The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

The Trouble with Triumph: Nominally ‘Positive' Media Discourse and Youth Development

Thursday, January 17, 2013: 1:30 PM
Nautilus 2 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Julia Janes, PhD candidate, Project Collaborator and Doctoral Student, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada
Asim Aziz, Youth Research Intern, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada
Purpose: Media representations of ‘marginalized’ youth continue to constitute urban youth as ‘threats’ and ‘problems.’ Although much has been written about the import of these negative frames, little analysis of nominally positive media frames has been undertaken. Nominally positive frames align with the ‘new’ racism, where overtly racist discourse is erased and replaced with more subtle, but insidious racist texts. Furthermore, the literature suggests that popular discourse has a substantive influence on practice and policy responses.  Therefore, research documenting these discursive trends is crucial to stakeholders who wish to strategically frame discourse toward transformative youth development policies and programs. This study, part of the Assets Coming Together for Youth project, provides an analysis of media frames of youth triumph and contends that these frames re/produce troubled, racialized communities.

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.’