The Social Science of the World in 100 objects – The Hoodie

The hoodie: a symbol of all that is wrong with youths today?

The Social Science of the World in 100 Objects is an innovative project that provides a social science perspective to everyday objects. It is inspired by the popular BBC Radio 4 series ‘The History of the World in 100 Objects’, a 2010 partnership between the BBC and the British Museum.

The Social Science of the World in 100 Objects project, initiated by Dr Jane Pilcher from the Department of Sociology, provides a social science angle to everyday objects through short articles written by University of Leicester academics. Drawing on their specialist research, academics from the College of Social Sciences deliver interesting and thought-provoking perspectives on objects in and out of the home, which might just change your perceptions on the things around us.

The hoodie might have come from monks’ robes originally, but they are now associated with everyone from skaters and surfers, to hip-hop musicians and thieves. In reality, most of us have worn clothing that includes a hood. An association of the hoodie with deviant behaviour remains, as was typified by Cameron’s 2006 ‘Hug a Hoodie’ speech. Hoodies often suggest issues of unemployment, laying about looking for trouble and ‘Not being in Education, Employment or Training’ (NEET). Youths that are NEET therefore signify what is seen to be ‘wrong’ with young people.

The negative public image of NEETs assumes that most have voluntarily withdrawn from education, employment and training and that there is a significant correlation to deviant and criminal behaviour. Yet there are many questions to be raised about this assumption. The first is who are NEETs? Initially, the category was made up of those 16 to 18 year olds whose unemployment benefits were removed in 1988 (Simmons and Thompson, 2011). Some now categorise NEETs to include individuals up to the age of 24, furthering the heterogeneity of the group (Pemberton, 2008, Furlong, 2006). But above all, the group is not defined by their characteristics, but by what they lack or are absent from (Nudzor, 2010). Research has shown that there are many plausible reasons why young people are NEET. The underlying causes for NEETs are related to labour market, education and social or welfare policies.

One problem is the increase of youth unemployment with the recession-related squeeze of the labour market (Hollywood et al., 2012, Tunstall et al., 2012). The number of young people who are unable to find employment indicates that in some regions of the UK, usually those with a history of industrial decline and restructuring, there are few jobs that are available to this age group. This is especially the case for those who are less interested in, or capable of, further academic work. This group look to be squeezed out of further opportunities due to increased literacy and numeracy requirements in vocational routes (DfE, 2011, Nuffield 2009).

In parallel, the pressure on young people to remain in education has increased, resulting in a lengthening and fragmentation of young people’s transitions from education to employment (Roberts, 2012). The government now also expects students to remain in education for longer and is raising the participation age to 17 in 2013 and 18 in 2015. This can be demotivating as enforced longer participation may increase the number of those who disengage (Furlong et al., 2012).

Cuts in benefits and services further complicate the situation for NEETs. In 2010 the Educational Maintenance Allowance was abolished making it difficult for youths to access further education or employment, especially in rural areas where there is less public transport. Moreover, the universal information, advice and guidance provider for youths, Connexions, has been either abolished or severely restricted, leading to considerable regional variation in service provision. There is thus at best patchy support for young people who face difficult circumstances and, at least in part, come from difficult backgrounds.

Bynner and Parsons (2002) found that the level of parental interest in a child’s education, living in inner cities and family poverty are decisive factors in predicting NEET status. There are also significant gender differences with pregnancy being an additional issue for young women. Other obvious indicators include education or qualification attained, locality, living in or providing care, ethnicity, disability, homelessness, offending and substance abuse (McDonald and Shildrick, 2010). Whilst some of these characteristics might conform to the stereotype of the hooded youth, there are far broader issues at stake here that require governmental and societal attention.

By Dr Vanessa Beck, Centre for Labour Market Studies, University of Leicester.

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