The Trouble with Triumph: Nominally ‘Positive' Media Discourse and Youth Development
Method: A Grounded Theory approach to a Critical Discourse Analysis of media representations of Jane/Finch youth was undertaken to identify and theorize the discursive strategies used to constitute urban youth. Media texts from FACTIVA and the Toronto Sun News Centre databases were searched using the keywords: ‘Jane Finch’ and ‘youth’ between January 2008 to August 2010 to yield 204 texts for analysis. A preliminary headline analysis was conducted to determine discursive trends and inductively generate a theoretical framework with which to ‘read’ the full texts. Foucauldian governmentality theory emerged as well aligned with frames of youth improvement and was subsequently used in the final discourse analysis of exemplar positive texts.
Results: The preliminary headline analysis found that nominally positive frames were ascendant over time and most frequently articulated as individual ‘triumph’ against a background of ‘trouble.’ This tethering of positive to negative and the focus on individual improvement, while offering some reprieve from purely negative headline frames, did not articulate either the strengths or structural deficits of the Jane-Finch community.
The analysis of exemplar media texts revealed a complex deployment of ‘positive’ frames, including: sports, musical, and educational ‘improvements’; and challenges to the discrimination and disadvantage confronting Jane-Finch. The sports and music strands reified racialized stereotypes of ‘hoops’ and ‘beats’ or introduced the colonial trope of bringing racialized bodies into the ‘white’ spaces of hockey or opera. Education was presented as the intervention that ‘disadvantaged’ youth require to transcend their marginality. However, the upward mobility promised through educational access for an exceptional few, was de-linked from the oppressive practices and policies that determine access. Although there were some positive frames that targeted racialized discrimination, these texts deployed ‘soft’ terms, were saturated with negative frames and bypassed structural inequality.
Conclusion/Implications: Although there is an extensive literature on the assignment of ‘blame’ to disadvantaged youth and communities, there is virtually no analysis of how popular discourses of individual triumph re-inscribe race, and other axes of social inequality. This research contributes an understanding of how these ‘positive’ frames are deployed and a theoretical framework that links nominally positive media discourse with ongoing structural oppression to alert communities and allied social workers of the ‘trouble with triumph.’