Finding the way home

Young People, Community, Safety and Racial Danger (1996-1998).

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There is currently a great deal of concern about issues of racial harassment and public safety. The mass media frequently carry sensational stories about street crime and violence with strong racial overtones. At the same time there has been considerable criticism of policies designed to tackle the problem by the police and local authorities, for their failure to win the support of the communities most directly concerned.

In many of these scenarios, young people are portrayed as the chief victims or perpetrators of racial violence, but they are rarely credited with having a positive and proactive role to play in defining and implementing programmes for improving community safety. Moreover, little is known in detail about how different groups of young people make sense of the racialised environments in which they are growing up, or about the effect of particular interventions designed to improve youth and community relations.

In this project we were setting out to provide a more informed basis upon which new initiatives in this field could be developed.

Aims and objectives

To contribute to the general understanding of processes of identity formation amongst young adolescents growing up in multiracial areas to make a substantive analysis of issues of race and urban policy as these impact on the lived experience of young people to evaluate specific practices for dealing with young victims or perpetrators of racial violence to help develop a new proactive approach to working around issues of racial danger and safety with young people living in high risk areas to provide educationalists and race professionals with materials for in-service training.

About the project

The study was carried out in two dockland districts of London and involved working with a targeted sample of 13 and 14 year olds. The research methods were designed as a learning process for the young people, exploring issues of race and community safety through various forms of self representation; group discussion; and exchange visits culminating in a Summer Arts Project. A separately funded study using a similar framework was simultaneously carried out by The Institute of Racism and Migration Research in Hamburg. Data from the two projects was compared in order to establish factors affecting the degree and type of racialisation of adolescent identities in the two countries.


The findings were made available in a variety of forms:

  • a series of research papers
  • seminars, workshops and an end of project conference
  • an audiovisual exhibition based on material produced by young people
  • a teaching pack for general educational use and in-service training

Funding and accountability

The project was funded for two years by the Economic and Social Research Council. It was managed jointly by the New Ethnicities Unit at the University of East London and the Centre for Urban and Community Research at Goldsmiths, University of London.

The project team

The project team was supported by user groups with representatives from schools, youth projects, and community safety schemes in the two study areas. A series of Briefing Papers resulting from the project have now been published and are available from CNER at the University of East London.

Phil Cohen
Centre for New Ethnicities Research
University of East London
Longbridge Road
Dagenham, Essex RM8 2AS

Michael Keith
Centre for Urban and Community Research
Goldsmiths, University of London
E-mail m.keith (

Research Team

  • Les Back
  • Phil Cohen
  • Michael Keith