Political Ecology of Youth and Policy


Historically, the criminal activity of the young has dominated adult anxieties about the "youth question". This course will explore a wide range of theoretical explanations of this "problem" while also examining empirical studies that provide insight into young people’s relationships with crime.

Throughout the course you will be encouraged to critically engage with a number of debates within criminology and sociology over "causes" of youth crime. Traditionally, these explanations and understandings have been dominated by research that arises out of psychosocial theories of human behaviour. In more contemporary debates these theories of human action have been discussed in terms of "developmental and life course criminology" and "criminal careers". Most of these approaches are dominated by social psychological models of human development that prioritise the "individual" over "social" explanations of youth offending. In this context, social action, such as that perceived as criminal, is defined as individual configurations while ecological concepts such as social situations, social contexts and social structures are differentiated and relegated to the margins.

In this course we will both critique these traditional models and go beyond to develop an understanding of alternative ways of theorising and explaining youth crime (exploring the notion of "political ecology"). This approach both recognises and prioritises the ecological relationship in young people’s engagement with crime. It moves beyond explanations that concentrate on individual-level or single theory explanations to one that recognises the dialectical relationship between the social acts of the individual and social power (including negotiation, power and legitimacy) thus creating an understanding of the "nested" political ecology that shapes and influences the social action of the young. In developing a detailed understanding of "political ecology" we will draw upon the work of Urie Bronfenbrenner and Pierre Bourdieu.


Course aims

The course aims are to:

  • Understand and critically evaluate the diverse ways that youth crime has been theorised and explained within the social sciences
  • Develop a detailed understanding of the nested and political qualities of the ecology of youth crime
  • Understand wider societal changes and how they shape the social context and situations of crime in the lives of young people
  • Be aware of how ecology intersects with social action and how criminal identities are negotiated and constructed
  • Draw upon theories of ecology to analyse and assess trends and developments in young people’s engagement with crime
  • Understand and critically analyse the policy nexus used in tackling the "problem" of youth crime

Availability 2024

Not taught in 2024




SOCIOL 747: 30 points