Junior training sessions for life's race

October 10, 1997

Media and cultural studies: party political PR, film, video and the net in an age of media domination

As the government prepares to introduce tougher penalties for race-related attacks, researchers are taking a closer look at how young people's attitudes to race are shaped.

Teenagers have been asked to talk about their lives through artwork, video and audio tape, as part of a project looking at race and public safety.

Researchers from the University of East London and Goldsmiths College are working with academics in Germany to develop new methods of measuring how youngsters view the world.

Using a sample of 120 teenage children from schools on the Isle of Dogs and Deptford in east London, and about 300 from schools in Hamburg, Germany, they aim to use these methods to find out how differences in geography and history shape attitudes to race.

They are also examining how different national views of race in Germany and Britain may affect these attitudes.

The project, funded in Britain by the Economic and Social Research Council and in Germany by the Volkswagen Foundation, begins and ends with straightforward interviews.

But researchers then ask the young people to take photographs of places where they feel safe or threatened, where they would expect to have adventures or where they would usually avoid at all costs.

They then go with the teenagers on "video walkabouts" around their areas, in which they discuss the places they visit.

The youngsters have also been asked to make "audio diaries", in which they narrate their movements over a week, describing where they go and who they are with.

They have made boxes telling an adventure tale and have completed story captions for ambiguous pictures, depicting, for example, a Bangladeshi girl on the ground with a white and Bangladeshi boy standing over her.

Phil Cohen, director of the Centre of New Ethnicities Research and a reader in cultural studies at the University of East London, said he hoped these exercises would give a clearer picture of the way young people interact with their communities, and would help influence policies towards public safety.

The two-year project will produce a teaching pack to help teachers tackle similar issues in schools.

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