“Game playing” and “docility”: youth justice in question

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This paper is based on findings from a study concerning the extent and nature of children’s participation in decision making in youth justice. The paper uses Bourdieu’s concept of habitus, as a heuristic/practical device, to investigate children’s ability to express agency and shape or influence the content and format of interventions and approaches in youth justice.

The researcher’s interest in understanding perceptions and experiences of youth justice supervision led to the adoption of the qualitative approach and specifically in-depth interviews and participant observations. The researcher interviewed front line professionals (n=14) operational managers (n=6) and children under youth justice supervision (n=20). This study involved 15 months of fieldwork undertaken between 2016-2017 at a Youth Offending Service in England. Several young people were seeking to exert minimal energy in order to achieve a type of passive compliance with court order requirements, adopting a ‘ready to conform’ mindset. Professionals were concerned that they were also participating in this type of ‘game playing’. A relationship-based practice that is conducive to meaningful participation can help to facilitate positive changes to lifestyles and circumstances. This paper exposes its pivotal role in bolstering children’s involvement in supervision, reducing passive compliance and preventing inauthentic transactional arrangements from forming.

Despite significant interest in the work of Pierre Bourdieu, his ‘thinking tools’ have seldom been used to investigate the experiences, attitudes, and behaviours of youth justice professionals and those under their supervision at Youth Offending Services.

Original languageEnglish
Article number10.1108/SC-01-2020-0002
Pages (from-to)103-118.
Number of pages16
JournalSafer Communities
Issue number3
Early online date2 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jul 2020


  • Bourdieu
  • Youth justice
  • Habitus
  • Field
  • Capital
  • Participation
  • Agency
  • Decision making


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