Young People, Risk Taking and Risk Making: Perspectives for Social Work


  • Elaine Sharland University of Sussex



young people, risk, habitus, theory, constructivism, social work


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 high-lights 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 scrutinise our judgements of what is acceptable or unacceptable riskiness, what within and what beyond the pale. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0601230


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Author Biography

Elaine Sharland, University of Sussex

Elaine SHARLAND is a Lecturer in the School of Social Work and Social Care at the University of Sussex.




How to Cite

Sharland, E. (2006). Young People, Risk Taking and Risk Making: Perspectives for Social Work. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 7(1).



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