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The way we see it: an analysis of economically disadvantaged young people's experiences and perceptions of social and economic health in their semi-rural community Brann-Barrett, Mary-Tanya

Abstract

This study investigates how socially and economically disadvantaged young people, living in a semi-rural, post-industrial Atlantic Canadian community, experience and perceive social and economic health -- defined as participants' sense of comfort and security that their social and economic needs are, and will continue to be, met in their community. I argue that social and educational policies and practices must reflect the realities of local citizens if they aim to interrupt regional health disparities. A key objective of this research is to expose and challenge gender, class, and regional inequalities through an analysis of young adults' social and economic health experiences and perceptions. Drawing primarily upon Pierre Bourdieu's (1990b; 2001)concepts -- habitus, field, and symbolic domination -- relations between gender, class,and historical circumstances theoretically inform this research. Employing a critical ethnographic methodological framework (Madison, 2005),experiences and perceptions of ten economically disadvantaged youth -- five women and five men, ages 19-30 -- were gathered through focus groups, individual interviews, participant observation, critical dialogue (using media to stimulate dialogue among participants), and an adaptation of photovoice (a technique combining photography and narrative). Results suggest that the social and economic health needs of economically disadvantaged young adults are not being met. They confirm Bourdieu's (1999a)assertion of an interrelationship between physical place and the positioning of agents in social fields. Participants navigate economic, cultural, and social fields, aware of their social positioning as they 'work' the fields in order to secure enough capital to 'get by'. Their struggles are examples of symbolic domination and suggest a significant psycho-social cost to young adults seeking social and economic health through various fields. Analyses of their experiences suggest a disjuncture between gendered identities ascribed to participants through historically-rooted habitus and contemporary social fields. Recommendations call for gender, class, and regional inequalities to be addressed through structural interventions and investment in long term community-based education that is integrated with local economic development initiatives. Furthermore, this research calls attention to how research agendas and procedures can actually reinforce marginalization, making it difficult for the voices of disadvantaged communities to enter into dominant public discourse.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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