“I Don't Want to Spend My Life under a Toilet Seat”

Aspiration, Belonging, and Responsible Masculinities in the Lives of White, Working-Class Boys in a Youth Inclusion Program at the YMCA

in Boyhood Studies
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  • 1 Oxford Brookes University rwignall@brookes.ac.uk
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Abstract

Working with a cohort of boys aged 14–18 and classed as not in employment, education, or training (NEET) at the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in the UK city of Brighton and Hove, this article follows their progress as they engage with instructors and other pupils at the YMCA, using qualitative modes of inquiry to explore their reactions, feelings, and attitudes. As I demonstrate, their aspirations and sense of emergent manhood is often predicated on new relationships generated in the YMCA spaces rooted in a culture of caring and responsible masculinity founded on implicit Christian values. Through interviews with young men and the people around them, I probe some of the tensions in this process, showing how persistent attachments to places and spaces beyond the YMCA can create feelings of ambivalence and, in some cases, a sense of alienation and marginality even as they begin to feel that they belong.

Contributor Notes

Ross Wignall is Senior Lecturer in Social/Cultural Anthropology at Oxford Brookes University. His doctoral research explored the intersection of morality, faith, and the gendered body as modes of youth self-actualization in the United Kingdom and The Gambia. More recently, his research has focused on the inclusion of youth voices in development policy in both sub-Saharan Africa and the Global North with a particular focus on disenfranchised young people in Sierra Leone. Email: rwignall@brookes.ac.uk

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