habitat of some kind’. This move beyond forms of human exceptionalism is a refusal of the ‘hubristic exception that would make humans a bizarre and almost unthinkable living phenomenon, abstracted from the habitats that are the condition of their being able to live’. If we are ‘creaturely’, we are also ‘biocultural’. As Frost (2016: 4) observes, all creatures are ‘biocultural in the sense that they develop, grow, persist, and die in an environment or habitat that is the condition for their development, growth, persistence, and death’.

Frost’s work, as you will see from that other post, is suggestive of a range of strange and dangerous trajectories for doing critical sociologies of young people’s wellbeing. For thinking about and puzzling with the possible senses that can be made of the anxieties, concerns, aspirations and hopes of young people such as Madeline for their presents and futures, for being able to ‘live well’ as biocultural creatures in the habitats that provide them with differing opportunities and resources for that living. 

In this space we have just begun to gesture to a small number of these trajectories. But we can say that young people’s wellbeing is always about the materiality of embodiment – is always about energy and atoms up through the scales of molecules, cells, proteins, to gross organisms (Frost 2016). Is always about the bioculturalness of the habitats in which young people live. Is always about entanglements with diverse others in diverse biocultural habitats.

If being human – being Madeline, being young – is profoundly about the conditions under which we develop, grow, persist, and die in an environment or habitat that is the condition for our development, growth, persistence, and death, then what scale do we want to think at, and with, in doing critical sociologies of young people’s wellbeing? What biocultural creatures, objects, processes, habitats and entanglements should be imagined as being of interest at these different scales? And, finally, what sorts of habitats, and what sort of ‘biocultural politics’ will enable young people, in all their diversity as biocultural creatures, to ‘live well’ in the Anthropocene?

References

Frost, S. (2016). Biocultural Creatures: Toward a New Theory of the Human. Durham: Duke University Press.

Cover image: Richard Horvath via Unsplash

Categories
Health and Wellbeing

Young People as Biocultural Creatures: Re-imagining Sociologies of Young People’s Well-being

With my colleagues Seth Brown and James Goring I am developing a chapter  – Being young’, ‘living well’, in/beyond the pandemic: Exploring the entanglements between COVID-19, the Anthropocene and young people’s wellbeing – for an edited collection to be published in 2022 titled, Wellbeing: Global Policies and Perspectives

Using the stories of three young people – Michael, Ruth and Chloe that were told to us in a project on COVID Recovery Scenarios for Young People in Melbourne’s Inner North – our intent is to contribute to the troubling of the sociological orthodoxies that are differently implicated in the construction and critique of young people’s wellbeing (see the link here to the blog for this project).

To do this work we want to move towards an understanding of young people such as Michael, Ruth and Chloe as ‘biocultural creatures’ who are entangled with diverse others – human and non-human, material and immaterial – in ‘biocultural habitats’ (Frost 2016). And to suggest that these entanglements between biocultural creatures and biocultural habits enable us to think differently about the materiality of young people’s wellbeing in ways that move beyond tendencies to imagine wellbeing in ways that privilege the autonomous, rational, choice making, individual young human. 

Sociologies of Youth and Young People’s Well-being

Julia Coffey’s (2020: 2) recent exploration of the embodied dimensions of young people’s wellbeing, emerges from ‘sociological critiques highlighting the individualizing effects of wellbeing discourses’. Building on the legacy of Deleuze and Spinoza, and the work done more recently in new materialist understandings of ‘affect’, Coffey develops a ‘specific focus on embodied sensations and “felt” dimensions of wellbeing, and what these “do” in the context of young people’s negotiation of the conditions and constraints of their everyday lives’. 

Coffey’s (2020: 13) work, in which she explores ‘how embodied, affective, and sensate processes are crucial in producing the possibilities for wellbeing in everyday life’, provides both a point of departure from more orthodox sociological critiques of discourses of young people’s wellbeing, and a connection to recent work which we have done, and which we build on here in thinking about the stories of Michael, Ruth and Chloe, and the other young people who participated in our project (Kelly, Goring and Noonan 2021, Brown, Kelly and Phillips 2020).

This point of departure relates to the tendency of sociologies of youth to invoke the materialities of the human body but to then not explore the depths and different scales of this materiality. There appear to be ‘sociological limits’ beyond which it is not possible to venture. In addition, human embodiedness is just that. It is about the human as it exists in socio-cultural contexts that appear as distinct from other ‘creatures’ and the ‘natural habitats’ that are Other to humans and the social.

Biocultural Creatures

Our ‘guide’ in doing this work is Samantha Frost’s (2016) Biocultural Creatures: Toward a New Theory of the Human.

Frost’s (2016) move to reconfigure the human in terms of her key concept of ‘biocultural creatures’ offers productive ways to think about young people’s wellbeing in ways that move beyond anthropocentrism and, at the same time, compel us to think about their/our embodied materiality. Their/our different capabilities and vulnerabilities that emerge from and alongside the matter-of-factness of such things as their/our flesh and blood, their/our gut biomes, their/our organs and (neuro-diverse) brains, and the bio-chemical and electro-materiality that make ‘life’ possible. Those things that biology and chemistry and physics and neuro-science concern themselves with, but which, as Frost also argues, the humanities and social sciences have tended to ignore and/or discount for various reasons including critiques of the often reductionist logics of these ‘hard sciences’. 1

To think of young humans (all humans) as ‘creatures’ is, for Frost (2016: 3-4), a means by which we can be ‘held to account for human creatureliness, for the ways that humans, like all other creatures, are alive and are able to stay alive because they are embedded in and draw manifold forms of sustenance from a habitat of some kind’. This move beyond forms of human exceptionalism is a refusal of the ‘hubristic exception that would make humans a bizarre and almost unthinkable living phenomenon, abstracted from the habitats that are the condition of their being able to live’. If we are ‘creaturely’, we are also ‘biocultural’. As Frost (2016: 4) observes, all creatures are ‘biocultural in the sense that they develop, grow, persist, and die in an environment or habitat that is the condition for their development, growth, persistence, and death’. 

The term, she suggests, achieves a number of things, including that it establishes ‘a conceptual binding or a constraint such that we can no longer disavow what has been most vehemently disavowed — our biological, organismic, living animality’; and it ‘encapsulates the mutual constitution of body and environment, of biology and habitat that has been so central to the challenge to the category of the human’ (Frost 2016: 25). 

Her intent is ‘to figure humans in a way that does not exclude materiality, “objectness,” animality, or embeddedness in habitats’, and to do so in ways that start ‘with energy and atoms and works up through the scales of molecules, cells, proteins, to gross organisms . . . and ends by merely gesturing to humans’ (Frost 2016: 25).

In a series of chapters that progress from the scale of the molecular to that of the ‘gross organism’, Frost (2016) covers ground that might be familiar to those ‘disciplined’ in the bio-chemical and neurological sciences, but which might seem strange and ‘dangerous’ for those who want to do critical sociologies of young people’s wellbeing. Strange because this is ground that is made through different objects of knowledge, different forms of knowledge, and different types of knowledge practices (Law and Mol 2006). Dangerous because this is ground that doesn’t appear, at first glance, to be concerned with gender, or class, or ethnicity, or ability, or geography – those socio-cultural categories and concepts that are the staple of such sociologies.

In a chapter titled Membranes, Frost (2016: 75) seeks to unsettle the boundedness, the ‘methodological individualism’ (Haraway 2016), that underpins our sense of young people/ourselves as discrete, autonomous individuals. She does this by identifying and thinking with the ‘porosity’ of cellular membranes in ways that define ‘not a substantive distinction between inside and outside the cell but rather a distinction concerning biochemical reactions’. As she (Frost 2016: 73) demonstrates, this ‘porosity enables a cell to respond to its own biochemical activity as well as to changes in its environs’:

So, when different forms of light enter the eyes, when sound waves vibrate eardrums, when chemical molecules hit taste buds in the mouth or odor sensors in the nose, when flesh is compressed or brushed sharply, heavily, or lightly, when something hot or cold touches or surrounds the skin, or when a body moves and orients itself in relation to itself and to space — the light or vibration or chemical or temperature change or stretch of cell membranes triggers the depolarization of nerve cells such that the change absorbed by the cells creates a cascade of depolarization and repolarization. This chasing cascade of depolarization and repolarization travels the length of the nerve cell. And when it reaches the end — the axon — it causes the nerve cell to spit out biochemical molecules called neurotransmitters, which strike the nearby dendrites of another nerve cell (a connection that is called a synapse) and initiate a wave of depolarization and repolarization through that nerve cell. (Frost 2016: 73)

Importantly, in ways that we can imagine move us from the scale of the molecular to the ‘gross organism’, this investment in the materiality and conceptuality of ‘porosity’ can enable us to ‘apprehend just how profoundly and fundamentally material and social environments get under the skin without at the same time losing the conceptual possibility of talking about organisms or bodies as particular distinct things’ (Frost 2016: 76). In bringing into the foreground the ‘activities and processes facilitated by the permeability of cell membranes’, Frost (2016: 76) argues that we can:

we draw attention to the traffic across the membrane, the influx and efflux, the absorption, recalibration, and response that together shape the biochemical activities within the body’s cells and shape the building, dismantling, development, growth, and engagement of that living organism with its social and material habitat. 

Indeed, it is because of the porosity of cell membranes, that ‘an organism that lives in a social and material habitat — as organisms must and do — is unavoidably and ineluctably a biocultural creature’ (Frost 2016: 76). 

Biocultural Habitats

In this sense, and in some sort of summary of what thinking in this way permits and entails, Frost (2016: 151) argues that the idea of humans as biocultural creatures ‘allows us to take account of the layered, multifaceted dimensions of perceptual response without falling prey to a biological, environmental, or cultural reductionism’. This warning against the trap of various forms of reductionism is suggestive of the ways in which critical sociologies of young people’s wellbeing can return to more familiar ground, even if in this return ‘familiarity’ is likely to be displaced by ‘strangeness’. The key concept here is bio-cultural habitats. For Frost (2016: 152) one of the more significant ‘implications of the conceptualization of humans as biocultural creatures is the reconfiguration of what we consider to fall under the rubric of “culture”’. As Frost (2016: 152) suggests:

If we lean on the idea that “culture” is the conditions, practices, and processes of culturing, then to work with the notion that humans are biocultural creatures is to bring within the ambit of “culture” all the chemical, spatial, thermal, viral, bacteriological, and nutritive factors, as well as all the social, political, aesthetic, and economic practices that in combination, and sometimes at cross-purposes, provide the conditions through which biocultural humans grow into subjects. 

In engaging with the ways in which biocultural understandings of the human, and of biocultural habitats, emerge into and from political-scapes that are always already bio-political, always already ’necro-political’ (Braidotti 2013), and are characterized by advantages and disadvantages, marginalization, regulation, inclusion and exclusion, we need to develop a different sociological imagination, a different ‘biocultural politics’. 

These concerns raise a number of points that can enable us to circle back to young people such as Michael, Ruth and Chloe, their hopes for ‘living well’, and how we might understand the entanglements between the virus, the disease that it causes, the pandemic, the public health, social, economic and political disruptions it has provoked, and the Anthropocene that produces more zoonotic diseases. 

Frost’s work, and the work of others in the spaces that she explores, is, then, suggestive of a range of strange and dangerous trajectories for doing critical sociologies of young people’s wellbeing. For thinking about and puzzling with the possible senses that can be made of Michael, Ruby and Chloe’s anxieties, concerns, aspirations and hopes for their presents and futures, for being able to ‘live well’ as biocultural creatures in the habitats that provide them with differing opportunities and resources for that living. For ‘imagining’ the things that we might say about young people’s struggles to ‘live well’ in the diverse, necro-political, biocultural habitats characteristic of the Anthropocene – where COVID-19 might be a harbinger of larger, more widespread, more complex, challenges to come (Latour 2017). 

In this space we have just begun to gesture to a small number of these trajectories. But we can say that young people’s wellbeing is always about the materiality of embodiment – is always about energy and atoms up through the scales of molecules, cells, proteins, to gross organisms (Frost 2016). Is always about the bioculturalness of the habitats in which young people live. Is always about entanglements with diverse others in diverse biocultural habitats. 

If being human – being Michael, being Ruby, being Chloe, being young – is profoundly about the conditions under which we develop, grow, persist, and die in an environment or habitat that is the condition for our development, growth, persistence, and death, then what scale do we want to think at, and with, in doing critical sociologies of young people’s wellbeing? What biocultural creatures, objects, processes, habitats and entanglements should be imagined as being of interest at these different scales? And, finally, what sorts of habitats, and what sort of ‘biocultural politics’ will enable young people, in all their diversity as biocultural creatures, to ‘live well’ in the Anthropocene?

  1. For a critique of this reductionist logic in neuro- and evolutionary psychological discourses of adolescent brain development, see Kelly 2012.

References

Braidotti, R. (2013). The Posthuman. Cambridge. Polity.

Braidotti, R. (2019). Posthuman Knowledge [Online]. Available: https://www.gsd.harvard.edu/event/rosi-braidotti . Accessed 12 October 2020.

Brown, S., Kelly, P. & Phillips, S. K. (2020). Belonging, Identity, Time and Young People’s Engagement in the Middle Years of School. Switzerland AG: Springer Nature.

Coffey, J. (2020). ‘Assembling wellbeing: Bodies, affects and the ‘conditions of possibility for wellbeing’, Journal of Youth Studies, 1-17.Online First DOI: 10.1080/13676261.2020.1844171

Frost, S. (2016). Biocultural Creatures: Toward a New Theory of the Human. Durham: Duke University Press.

Haraway, D. J. (2016). Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham: Duke University Press.

Kelly, P. (2012). ‘The Brain in the Jar: A Critique of Discourses of Adolescent Brain Development’, Journal of Youth Studies, 15 (7), 944-959.

Kelly, P., Goring, J. and Noonan, M. (forthcoming 2021). ‘School Strikes for Climate: Young people, Dissent and Collective Identities in/for the Anthropocene’. In B. Schiermer, B. Gook, and V. Cuzzocrea (eds.), Youth Collectivities: Cultures, Objects, Belonging. Milton Park, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Latour, B. (2017). Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Law, J. and Mol, A. (2006). Complexities: Social Studies of Knowledge Practices. Durham: Duke University Press.

Categories
Climate Crisis

Blah, Blah, Blah: Young People, the Climate Crisis, Hope and the ‘Dithering’ of Adults

In a recent article in The Guardian, Damian Carrington (2021) presents a number of extracts from a speech by Greta Thunberg to the Youth4Climate summit in Milan, Italy, on Tuesday September 28, 2021 – a speech that was timed in relation to the upcoming COP 26 meeting in Glasgow, Scotland. 

Greta’s targets in the speech are political, business and community leaders (adults) and their (empty?) rhetoric about what is to be done in the context of the climate crisis.

“Build back better. Blah, blah, blah. Green economy. Blah blah blah. Net zero by 2050. Blah, blah, blah…This is all we hear from our so-called leaders. Words that sound great but so far have not led to action. Our hopes and ambitions drown in their empty promises.”

“Of course we need constructive dialogue…But they’ve now had 30 years of blah, blah, blah and where has that led us? We can still turn this around – it is entirely possible. It will take immediate, drastic annual emission reductions. But not if things go on like today. Our leaders’ intentional lack of action is a betrayal toward all present and future generations.”

She is sceptical about these adults, and their invitations to young people to participate in these dialogues.

“They invite cherry-picked young people to meetings like this to pretend that they listen to us. But they clearly don’t listen to us. Our emissions are still rising. The science doesn’t lie.”

At the same time, she outlines where she sees ‘hope’ residing, and the form that it takes, when, for so many, there is so little of it, or so little cause for it.

“We can no longer let the people in power decide what is politically possible. We can no longer let the people in power decide what hope is. Hope is not passive. Hope is not blah, blah, blah. Hope is telling the truth. Hope is taking action. And hope always comes from the people.”

In this blog I want to use Greta’s words, her anger, her scepticism, but also her hope, to think about the institutionalised politics of the climate crisis, why it is that that this politics continues to produce so little concrete action to address the crisis, and what ‘hope’ is, or might be in relation to the crisis.

The Dithering (of the Institutionalised Politics of COP26 and Beyond)

Image Credit

Vital United Nations climate talks, billed as one of the last chances to stave off climate breakdown, will not produce the breakthrough needed to fulfil the aspiration of the Paris agreement, key players in the talks have conceded.

The UN, the UK hosts and other major figures involved in the talks have privately admitted that the original aim of the Cop26 summit will be missed, as the pledges on greenhouse gas emissions cuts from major economies will fall short of the halving of global emissions this decade needed to limit global heating to 1.5C. (Harvey 2021)

I have written about the concept of ‘dithering’ in the face of the climate crisis in a number of places – including a chapter to be published in the edited collections that we are preparing from the Bilbao Conference in 2019.

This is a concept that comes from the climate fiction of Kim Stanley Robinson (see this link to a previous blog on cli-fi).

Over the past decades a new genre of fiction – Climate Fiction or Cli Fi – has emerged at the intersection of sci-fi and ‘speculative fiction’ (SF, Haraway 2016). 

The genre traverses and constitutes a sense that our futures, fundamentally embedded in and shaped by our pasts and presents, might range from the utopian to the dystopian. In this way, there is also often a sense of hope and of possibility in these probable futures – even if that hope and possibility is tempered by our presents. 

Kim Stanley Robinson is an important and influential figure in this space, and his novel 2312, provides a name for our present. Gabriel Metcalf writes in a 2014 article from The Urbanist that:

There is also a name for the period of historical time we have entered, which I suggest we take from Kim Stanley Robinson, one of the great writers of our time: the Dithering. As seen from Robinson’s science fiction–imagined future, this is the period of human history, following modernism and postmodernism, in which humanity failed to act rapidly or decisively enough to avert catastrophic climate change. (Metcalf 2014)

This name comes from an imagined sociologist and historian whose periodisations of our futures – her pasts – resonates in our present. For the fictional Charlotte Shortback, writing at the end of the 23rd century, The Dithering, was the time between 2005 and 2060: ‘From the end of the postmodern’, a date ‘derived from the UN announcement of climate change’, ‘to the fall into crisis. These were the wasted years’. The Crisis, from 2060 to 2130, saw the:

‘[d]isappearance of Artic summer ice, irreversible permafrost melt and methane release, and unavoidable commitment to major sea rise. In these years all the bad trends converged in “perfect storm” fashion, leading to a rise in average global temperatures of 5 K, and sea level rise of five meters – and, as a result, in the 2020s, food shortages, mass riots, catastrophic death on all continents, and an immense spike in the extinction rate of other species’ (Robinson 2013, 245).

So, we dither when we know we face a problem, when we know we should do something about that problem – but we don’t!

In an interview from The Atlantic monthly journal in April 2013 (Beauchamp, 2013) Kim Stanley Robinson, in the context of making claims for the power of the sorts of speculative, science fiction that he and others use in grappling with what it means to be human, with our possible futures, and our messy pasts and presents, suggests that:

Capitalism is a system of power and ownership that privileges a few in a hierarchical way, and it has in it no good controls or regulation concerning its damage to the biosphere…So we are in quite a bit of trouble here, because capitalism is a cultural dominant and the current global way of conducting things… and yet completely inadequate to the situation we face.

If we take seriously these observations, including the ‘dithering’ that is still all too evident in the institutionalised politics of an event such as COP 26, then how can we understand the ‘hope’ that Greta and her colleagues and peers still speak to, still ‘cling’ to.

Hope and an Affirmative Politics of the Future

In an article that my colleagues – Seth Brown and James Goring – and I are currently working on (in review) we engage with particular understandings of the ‘future’, and the ways in which ‘hope’ is involved in the ‘figuring’ of those futures.

The sociological literature on ‘futures’ is extensive and ranges across registers such as reflexivity, risk and the colonisation of ‘empty’ futures (see for example, Beck 1992, Giddens 1990, Urry 2016). 

In addition, recent scholarship in sociologies of youth has also engaged with particular understandings of futurity and temporality in exploring young people’s sense of their futures, generational relations and technological change (see for example, Duggan 2019, Leccardi 2012, Woodman 2011). 

In the paper we draw on the work of Barbara Adam (2010), Rosi Braidotti (2013) and Donna Haraway (2016) to develop a discussion of the ways in which ‘scenario planning’ approaches offer critical, qualitative research in sociologies of education and youth a productive mechanism by which to engage with ‘futurity’ in times of crisis and disruption (see the link here to our blog on the project)

Barbara Adam’s (2010) work offers an initial orientation to the relationships between pasts-presents-futures in doing the sort of work we have been doing. For Adam (2010: 1), ‘daily life is conducted in the temporal domain of open pasts and futures’, in which we are ‘mindful of the lived past while projectively oriented towards the “not yet”’. She suggests that we are capable of moving ‘in this temporal domain with great agility, pirouetting and swivelling to face both past and future, twisting and turning in the knowledge realms of perception, memory and anticipation’. In these everyday practices ‘we alternate perspectives between future presents which we anticipate and present futures which we enact’. 

From this perspective, Adam (2010: 9) provides a sense of the ways in which sociologies of education and youth can do the work of making future presents:

If we as sociologists and social theorists want to encompass not just present futures but future presents and if we want to acknowledge the reality status of futures in the making, then we need to change our implicit assumptions and our modes of inquiry. To bridge the gap between daily life and the study of that life we need to take futurity seriously and encompass the complexity that such engagement entails.

If this sense of ‘futurity’ becomes central to what sociologies think and do, then, ‘we can begin to critically support and, where necessary counterbalance, the innovative policies and activities that shape our world for contemporaries and untold generations of successors’ (Adam 2010: 9).

As a form of futures oriented praxis, scenario planning, in the ways that we discuss in the paper, is also shaped by our reading of what Rosi Braidotti (2013) has identified as an ‘affirmative politics’ and a ‘posthuman ethics’. 

For Braidotti (2013: 185), the future is ‘nothing more or less than inter-generational solidarity, responsibility for posterity’, and ‘is also our shared dream’. Citing Stefan Collini she suggests that ‘we are merely custodians for the present generation of a complex intellectual inheritance which we did not create, and which is not ours to destroy’. 

In doing critical sociologies, we can imagine that the future is ‘an active object of desire’, that ‘propels us forth and motivates us to be active in the here and now of a continuous present that calls for both resistance and the counter-actualization of alternatives’ (Braidotti 2013: 192). 

For Braidotti (2013: 192), the ‘yearning for sustainable futures can construct a liveable present. This is not a leap of faith, but an active transposition, a transformation at the in-depth level’. In a scenario planning framework that is informed by ideas of a posthuman ethics, a ‘prophetic or visionary dimension is necessary in order to secure an affirmative hold over the present, as the launching pad for sustainable becoming or qualitative transformations of the negativity and the injustices of the present’. 

In this sense, it becomes possible to imagine the future ‘as the virtual unfolding of the affirmative aspect of the present, which honours our obligations to the generations to come’.

The concept of ‘generation’ has figured prominently in sociologies of education and youth for many years, and debates about this concept have re-emerged in recent years (Wyn and Woodman 2006, Roberts 2007, France and Roberts 2014). 

Elsewhere, James Goring, Meave Noonan and I have engaged this debate to suggest that a generational perspective in sociologies of youth – one that is re-imagined through the concept of ‘generational entanglements’ – is fundamental to both the concept of ‘sustainable development’, and the ways in which the concepts of ‘hope’, ‘preferred futures’ and ‘affirmative politics’ are entangled with these emergences (Kelly, Goring and Noonan 2021). 

Importantly, in the context of the convergence of the 4th Industrial Revolution and the 6th Mass Extinction, and the ways in which our pasts and presents are exploiting and using up our futures, young people’s futures, before they arrive, a generational perspective should provoke an ethic of care to the possibilities of futures and generations. 

The place-based scenario planning project we discussed provides an example of a collective project that is ‘aimed at the affirmation of hope, rooted in the ordinary micro-practices of everyday life’, and which provides a mechanism for mapping and establishing ‘sustainable transformations’ (Braidotti 2013: 192). Here:

Hope is a way of dreaming up possible futures: an anticipatory virtue that permeates our lives and activates them. It is a powerful motivating force grounded not only in projects that aim at reconstructing the social imaginary, but also in the political economy of desires, affects and creativity that underscore it. (Braidotti 2013: 192)

As Greta says: 

“Hope is not passive. Hope is not blah, blah, blah. Hope is telling the truth. Hope is taking action. And hope always comes from the people.”


References

Adam, B. (2010) Future Matters: Challenge for Social Theory and Social Inquiry. Cultura e comunicazione. 1: 1-10. Retrieved from: https://www.coursehero.com/file/32366161/sardinia-FM-Conference-Paper-301009doc/

Beauchamp, S. (2013) In 300 Years, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Science Fiction May Not Be Fiction, The Atlantic, April 1, 2013, https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/04/in-300-years-kim-stanley-robinsons-science-fiction-may-not-be-fiction/274392/

Beck, U. (1992), Risk Society, Sage Publications, London.

Braidotti, R. (2013) The Posthuman. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press. 

Carrington, Damian (2021) ‘Blah, blah, blah’: Greta Thunberg lambasts leaders over climate crisis, The Guardian, Tue 28 Sep 2021 10.00 BST, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/sep/28/blah-greta-thunberg-leaders-climate-crisis-co2-emissions

Duggan, S. (2019) Education Policy, Digital Disruption and the Future of Work: Framing Young People’s Futures in the Present. Cham: Springer International Publishing AG

France, A. and Roberts, S. (2014) The problem of social generations: a critique of the new emerging orthodoxy in youth studies. Journal of Youth Studies. 18(2): 215-230.

Giddens, A. (1990), The Consequences of Modernity, Stanford University Press, Stanford.

Haraway, D. (2016) Staying With the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Duke University Press, Durham, NC.

Harvey, Fiona (2021) Cop26 climate talks will not fulfil aims of Paris agreement, key players warn, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/sep/27/cop26-climate-talks-will-not-fulfil-aims-of-paris-agreement-key-players-warn

Hattenstone, Simon (2021) The transformation of Greta Thunberg, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2021/sep/25/greta-thunberg-i-really-see-the-value-of-friendship-apart-from-the-climate-almost-nothing-else-matters

Kelly, P, Goring, J & Noonan, M. (2021) School Strikes for Climate: Young people, dissent and collective identities in/for the Anthropocene, in B. Schiermer, B. Gook, & V. Cuzzocrea (eds.), Youth Collectivities: Cultures, Objects, Belonging, Youth. Routledge. London.

Leccardi, C. (2012). Young people’s representations of the future and the acceleration of time: a generational approach. Diskurs Kindheits- und Jugendforschung / Discourse. Journal of Childhood and Adolescence Research, 7(1), 59-73.

Metcalf, G. (2014) The Great Dithering, The Urbanist, Issue 532, https://www.spur.org/publications/urbanist-article/2014-04-10/great-dithering 

Roberts, K. (2007) Youth Transitions and Generations: A Response to Wyn and Woodman. Journal of Youth Studies. 10(2): 263-269.

Robinson, K. S. (2013) 2312. London: Orbit Books.

Urry, J.(2016) What Is the Future? Cambridge: Polity Press

Woodman, D. (2011) Young People and the Future: Multiple Temporal Orientations Shaped in Interaction with Significant Others, Young 19(2) 111–128.

Wyn, J. and Woodman, D. (2006) Generation, youth and social change in Australia. Journal of Youth Studies. 9(5): 495-514.

Cover Image credit 

Categories
Inner North of Melbourne Young People's Stories

Rosie’s Story

This post provides a link to a video where Rosie, an 18 year old young woman from Melbourne’s inner norther suburbs, talks about her life in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and her anxieties, fears, hopes and aspirations about the future. 

Rosie is a young person who is articulate and passionate about politics, her education, and social justice. She has acted as a leader in televised discussions about the impacts of ‘stage 4’ lockdown across metropolitan Melbourne during July-September 2020, during public health attempts to ‘flatten the curve’ of the 2nd wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.1 

Rosie tells us that this time has been challenging for her, learning online and at home during lockdown, and describes wider concerns for how ‘COVID has exemplified the inequalities within the VCE system’. Rosie describes herself as going to a ‘pretty high socio-economic public school’, and her concern for the distribution of digital resources across public and private schools. Her school experienced ‘system overloading’ and ‘internet dropouts’ while trying to ‘test out their equipment’ and that ‘private [schools] were able to close before we did’. Rosie describes that learning in an online environment limited her opportunity ‘to thrive around other people and having discussions’, and that ‘not having that one-on-one contact is really hard’. 

In terms of her future, Rosie says that ‘our government needs to understand and open their eyes to what we’re contributing to things like climate change, and how we can help countries less fortunate than us.’ Rosie argues that we need to ‘turn on our moral obligation key because we are not really doing that at the moment.’ Rosie wants her government to take action on Black Lives Matter, Australia’s ranking of ‘insufficient effort’ in addressing the climate crisis, ‘the bushfires’, and the asylum seeker and refugee crisis, discrimination and racism. At the time, Rosie aspired to study global politics at university in 2021, but, worried about getting a high enough ATAR score, was looking at alternative entry pathways. 

Rosie is ‘scared and anxious’ that her generation will bear the economic burden of the COVID crisis and recession, all the while, ‘paying off uni fees’ and facing increasingly limited opportunities to ‘buy a house’. However, Rosie projects an optimistic and confident face.  

Rosie’s story reminds us that stakeholders across the inner north of Melbourne – schools, youth organisations, social enterprises, and local government – need to take seriously the question of young people’s aspirations to address problems such as the climate crisis, structural inequalities across the schooling system, discrimination and racism. 

The COVID 19 Recovery Scenario’s for Young People in Melbourne’s Inner North Project 

The COVID 19 Recovery Scenario’s for Young People in Melbourne’s Inner North is a collaboration between the UNESCO UNEVOC Centre at RMIT University (in the School of Education), the Inner Northern Local Learning Network (LLEN), the Inner North Youth Employment Taskforce (INYET) and the education, training, business, youth service and advocacy agencies, and local government agencies and authorities that are members of the LLEN and INYET.  

Using a scenario planning methodology – see the links here to an outline of this approach – the project aims to develop a range of scenarios for young people in Melbourne’s inner north in 2025.  

Figure 1 below provides a summary of the scenarios as they have been developed to this point – and in relation to the intersections and entanglements between the four main themes that have emerged from the research: Health and Well-being; Education and Training; the Economy and Livelihood; Community. 

Figure 1: Three scenarios for 2025. 

The project involved interviewing more than 50 young people in Melbourne’s inner northern suburbs – in the City of Yarra, City of Darebin and City of Moreland. These young people are stakeholders in their own futures. We aimed to develop innovative ways of providing a space for their voices, and for their voices to have impact in their communities and beyond.  

The project conducted these video interviews via the VideoAsk platform, and we are gradually curating and uploading these videos to our YouTube channel

  1. https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/victorias-restriction-levels-covid-19 ; https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-09-06/coronavirus-explainer-melbourne-roadmap-easing-restrictions/12634506 ; https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/sep/06/melbourne-stage-4-coronavirus-lockdown-extended-for-two-weeks
Categories
Inner North of Melbourne Young People's Stories

Carmen’s Story

This post provides a link to a video where Carmen, a 15 year old young person who lives, works and studies across both Moreland and Yarra local government areas. Carmen shares their thoughts on schooling, the importance of their connection to the LGBT community and the role of public spaces and social groups across the inner north in her sense of belonging. Carmen speaks of anxiety associated with the potential health impacts of COVID-19 on their family, their expectations for the future of work, and hopes about social change.   

Carmen is considerate about issues of social inequity and climate change and is reflective about their life and their involvement with the community. At that time Carmen was anxious about contracting COVID-19, and feared this will impact on her ability to work and to attend school. 

Early in this video Carmen discusses the challenges of staying motivated and keeping up with schoolwork while learning online during the COVID-19 crisis. Carmen has been in “full lockdown since mid-February” before the extended lockdown that metropolitan Melbourne was placed under during the period of July-September 2020 in public health attempts to ‘flatten the curve’ of the 2nd wave of the COVID pandemic.1

Carmen hopes that the government can provide a ‘back-up plan for artists and musicians’ during times of crisis such as COVID-19. A plan which recognises the ‘really important role’ of these individuals and communities to the local economy. Carmen has their heart set on pursuing a career as a musician and expects to face a number of challenges associated with gaining access to knowledge and skills, support and opportunity across a sector which, they believe is not highly valued. 

In their future, Carmen anticipates working in casual or part-time employment across the retail or hospitality sector whilst studying at university within the next 5 years. 

Carmen hopes that the state of the world will be a ‘little better’ by 2025 with improvements to education and with ‘climate change hopefully being dealt with by then’. They speak to the likelihood of a more automated workforce by 2025, where-by humans required for ‘labour intensive’ work decreases. Meanwhile, Carmen speaks with some sense of despair when stating that ‘I can’t really imagine racism changing all that much unfortunately’. 

The COVID 19 Recovery Scenario’s for Young People in Melbourne’s Inner North Project 

The COVID 19 Recovery Scenario’s for Young People in Melbourne’s Inner North is a collaboration between the UNESCO UNEVOC Centre at RMIT University (in the School of Education), the Inner Northern Local Learning Network (LLEN), the Inner North Youth Employment Taskforce (INYET) and the education, training, business, youth service and advocacy agencies, and local government agencies and authorities that are members of the LLEN and INYET.  

Using a scenario planning methodology – see the links here to an outline of this approach – the project aims to develop a range of scenarios for young people in Melbourne’s inner north in 2025.  

Figure 1 below provides a summary of the scenarios as they have been developed to this point – and in relation to the intersections and entanglements between the four main themes that have emerged from the research: Health and Well-being; Education and Training; the Economy and Livelihood; Community. 

Figure 1: Three scenarios for 2025. 

The project involved interviewing more than 50 young people in Melbourne’s inner northern suburbs – in the City of Yarra, City of Darebin and City of Moreland. These young people are stakeholders in their own futures. We aimed to develop innovative ways of providing a space for their voices, and for their voices to have impact in their communities and beyond.  

The project conducted these video interviews via the VideoAsk platform, and we are gradually curating and uploading these videos to our YouTube channel

  1.  https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/victorias-restriction-levels-covid-19 ; https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-09-06/coronavirus-explainer-melbourne-roadmap-easing-restrictions/12634506 ; https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/sep/06/melbourne-stage-4-coronavirus-lockdown-extended-for-two-weeks 
Categories
Inner North of Melbourne Young People's Stories

Ash’s Story

This post provides a link to a video where Ash, a 24 year old young person who identifies as gender fluid, and whose pronouns are ‘they’ and ‘them’, talks about their life in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and their anxieties, fears, hopes and aspirations about the future – for the rights of minority groups, the climate crisis, and their employment options. 

Ash appears thoughtful and reflective about their life, their community in Melbourne’s inner northern suburbs, and the global issues facing the planet such as inequality, climate change, and employment opportunities. They view these issues as paramount to improving their life and others, with a focus on addressing these issues now rather than later.  

Early in this video they discuss the challenges of being unemployed and struggling to find work during the COVID-19 crisis and being someone at-risk for health concerns of COVID-19. Ash had been in “full lockdown since mid-February” before the extended lockdown that metropolitan Melbourne was placed under during the period of July-September 2020 in public health attempts to ‘flatten the curve’ of the 2nd wave of the COVID pandemic.1

Ash remarks “I have been trying to find work…It’s proven quite difficult with the coronavirus situation that we’ve been in…I have barely left my house since quarantine started which has not been good for both my mental and physical health”. 

Ash also comments “I think the biggest challenge has been the mental health side of things. I have struggled with depression and anxiety for 12 years now and this last year has been particularly difficult, being isolated and stuck inside my home 24/7”.  

COVID-19 has impacted on their support network. Ash discusses how they struggled with being isolated and disconnected. “I lost contact with doctors and my support group because of the Corona virus and because of my anxiety I didn’t follow up with trying to do phone appointments with my doctors”. Further, being unemployed and relying on the government for support has been challenging. They comment that “My only financial support has been from the government, with Centrelink. When I was on youth allowance…that money was not sufficient to live on…when you’re living in a place like Melbourne where rent is so expensive. Over half my youth allowance was going to rent”. 

Ash sees an uncertain future, and expresses anxiety about their employment opportunities and the climate crisis. Ash urges the government to address these problems now instead of waiting 5 years. In the meantime, they will continue to attend rallies to address issues of climate change, racism and the treatment of asylum seekers and promote LGBT rights such as supporting the Victorian birth certificate reforms that will allow, for example, “non-binary”, “gender queer” or “agender” to be valid options.    

In Ash’s view of the future in 2025, if we don’t protect the rights of minorities and act on climate change, “it’ll be too late”.  They remain however, hopeful that we will come together as a society and as a community” to address these issues.  

The COVID 19 Recovery Scenario’s for Young People in Melbourne’s Inner North Project 

The COVID 19 Recovery Scenario’s for Young People in Melbourne’s Inner North is a collaboration between the UNESCO UNEVOC Centre at RMIT University (in the School of Education), the Inner Northern Local Learning Network (LLEN), the Inner North Youth Employment Taskforce (INYET) and the education, training, business, youth service and advocacy agencies, and local government agencies and authorities that are members of the LLEN and INYET.  

Using a scenario planning methodology – see the links here to an outline of this approach – the project aims to develop a range of scenarios for young people in Melbourne’s inner north in 2025.  

Figure 1 below provides a summary of the scenarios as they have been developed to this point – and in relation to the intersections and entanglements between the four main themes that have emerged from the research: Health and Well-being; Education and Training; the Economy and Livelihood; Community. 

Figure 1: Three scenarios for 2025. 

The project involved interviewing more than 50 young people in Melbourne’s inner northern suburbs – in the City of Yarra, City of Darebin and City of Moreland. These young people are stakeholders in their own futures. We aimed to develop innovative ways of providing a space for their voices, and for their voices to have impact in their communities and beyond.  

The project conducted these video interviews via the VideoAsk platform, and we are gradually curating and uploading these videos to our YouTube channel

1.https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/victorias-restriction-levels-covid-19 ; https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-09-06/coronavirus-explainer-melbourne-roadmap-easing-restrictions/12634506 ; https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/sep/06/melbourne-stage-4-coronavirus-lockdown-extended-for-two-weeks

Categories
Inner North of Melbourne Young People's Stories

Connor’s Story

This post provides a link to a video where Connor, a 16 year old young man from Melbourne’s inner norther suburbs, talks about his life in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and his anxieties, fears, hopes and aspirations about the future.

For many of us, Connor comes across as ‘typical’ 16 year old young man – if there is a such a thing! For example, he speaks about his passion for sport, and having a good time with his mates. But he also talks about the challenges of being isolated from friends, of not being physically ‘at school’, and of struggling to stay motivated as the second wave of the pandemic unfolded during June through September in Melbourne in 2020. 

As he says, he likes to learn by ‘doing things’, by ‘being hands on’. In the middle of Melbourne’s second, long lockdown in the winter of 2020 all Melbourne’s schools were closed and young people had to shift to ‘remote learning’. At the same time they, like all of us, were confined to home other than for 1 hour’s exercise, with members of their own household, and were restricted to travelling no more than 5 kms from home. 

For Connor this time was particularly challenging, and he is honest in reflecting on how that impacted on his health and well-being and his engagement in school work. He discusses the ways in which the pandemic lockdown and disruptions have made him anxious about his post-school options for work and study. There were times, he reflects, when he was living a ‘never ending cycle of sleeping, eating, studying and training’. Indeed, during this time, as he says ‘to be frank’, he hit a ‘depressed point’, and didn’t leave his room for some time. 

But Connor also tries very hard to project a strong, optimistic, confident face. He describes himself as ‘naturally confident’. But that ‘natural’ confidence has been shaken a little during the pandemic, and as he starts to think more ‘realistically’ about his hopes and aspirations for the future. He may not, after all, be able to play AFL at an elite level! 

He has high hopes for the future in 2025, but is unsure if ‘society will get a lot smarter or a lot dumber’. 

Finally, Connor speaks about the importance and the challenge of speaking openly about how he feels, and what he is going through at times when he is struggling.

He is also honest about his views on some of the ‘big issues’ of equality, social change, political correctness, and the climate crisis. Connor tell us that he cares about many of these things, but he also doesn’t want others telling him how he should think or act in relation to these things.

One of the things that Connor’s story suggests is that various community, business and government stakeholders need to think about, and develop new ways of engaging a diversity of young people as key stakeholders in their own futures. Not ALL young people are ’progressive activists’ – but they do have something to say about their futures.

The COVID 19 Recovery Scenario’s for Young People in Melbourne’s Inner North Project

The COVID 19 Recovery Scenario’s for Young People in Melbourne’s Inner North is a collaboration between the UNESCO UNEVOC Centre at RMIT University (in the School of Education), the Inner Northern Local Learning Network (LLEN), the Inner North Youth Employment Taskforce (INYET) and the education, training, business, youth service and advocacy agencies, and local government agencies and authorities that are members of the LLEN and INYET. 

Using a scenario planning methodology – see the links here to an outline of this approach – the project aims to develop a range of scenarios for young people in Melbourne’s inner north in 2025. 

Figure 1 below provides a summary of the scenarios as they have been developed to this point – and in relation to the intersections and entanglements between the four main themes that have emerged from the research: Health and Well-being; Education and Training; the Economy and Livelihood; Community.

Figure 1: Three scenarios for 2025.

The project involved interviewing more than 50 young people in Melbourne’s inner northern suburbs – in the City of Yarra, City of Darebin and City of Moreland. These young people are stakeholders in their own futures. We aimed to develop innovative ways of providing a space for their voices, and for their voices to have impact in their communities and beyond. The project conducted these video interviews via the VideoAsk platform, and we are gradually curating and uploading these videos to our YouTube channel.

Categories
Inner North of Melbourne Young People's Stories

Bella’s Story

This post provides a link to a video where Bella, a 15 year old young woman from Melbourne’s inner norther suburbs, talks about her life in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and her anxieties, fears, hopes and aspirations about the future – for the planet, her community, and herself.

Bella is a young woman who appears as passionate and articulate about the world around her. Both in the more immediate sense of the place where she lives and where she goes to school, and in the larger sense of the nation, the planet, and the challenges and crises – inequality, racism, climate change, work and the economy, education opportunities – that she sees as needing to be taken seriously by communities, businesses and governments.

And currently she is disappointed in the lack of attention that many leaders are giving to these challenges.

Early in this video she discusses many of the challenges that many young people experienced during the prolonged ‘stage 4’ lockdown that metropolitan Melbourne was placed under during the period of July-September 2020 in public health attempts to ‘flatten the curve’ of the 2nd wave of the COVID pandemic.  

She remarks, for example, on “spending a lot of time on screen and on social media talking to people, Skyping, Zooming…becoming addicted to social media and having no social contact other than with family…of having no schedule, boredom, loneliness, no motivation, no teachers, no things to look forward to”.

The lockdown also had some upsides: “having more free time, more time to practice piano, but it’s hard during lockdown, no FOMO (fear of missing out), no anxiety, more freedom to do things, connect with family, getting creative, no worrying about getting ready for school or your appearance, watch more movies and TV”. 

Bella also describes how, during the prolonged lockdown, she learned about the importance of community and “how much I rely on teachers, friends and school and how much I miss it”.

COVID-19 has impacted on her feelings about the future and her views of school and what it means to her, and the place that it occupies in her life: “having this structure in my life since being four years old and suddenly it’s all ripped away” had made her “more anxious, experiencing the first depression symptoms”. 

Her sense is that by 2025 and that there will fewer jobs, and a greater divide between rich and poor. She expresses some anxiety and uncertainty about what her future holds in terms of having a job, housing options, economic instability, the threat of another global financial crisis.

In this sort of future, Bella imagines that social media will play a greater role in our lives, and that politics will be more divisive and polarised as people on the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ become more ostracised by, and in, social media bubbles. Her hope, however, is that racism will be an issue that is taken much more seriously, and that LGBTQI people and women will have greater representation in the media and in government.

Bella’s story highlights the concerns that many young people feel and experience about the multiple social issues that the pandemic has amplified. Her story also highlights the passion that many young people want to bring to these issues, if they are provided with opportunities to express this passion, or when they are able to develop their own with their friends, and in spaces that emerge in their communities. The challenge for stakeholders and communities is how to tap into that passion in meaningful and productive ways.

The COVID 19 Recovery Scenario’s for Young People in Melbourne’s Inner North Project

The COVID 19 Recovery Scenario’s for Young People in Melbourne’s Inner North is a collaboration between the UNESCO UNEVOC Centre at RMIT University (in the School of Education), the Inner Northern Local Learning Network (LLEN), the Inner North Youth Employment Taskforce (INYET) and the education, training, business, youth service and advocacy agencies, and local government agencies and authorities that are members of the LLEN and INYET. 

Using a scenario planning methodology – see the links here to an outline of this approach – the project aims to develop a range of scenarios for young people in Melbourne’s inner north in 2025. 

Figure 1 below provides a summary of the scenarios as they have been developed to this point – and in relation to the intersections and entanglements between the four main themes that have emerged from the research: Health and Well-being; Education and Training; the Economy and Livelihood; Community.

Figure 1: Three scenarios for 2025.

The project involved interviewing more than 50 young people in Melbourne’s inner northern suburbs – in the City of Yarra, City of Darebin and City of Moreland. These young people are stakeholders in their own futures. We aimed to develop innovative ways of providing a space for their voices, and for their voices to have impact in their communities and beyond. The project conducted these video interviews via the VideoAsk platform, and we are gradually curating and uploading these videos to our YouTube channel.