IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Precarity, youth and the city

20 October 2021, 12:00 pm–1:00 pm

Three young adults on a stone bench reflected in a puddle at Granary Square, Kings Cross.

The first Youth and the City webinar focuses on the theme of precarity and features research from London and Nairobi. It will be particularly useful for those interested in youth studies, urban sociology, sociology, human geography, urban planning, and international development.

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Avril Keating

Presentation 1: ‘Press-ganged’ Generation Rent: Youth homelessness, precarity and poverty in East London

Professor Paul Watt

This paper examines youth homelessness, precarity and poverty via a critical account of ‘Generation Rent’ – that young people are living in the private rental sector (PRS) in perpetuity having been locked out of both homeownership and social renting. The post-2008 crash period has witnessed a profound transformation in young people’s tenure expectations and experiences such that homeownership has become an impossible dream for most, while social renting has also become increasingly out-of-reach for working-class youth due to four decades of neoliberalisation and the last decade of austerity welfare cutbacks. Rather than being a transitional tenure for young people embarking on their housing careers, the PRS has become their de facto tenure of destination, hence giving rise to the influential notion of ‘Generation Rent’.

This paper examines precarity and the notion of Generation Rent by focussing on employment (non-standard contracts) and housing (insecurity and evictions) with reference to in-depth interviews undertaken with 55 young people aged 18-30. This multi-ethnic group of low-income, working-class youth were living in temporary accommodation either in East London or in South East England having been displaced there from London.

The paper illustrates the interlinkages between employment and housing precarity. However, despite the young people’s well-founded antipathy towards the PRS, they were being steered towards this tenure by housing officials – not renting from the PRS was no longer an option. Therefore, if the PRS is becoming a ‘tenure of destination’ for young people, this represents a case of coerced, ‘press-ganged’ Generation Rent for Black, Asian and white working-class youth.

Presentation 2: Hustling recentred – thinking with Nairobi to understand young working lives in the post-wage economy.

Dr Tatiana Thieme

This presentation draws on ethnographic research in one of Nairobi’s oldest and largest informal settlements, Mathare, where young people mobilise the notion of ‘hustle’ to express narratives of struggle, day to day income opportunities, and solidarities in under-served neighbourhoods. In this context, everyday young lives navigate constant economic, social and political insecurity, caught in a state of suspension (or ‘waithood’) while shaping local practices of provisioning in the absence of formal structures of support.

The presentation will reflect on the temporalities and terrains of the hustle economy in Mathare, which include the emerging tensions and solidarities between different generations of youth, and between youth who stay and those who leave ‘the hood’. Finally, the presentation will pan out to reflect on how ‘hustling’ is situated within wider debates around the future of work for youth. Dr Thieme reflects on hustling as an increasingly globalised vernacular, that simultaneously presents an affirmative narrative of work outside normative conventions of the wage, while also echoing on-going expressions of racial capitalism and marginalisation.

About the Youth and the City series

Through this series, the Centre for Global Youth explores the latest research on youth and cities. Over five weeks during October to November 2021, these 1 hour online seminars will bring together a range of guest speakers to share new research and engage in dialogue about how young people use, relate to, challenge and remake urban spaces.

Spanning research in cities from the Global North and South, session topics will include precarity, race, social class, activism, music, and youth voice. Contributors will draw on theories from sociology, human geography, anthropology, political science, and beyond. Overall, the aim of the program is to overcome silos of urban sociology, youth studies and allied fields, and encourage further conversations at critical intersections of youth and cities.

Related links

About the Speakers

Professor Paul Watt

Professor of Urban Studies at Department of Geography at Birkbeck, University of London

Professor Paul Watt has published widely on social housing, urban regeneration, homelessness, gentrification, suburbanisation, and the 2012 Olympic Games. His most recent book is Estate Regeneration and Its Discontents: Public Housing, Place and Inequality in London (Policy Press, 2021).

Dr Tatiana Thieme

Associate Professor in Human Geography at UCL Geography

Dr Tatiana Thieme's research interests engage with different aspects of entrepreneurial and makeshift urbanism, and recent research has focused on alternative cultural and economic geographies related to the politics of urban poverty, informal work, and everyday coping strategies in contexts of precarious urban environments. The three sub-themes of her research are: Urban political ecology of sanitation and waste; Youth geographies and “hustle” economies; social enterprise and development.

More about Dr Tatiana Thieme