Youth Street Politics in the Media Age: Helsinki and London Compared

The aim of the ‘Youth Street Politics in the Media Age’ project is to study the construction of youth-related social problems in contemporary societies where the media plays an increasing role in constructing and maintaining social and spatial reality. This interdisciplinary project examines how public narratives – classically called as “moral panics” – over suburban youth in Helsinki and London are constructed in the media and how the youth themselves use urban space – the ‘street’ – to confirm and/or subvert these media representations. The project will also explore how the street is used to give voice to the experiences of social and spatial inequality in a broader sense, and how what we call ‘youth street politics’ – more or less organised youth action – is used to challenge these experiences. However, unlike previous research, the project redefines the concept of the ‘street’ to include also youth-generated social media content about the urban experience, for example, on YouTube. Recent events around the world, from North Africa to London and Wall Street have shown the importance of social media in creating social change and in globalising originally localised, urban movements. A comparative analysis of youth street politics in Helsinki and London enables us to argue how both the ‘street’ and ‘politics’ are redefined in European urban youth experience and whether this kind of youth politics has an impact in an intergenerational framework in a Europe concerned about youth political participation.

The project is interdisciplinary, combining perspectives from sociology, youth studies, urban studies and media studies. Although attention has recently been paid to major media events such as the global Occupy Wall Street movement, the London riots and the North African revolutions (e.g. LSE & Guardian 2011), to our knowledge there is no comparative work on local and informal youth street politics that utilises both street ethnography and media ethnography, and which aims to analyse the configurations of the local and the global in two cities, in our case namely Helsinki and London. In the project socio-spatial dialectics linked with youth street politics are carefully analysed. In other words, the project will point out not only sociological but also geographical perspectives to the object of study, thus offering new ways of understanding the issues related to the struggle of geography and spatial justice that contemporary young people experience, both in physical and virtual surroundings.

The project is funded by Helsingin Sanomat Foundation. Funding period 1.6.2012–31.5.2014

Titus Hjelm (UCL), Minttu Tikka (University of Helsinki), Leena Suurpää (The Finnish Youth Research Society), Johanna Sumiala (University of Helsinki) in cooperation with the Tampere University of Applied Sciences, The British Council, and The Finnish Institute in London.