• 7 May 2020

Art has always offered me a place of refuge, healing, clarification of my thoughts and a deep source of strength during difficult times. My belief in the transcendence of art led me to this article. The article is about a study exploring how youth define resilience through collective art making. 

The article begins by alluding to neoliberal policies that have developed a common narrative for all youth. It considers that there is a normalised risk discourse of the youth generation and this leads to social work responses based on the scope of this discourse. Youth is understood as a transitional phase enroute to adulthood and is marked by risk and adversity. Resilience in this context becomes an individual responsibility. 

This study evolved through ongoing conversations with community youth groups that the author was already involved with. An arts-based approach was adopted to allow for subjective expression of diverse ways of knowing.

The study sought to “emancipate the word resilience from an individualised, adult-oriented framework” by trying to understand it from young people’s own perspective. The study also wanted to reduce the methodological bias of power inequity, for example in knowledge generation, that is inherent in questionnaires created solely by the investigator.  To do this the study adopted Participatory Action Research (PAR) method. PAR allows those being researched to play an active participatory role in articulating their concerns and generating knowledge about themselves.

The study involved 23 participants and a team of six youth researchers (YRT), all in the age range of 16-29 years.  The YRT were active community youth leaders who were selected from social spaces that had preestablished relationships with the author of the study. The participants were recruited by the YRT from amongst members who had already used the youth programmes in their regions. Participants ranged in diversity in age, sexuality, education, race, ethnicity and reasons for using social services.

YRT organised the workshops and collected data. The creation of artwork was not the aim of the research but was used to facilitate discussion about resilience. Rich data (of interest to the researchers) lay within the processes and dialogues that occurred along the pathway to achieve the artwork. Data involved collecting research memos, documentation of explanations about artwork and discussions that occurred during the workshops. Two independent researchers read the data several times, conducted inducting coding and articulated recurrent themes related to resilience. Their thematic analysis was compared and mutually agreed to the following three themes. 

The first theme was belonging and connections. The process of art making offered time and opportunity for young people to get to know each other and experience the art workshop as a safe and secure space for expression. With time, they started exchanging stories and recognised resilience not as a trait but as a communal personification of strength within their collective experiences.     

The second theme was about personal strengths and uniqueness.  Young people wanted to learn from their past negative experiences and relied on their unique abilities for perseverance. Resilience was also recognised as self-determination and autonomy.

The third theme spoke about the role of external forces that threaten the autonomy of these young people. The study also mentioned that social agencies allowed for a “narrow scope of success” for young people who have a different sense of what success means than other external agencies. Therefore, the resilience required to achieve this subjective success would be quite different from a universal and normalised preconception of success.

This study highlights the need to improve our understanding of the subjective nature of resilience in young people. It also introduces the idea that resilience is perceived not just as a trait but also becomes a part of the identity for young people. Resilience is dynamic and influenced by the trusting relationships between individuals.



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