Performances of masculinity: The impact on boy’s experiences of youth justice


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


There has been a lack of research into constructions of masculinity within youth justice practice settings. Within this thesis, the perceptions of boys and the professionals who work with them are examined to understand how boys make sense of their masculinity and how this sense making impacts on their experiences of youth justice services (YJS). There has been a lack of insight drawn from boys regarding their experiences of youth justice and this thesis is the first to include a sample of boys from across different sectors of, or, working in conjunction with, the youth justice system (public, private, voluntary) and adds new insights to
the growing area of men, masculinity and youth justice practice.

The study is theoretically underpinned by Bourdieu’s theory of social class relations and, in particular, his concepts of 'habitus', 'capital', and 'field', for their use in analysing how class and institutional structures (e.g. school, police, social service) intersect with the subjective experiences of boys. Based on semi-structured interviews with 24 boys aged between 14-22 and two focus groups with six YJS professionals, three key findings are proposed. First, masculinity is embodied by boys through offending behaviour as a means of managing themselves in their communities but, simultaneously, this helps cement their marginalisation. Second, despite the multiple disadvantages they face, the study uncovers forms of reflexivity and agency deployed by participants concerning their offending behaviour, factors which can be overlooked or downplayed. This strand of argument highlights some participants’ critique of the structural/class-based constraints they face on developing a valued identity. Also, there were notable ambivalences that portrayed much more diverse male practices than has previously been associated with boys who offend, including the sensitivities and vulnerabilities that exist and intersect with their constructions of masculinity. Although adverse circumstances predispose boys to offend and guide their everyday behaviour toward anti-authoritarian thoughts and practices, this is not definitive of them. Indeed, the link between masculinity and crime revolves around continuity, contradictoriness and change in thought and practice. Third, authoritarian approaches are proposed as mismatched with the boy’s habitual ways of being, which helps reproduce and reinforce a conflicting relationship between the ‘street’ and the ‘system’. However, findings from the third sector mentoring groups and alternative education providers show that boys respond more productively to egalitarian services that are more
rehabilitative and rooted in the men’s capacity to change.
Date of Award19 May 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University
SupervisorMICHAEL RICHARDS (Director of Studies) & Derek Heim (Supervisor)

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