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A Practice of Concrete Utopia? Informal Youth Support and the Possibility of 'Redemptive Remembering' in a UK Coal-Mining Area

Bright, N. Geoffrey (2012) A Practice of Concrete Utopia? Informal Youth Support and the Possibility of 'Redemptive Remembering' in a UK Coal-Mining Area. Power and education, 4 (3). pp. 315-326. ISSN 1757-7438


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At a moment when individualised and de-historicised notions of 'aspiration', 'resilience' and 'wellbeing' are proliferating in policy discourse shaping informal youth support practice, this article argues, instead, for a critically historical focus. In reviewing material from an intergenerational ethnographic study of young people in contact with youth support teams in a former coal-mining community in Derbyshire, UK, the case is made for understanding how young working-class people's experience of education is situated within historical geographies of collectively transmitted affect. In the particular coal-mining locality considered, these classed spatialities of feeling have been shaped through traditions of political, trade union and community resistance and mutual aid established over a 200-year period and culminating in the locally bitterly divided national miners' strike of 1984-85. Beginning from an ethnographic field note, the article outlines how such insubordinate community histories - particularly those imagining a radical reconstitution of society - can be silenced when a collective psycho-social space once redolent with hope becomes a space of ruin as a result of politically orchestrated de-industrialisation. Noticing how this compounds young people's experience of marginalisation and leaves them at once adrift from the 'illegitimate' histories that are their legitimate 'heritage', and at the same time subject to the traumatic affective legacy of those same histories, a critical counter-practice in informal youth support is proposed. Drawing on Blochian readings of Freire, the article calls for a form of intergenerational 'redemptive remembering' - a practice of 'concrete utopia' - capable of recovering 'unspeakable' community histories for a collective remaking of resilience and aspiration beyond the received confines of the neoliberal imaginary.

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