Spara som favorit. Skickas inom vardagar. Laddas ned direkt. Despite increasing tolerance, legal protections against homophobia, and anti-discrimination policies throughout much of the western world, suicide attempts by queer youth remain relatively high. For over twenty years, research into queer youth suicide has debated reasons and risks, although it has also often reiterated assumptions about sexual identity and youth vulnerability.
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Queer Youth Suicide, Culture and Identity
Cool Places explores the contrasting experiences of contemporary youth. In asking, then, what makes queer youth more vulnerable to suicidality than non-queer youth, it is obviously necessary to avoid reducing all queer youth to a depiction of sameness, whether that is the social experience of being queer or the ways in which negative elements of that social experience are taken on-board.
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Refiguring Vulnerability: Youth, Sexuality and Suicide None of the above is to meant to suggest that queer youth are not more vulnerable than heterosexuals in contemporary culture; rather it is to point out that the diversity of experience and the ways in which different persons deal with different aspects of experience, sex, sexuality, identity and discord are pivotal in furthering our understanding of that vulnerability. Despite the statistical work around queer youth and the deployment of risk discourses to understand causality, then, it still remains unclear what it is that puts queer youth at greater risk of suicidality than non-queer younger persons.
To begin to unpack this idea involves asking first what is meant by queer youth. In this sense, it is a cover-all term for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, intersexed or otherwise queer — sometimes given as GLBTIQ. It may at times include youth who identify as straight but engage in same-sex attractions and behaviours. The ambiguity has been productive for both queer theory and queer culture Jagose 96—97 , although the popularity of the term has involved its up-take as an umbrella term for a range of non-heteronormative sexualities and genders, and it is this to which I refer when I use the term queer youth.
Important to note here is that, in referring to young persons expression non-heterosexual attractions, behaviours, identities or desires in some form, the term queer is frequently given as gender-neutral. There is always the risk that the persistent rearticulation of such gender neutrality erases young women from the argument.
Indeed, queer male youth are, according to many studies cited in this book, at much greater risk than queer young women, however that is not to suggest that there is no lesbian or queer female suicidality at all. Nor is to state that there are distinctions that make a topic for a separate study.
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Rather, I have, for the most part, been very deliberate in using the term queer both to be inclusive of all possible genders in discussing suicidality and, at the same time, to acknowledge the fact that for young women the socio-cultural mechanisms that make life unbearable are frequently very different from those experienced by young men. For example, the pressures even on queer male youth to perform a masculine inviolability present circumstances very different from those of young women who are better positioned — at least sometimes — to articulate their own vulnerability in peer contexts in order to achieve support and connectivity.
The gender distinctions in experience and yet the unwillingness to present gender as essentialist are deliberately figured in the choice to use the term queer.
Youth itself is not, however, a simple category determined only by age demographics, but is a construct which has significant implications not only for how we think about important topics such as youth suicide and self-harm, and for how younger persons themselves are placed within framework in which suicide and self-harm are enacted.
Often the term youth is produced through a discourse of generationalism that frequently reduces younger persons or minors into being depicted through notions of deficiency or lack of reason and radical difference from earlier generations Davis However, there are generational differences that are often considered to be subcultural Hebdige 17 and these distinctions between older and younger persons are partly the result of divergences in experience and partly the product of the culture in which one is transformed through ageing.
Such framing of youth through transition often depicts individuals as being in a persistent state of emotional upset while shifting from a childhood marked by immaturity, emotional and economic dependence on parents to emotional and economic autonomy and ties with an adult partner and children. That is, an adolescent is an adolescent is an adolescent.
This is not to argue for the radical diversity of queer youth on the one hand and the homogenisation of all youth on the other, but to suggest that it might in fact be more appropriate not to attempt to imagine a distinction between queer youth and straight youth and instead focus on subcultural elements in generational terms such as the ways in which all sexualities come to be constituted in teenaged years might be produce forms of youth vulnerability rather than vulnerability being seen as a particular trait of a particular demographic. Butler 31 notes that vulnerability is a trait shared by all persons — a condition common to human subjectivity which emerges with life itself.
In the context of our relationality with others, knowing and seeing that another is vulnerable is an ethical responsibility of all subjects, but not an automatic occurrence: it requires a moment of recognition in order to be seen and understood and for the situation of vulnerability to be altered or reversed; such recognition is, of course, never guaranteed Butler 42— This common vulnerability is not, however to suggest that all persons are equally vulnerable. Rather, Butler points out the ways in which different persons are positioned into having to negotiate different forms of vulnerability at different times, including sudden, unprecedented and unexpected forms of being made exposed or made weak.
This is significant in the ways in which I am trying here to formulate a perception of queer youth suicidality as that which is the response to the conditions of unbearability experienced by the most vulnerable of queer youth without wanting at any stage to suggest that all or even most queer youth are suicidal, vulnerable in the same way or victims. Unliveable Lives: Discerning Suicide Although the very idea of suicide has its roots in ancient culture and has been determined through a range of discourses over the past two thousand years, the idea of suicide remains ultimately the unknowable.
We do not really know why a person chooses death over life, for those who complete a suicide are not available to communication or make their reasons intelligible. While suicide notes are common, they are the reductive trace of a reason, governed by processes of writing and narratives of finality, and these do not present reasons either. In other words, understanding either the suicide of an individual, identifiable groups or just suicide in general is something which occurs through reading suicidality through available systems of knowledge — there is no truth that can be discerned.
At the same time, any search for a singular cause or formula for suicides generally or for the suicides of an identifiable group is fruitless, as causes are multiple, manifold and diverse. Thus history has not produced a clear definition of suicide. Medieval Christian rhetoric equated suicide with sin and subsequent ethical systems, until recently, likewise framed definitions of suicide within the status of the taboo and the unspeakable Battin 19— This is a very brief introductory definition in his own view, but his summary statement is as follows: We may then say conclusively: the term suicide is applied to all cases of death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself, which he knows will produce this result.
As attempt is an act thus defined but falling short of actual death Durkheim 44, original emphasis. Where Durkheim viewed suicide as a reasoned and deliberate act, conversely the psychiatric, medical and psychological disciplinary frameworks typically posit suicide as the emanation or result of a mental illness Battin 6. This makes some amount of sense for those of us who bear witness to the suicides of others: one must surely be mentally ill to give up on life.
However, where this either ignores social factors or relies on the notion of internalisation of those factors, it leaves aside ways in which both mental illness and suicidality can be understood as co-morbidity resulting from the same social, subjective or environmental factors through which a subject is constituted, as well as the fact that similar suicides do not always result from the same causes.
In that sense, suicide can be argued to be neither a fully rational act nor fully the unintelligible outcome of mental illness; rather, causes can be said to be diverse and multiple. What appears unintelligible to those who bear witness is not necessarily irrational to the suicidal subject; the reverse may also be true. It is not simply the taking of life, but the talking about life that is at stake. He indicated that the ancient right either to take life or let live was replaced in the Nineteenth Century by a disqualification of death, a loss of rituals which accompany death, and a discursive system which deploys the procedures of power onto the field of death.
Foucault pointed out that: Suicide — once a crime, since it was a way to usurp the power of death which the sovereign alone, whether the one here below or the Lord above, had the right to exercise — became, in the course of the nineteenth century, one of the first conducts to enter into the sphere of sociological analysis; it testified to the individual and private right to die, at the borders and in the interstices of power that was exercised over life Foucault — The question of death is linked to biopower, and speech on death is as much a manifestation of that governmental framework as is the national census.
The biopolitical mechanisms utilised as a form or technology of power in contemporary governance often result in the over-determination of suicide as an object for measurement through quantification and statistics, intersecting with the role of coronial investigation into deaths.
As a construct, then, suicide is made intelligible through a range of competing — but not mutually exclusive — discourses that range across the religious, the ethical, the psychiatric, the psychological and the social. A definition of suicidality that works well in the context of queer youth suicide and the approaches I am taking here follows the work of Edwin Shneidman. In , he proposed three types of suicide: the egotic which occurs through an internal struggle between elements of the self and in which all socio-environmental factors such as the existence or presence of significant others are disregarded by the victim as a source of support; the dyadic, whereby seeking death relates to deep, unfulfilled needs within the social and intrapersonal, may relate to conflict and may involve excessive frustration, hate, anger, disappointment, shame, rage or rejection; and the ageneratic which involves the ways in which a subject relates to and is integrated within generational and social groupings.
Later, Shneidman began to collapse the three types under the egotic, indicating the ways in which psychic conflict and the social are both integrated within the experience of suicidality. Important in his approach is that suicide is not understood as a self-conscious and voluntary movement towards death, but an attempt to put an end to suffering by stopping the unbearable flow of consciousness.
This last is the igniting element that explodes the mixture of the previous three components. In this context, suicide is understood not as a movement toward death or cessation but rather as a flight from intolerable emotion Shneidman Suicidality, then, involves a range of behaviours, but a suicide attempt is about a flight from the psychic pain that emerges from the ways in which the subject is located or, indeed, constituted within sociality.
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Such emotional pain might be the result of stigmatisation, breakdown in the coherence of identity, an inability to fulfil the cultural demands for intelligible subjectivity, a perception of an incapacity to belong in any context, intolerable shame, unbearable exclusion. In that sense, it is possible to suggest that a suicidal queer youth does not seek out death per se, but seeks to escape from the complex tensions that are produced in subjectivation.
Suicide can then be understood as an act that is somewhere between being a reasoned choice and a non-rational act. Both social and psychic factors may compel a subject to enact suicide as a means of escaping the unbearability of living, but if suicide is the articulation of a performative self, it is constituted culturally for that particular subject as a coherent, intelligible and logical means by which to escape the unliveability of living. Introduction 11 Subjective Frameworks: A Queer Cultural Studies Approach The approach to understanding sexuality, suicide, subjectivity and selfhood that I take in this work draws on the poststructuralist work of Foucault and Butler.
That, for me, means paying attention to the fact that competing regimes of power work with a range of discourses which produce the objects — in this case, vulnerable queer youth — they purport to study or represent. As the general domain of statements as well as specific utterances produced through institutional knowledge Mills 6 , discourses operate within disciplinarity and biopolitical technologies of power to shape knowledge and expertise Foucault b: This is also to say that discourse, as both language and that which extends beyond it, is contemporary culture Spivak A Foucauldian cultural studies approach not only considers culture to be the everyday lived experience of specific groups within broader social contexts Williams 80—81 , but also understands culture as an ongoing process Williams 10 , which includes the ways in which conditions that discursively govern and make known the knowable differ in generational and communication contexts for younger persons.
Fundamental shifts in how queer youth, for example, are represented in culture have taken place, much of this around the inclusion of younger queer characters in broadcast film and television Cover ; Padva Not all of this is entirely positive, and that is what cultural studies seeks to investigate — not just to assume progress and take a linear approach to representations, changes and developments but to explore how such developments have emerged and the implications they have for changes in sociality, identity and culture. This approach governs much of what I do in the first half of the book, where I explore some of the ways in which queer youth suicide has been represented in popular entertainment, academic research and online communication, from the perspective of the ways in which queer youth suicide knowledges are produced and change over time.
At the same time, I strongly utilise queer theory, which is a poststructuralist academic enterprise that seeks to de-naturalise common cultural assumptions about gender and sexuality. This does not, of course, mean that they are any less valuable or meaningful to those who practice or self-define by those sexual categories, only that they are always contingent and historical, and open to cultural change and transformation.
This leaves us with the need to ask what disjunctures and continuities in communications technologies impact on how queer youth identity and knowledges around suicidality are formed today.
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Secondly, I focus to some considerable extent on the role of stereotypes throughout much of this work. Stereotypes are not discussed nor analysed at great length today, partly because those with the cultural and media literacy to do so are able to recognise the falsity of a stereotype as a piece of reductive knowledge about a group usually a minority. That is, they are used in film, television and media imagery to avoid having to explain the background about a character or event: a queer person can be recognisable by certain attributes, which might be tastes, aesthetic appreciation, particular looks and glances, ways of moving or holding the body, ways of speaking, career choices or other behaviours.
While there is nothing wrong with that in itself, stereotypes tend to be reductive in the sense that they frequently risk conveying the idea that this is how all persons of that category act. I will address several aspects of this throughout. Stereotypes are notoriously difficult to eradicate from cultural knowledge Rosello , meaning that part of the task here is to find ways in which to make the continuing circulation of reductive stereotypes less harmful.
Thirdly, the question of identity is absolutely core to the work here.