Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Reading Between the Lines: Representations and Constructions of Youth and Crime in Aotearoa/New Zealand

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posted on 2021-11-03, 00:44 authored by Beals, Fiona M

In this thesis, I examine constructions of youth deviance in Aotearoa/New Zealand, 2002. In 2002, New Zealand had a national election in which adult commentators and observers concentrated and speculated on the reasons for a supposed increase in youth deviance and a spate of extraordinarily violent youth crimes. Youth-at-risk, early intervention, the family, and education were words that emerged continuously in commentator discussions. There was no critique of these words, or the practices they implied, and very little discussion of the implications the use of these words and practices posed for young people. In this thesis, I address this gap in the discussion by critically exploring the ways in which authors in institutional contexts constructed deviant youth and the implications of these constructions for youth. In this research, I sampled published texts in 2002 from academia, government, and media; three institutions which produce and reproduce knowledge in New Zealand. I applied a form of discourse analysis to the texts to explore and contextualise evident constructions. This analysis involved a bricolage of poststructural methodologies in the attempt to make an accessible argument, which effectively addressed the purposes of the research. I found that authors did not apply a knowledge devoid of power. Whether used to construct a picture of the deviant youth, or to describe necessary interventions into deviance, they used knowledge to construct the deviant youth as powerless effects of development and risk. Authors used knowledge to divide young people into the abnormally-deviant youth-at-risk and the normally-deviant adolescent. Applying knowledge allowed those writing about youth crime to construct and position young people as powerless. Authors reinforced this when they used knowledge to inform practices and interventions, which allowed adults to control the young person’s access to, and use of, power. In particular, authors and other experts saw mass education as a powerful practice of control and socialisation. Through education, adult society could remove the abnormallydeviant youth from the dysfunctional family environment and re-socialise the young person into conformity. Those writing applied a similar reasoning in other described interventions such as surveillance, conferencing, and early intervention. Interventions allowed adults to control the deviance of youth. I finish this thesis by arguing that interventions and contradictions in constructions show that power is not one-sided. That is, power is not always in the hands of adults. Rather, sociological theory can be applied to demonstrate and explore a power struggle between adults and young people where resistance coexists with power. I argue that resistance can provide an alternative explanation to the dominant ideas held by those working with, and talking about, deviant youth. Resistance allows for a concept of agency in which both deviance and non-deviance can be seen as a reactive response by the young person.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Education Studies


Kidman, Joanna; Kirkman, Allison