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 brought 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 explored 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 compared 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 used mainly qualitative methods. The most important source of data was a series of two to three interviews carried out with unemployed young men over the course of one year in 2012-13. We also interviewed a subset of participants’ family members where participants were willing for us to approach them. Interviews were also undertaken with youth workers, community leaders and service providers.


The project provided a detailed analysis of the links between gender, ethnicity, racism, migration, unemployment and the political participation of young people.

Diasporic connections. Photograph: Linda McDowell

Project lead

Linda McDowell, School of Geography and the Environment

Project-related outputs

> Journal articles
> Books & chapters
> Conferences and public lectures