Diaspora geographies and generations: spaces of civil engagement

Project description

Young people in the UK are at the sharp end of the economic downturn and are facing high rates of unemployment. This research brings a generational lens to focus on the effect of the rise in youth unemployment on the political mobilisation and civil engagement of marginalised young men with different family migration histories. It will explore how young people interpret their marginalisation in relation to a sense of belonging and through the construction of inclusionary and exclusionary classed, gendered and racialised identities. The study will compare the experience of young men in two towns both in the south of England – Swindon and Luton –  where until the recent recession unemployment has not been a key issue. The two towns have different histories of in-migration. In Luton a third of the current population are members of minority groups, compared to a tenth in Swindon.

Key research questions

  • How does the experience of worklessness vary among young men of different ethnicities and migration histories?
  • How do they interpret their experience? How does unemployment shape young men’s mainstream and informal political mobilisation?
  • How are young people interpreting their lives in reference to the experience and political orientations of their parents and grandparents?
  • How does this affect their sense of belonging to communities at different scales from family and friendship networks, to place-based neighbourhood communities, to diasporic identities based on religion, ‘race’,  ethnicity or country of origin, etc.?

Methods and data

The study will use mainly qualitative methods. The most important source of data will be a series of two to three interviews carried out with unemployed young men over the course of one year in 2012-13. We will also interview a subset of participants’ family members if participants are willing for us to approach them. Interviews will also be undertaken with youth workers, community leaders and service providers.


The project will provide a detailed analysis of the links between gender, ethnicity, racism, migration, unemployment and the political participation of young people. The results will be published in both academic journals and in forms suitable for the general reader.

Diasporic connections. Photograph: Linda McDowell

Project lead

Linda McDowell, School of Geography and the Environment

Project-related outputs

Books & chapters

McDowell, L. (2013) Working Lives: Gender, Migration and Employment in Britain, 1945-2007. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

McDowell, L., Rootham, E. and A. Hardgrove (forthcoming) 'Representations, resentment and respect: discourses of masculine disadvantage', in P. Hopkins and A. Gorman-Murray (eds.), Masculinities and Place.

Journal articles

McDowell, L, Rootham, E. and Hardgrove A. (2013) "Politics, Anti-politics, Quiescence and Radical Unpolitics: Young Men’s Political Participation in an ‘Ordinary’ English Town", Journal of Youth Studies. Published online 2 September 2013. doi 10.1080.13676261.

McDowell, L. (2012) 'Post-crisis, post-Ford and post-gender? Youth identities in an era of austerity', Journal of Youth Studies 15: 573-90.

Conferences and public lectures

17 October 2013. ‘Working lives: gender, migration and employment in the post-war era’ The Migration Seminar Malmö University.

15 October 2013. ‘Gender and Labour in New Times: masculinity and the uncertain promise of waged work in austerity UK’ Gender Seminar Series, Lund University.

11 October 2013. ‘Constructing Masculinities in Diasporic Space: Affective Orientations to an Iconic British Multicultural Town’ Department of Geography Seminar Series, National University of Singapore.

28 August 2013. ‘Urban Youth and Possible Selves as Reflections of Post-war Society in Monravia, Liberia’ Royal Geographical Society Annual Conference, London.

1-2 July 2013. ‘Young men in uncertain times’ Rethinking Diasporas Conference, University of Oxford.