Thursday, June 26, 2014

Global youth reshape the boundaries says Monash sociologist

Cultural diversity is the norm for young people today: this may not always translate into easy living but neither does research support the common view of big ethnic groups clashing with each other.

Monash University sociologist Associate Professor Anita Harris, who is studying how young people deal with cultural diversity and manage conflict and change, said those in culturally diverse communities were shrugging off efforts to categorise them.

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Study at the Monash Faculty of Arts
Her research is part of a four-year international project that includes Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, as well as Johannesburg in South Africa, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and Prato in Italy. All are rapidly changing areas of high cultural diversity.

“Typically young people in those environments are seen as a problem. There is a lot of worry about ethnic youth gangs, young people fighting, or failing to understand each other’s backgrounds or needs,” Associate Professor Harris said.

Many young people’s sense of identity and their affiliations were in flux, she said: a mash-up of social and political networks that stretch from the local to the global, and incorporate ethnicity, religion, gender and individual interests.

The Australian component of her research has drawn on interviews with more than 100 people aged 15 to 25, from a wide range of backgrounds including Indigenous and Anglo Australians and young people with Afghan, African, Asian, European, Maori, Middle Eastern and Pacific Islander heritage.

“For this generation it is normal to be surrounded by diversity and to interact with people of different backgrounds in a way that it is not for older people. That doesn’t mean that young people in these diverse communities always get along well, or that they embrace diversity, but they accept it as normal,” the  Monash University Associate Professor said.

She found that when there was conflict it was most commonly the result of sexual jealousy, male posturing, or access to limited shared resources. Combatants might “play the race card” in the heat of conflict, but race was rarely the cause of the conflict.

“Young people weren’t saying that they didn’t fight, but talked about conflict that had been resolved, things that were in the past, but which local media or politicians would not let go of,” she says. “And the people they fought with were also, at other times, friends. The popular notion that there are big ethnic groupings clashing with each other just didn’t bear out.”

Associate Professor Harris said that when it came to the question of national identity, or “being Australian.” many young people resisted a single allegiance. Hybrid cultural identities allowed them to feel part of many different groups simultaneously, a feeling enhanced by their ability to join the flow of global youth culture, via the internet.

Monash University Faculty of Arts

Innovative programs, leading academics and a strong international presence are just some of the reasons students choose to study arts at Monash University. They will also tell you that from day one their learning journey has challenged, surprised and ultimately inspired them.

Over the past 50 years, Monash Arts has positioned itself as a faculty without borders. There are no limits on the faculty’s thinking and no boundaries on their knowledge. The faculty thrives on exploring new ways to see the world. This, combined with their extensive international connections and close to 60 areas of study, makes Monash Arts one of the most popular arts faculties in the world.

The Monash Sociology program is one of the largest sociology programs in Australia and there are more than 80 sociologists working throughout Monash. Monash is currently ranked among the world’s best sociology departments for our research.

The focus of sociology is the study of human society. It involves the investigation of human groups, communities, institutions and organisations, and the networks of meaning and association which link individuals and groups to the broader social structure of society. Sociologists are also concerned with the analysis of policy, for example public health policy, and its impact on society and individuals. Sociologists have developed a range of research methods and techniques, and theoretical approaches, that can be applied to diverse issues and problems in social life. Coursework studies in sociology at Monash aim to provide the student with a broad range of relevant and widely applicable research skills and equip them for careers in social research, government, industry and the public service.

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