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Title: 'Hidden youth' : a critical study of socially disengaged young people in Hong Kong and Scotland
Author: Wong, Mark Tsun On
ISNI:       0000 0004 7229 3797
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2018
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There has been growing interest in academic literature about young people who are marginalised and disengaged from society. This thesis focuses on young people in Hong Kong and Scotland who physically shut themselves in the bedroom and do not go outside for months and years on end. They are referred to as “hidden youth” in East Asia, and it has emerged as a topical social issue across the region in the past ten years. Previous research studying “hidden youth” (mainly in Japan and Hong Kong) highlights that there are structural barriers in contemporary society which could lead to young people becoming self-secluded. The young people are described as living reclusive and solitary lives, as they are excluded from participation in the labour market and education and disengaged from interactions with families and other communities, especially friends and peer groups. Hence, they are considered as “withdrawn” from society and disconnected from socialising. This thesis critically reflects on “hidden” young people’s sense of connectedness and “being social” based on their lived experience. It also draws on recent debates of the construction of the “social”, particularly in digital sociology, to shed light on the processes of socialising in the digital age. This study uncovered that how “hidden” young people socialise may in fact be heterogeneous. Variability in how they engage in interactions and participation in society was identified. There were also differences in their levels of solitude and loneliness. Hence, describing how the young people are “being social” could be more nuanced than previously thought. This also makes analysing them as “socially withdrawn” particularly problematic. This research uses a qualitative exploratory approach, looking comparatively across two contexts; 32 interviews were conducted with “hidden youth” in Hong Kong and Scotland. These two contexts are considered as instrumental examples, where social disengagements are especially prominent but discussed differently. The participants revealed various perceptions of hopelessness and lack of opportunities in work and education on the hand. This significantly affected their motivations to participate in employment and education; they could feel unable to fulfil their aspirations and become de-motivated. On the other hand, they were more interconnected with different groups of people in the digital world, and their interactions could be fluid. The space of the bedroom was highlighted as an important site where interactions could occur. This adds another dimension to consider how “hidden” young people interact, particularly with communities such as peer groups, friends and families. Moreover, digital interactions may also be important to how they socialise and experience a sense of connectedness. This highlights that there may be tensions in how young people’s motivations, as well as the opportunities they have, affect their engagements in digital and physical interactions. Therefore, this thesis argues that “hidden youth” could feel a sense of powerlessness towards hierarchical macro structures and meaninglessness towards interactions and participation in society. Conversely, they are relying on emerging digital social structures and networks to seek other forms of “being social”. Their high levels of digital interactions could in fact be a reaction to their experiences of unfulfilment in the labour market and in education. This thesis makes an important contribution to understand “hidden youth” and adds a more nuanced perspective to this emerging debate. In addition, it points to further aspects that should be taken into account in future studies to fully comprehend the sociality of a young person and its complexities in the digital age.
Supervisor: Naumann, Ingela ; Grek, Sotiria Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: disengaged youth ; digital age ; social interactons ; Scotland ; Hong Kong ; hidden youth