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Lisa Fitzgerald 2006


Little attention has been directed at how locality shapes young adolescents attitudes to, and participation in, a range of health related practices. This thesis explores the talk of twenty-five 11-13 year old young people from diverse socio-economic households who live in Lyttelton, New Zealand and illustrates the complex intersections of locality, class, gender and social networks in the construction of their identities and health related practices. It investigates this complexity by examining young people's active engagement with their social contexts. It draws on various conceptual frameworks from social theory including the social studies of childhood, materialist/discursive analysis, a critical application of Bourdieu's theory of practice and qualitative methodology to understand young people's own perspectives; how they make sense of and (re)create the health cultures in which they participate. It considers young people's health in a broad perspective, and how it is experienced and lived out at a practical level, in the everyday lives of young people.

This thesis addresses a set of key questions: how do participants make sense of their locatedness in Lyttelton? How are they enabled and constrained by their location, in particular social networks? How do they construct their identities and how are social networks, locality, gender and class relevant to this construction? How do young people who participated in this study negotiate, contest and take up health related practices? How can this research inform youth-focused health promotion? It highlights how young people are articulate and knowledgeable about the settings that structure their lives. It examines the complex relationship between social processes such as class and gender, participants' interactions in these processes and their active identity-making. This approach highlights a situated understanding of young people's agency. The analytic focus of this thesis is to understand young people's health behaviours as social practices performed in specific social contexts. By focusing on a locality, this research highlights how health related practices are interpreted by young people in the context of cultural norms and practices within their social networks.

Understanding how locality and social context shapes young people's attitudes to and participation in health related behaviours has relevance for public health practice. Examining the relationships between young people's social contexts and practices within an appreciation of their embeddedness in social structures helps in understanding the complexity of young people's health related practices. This research highlights how health related practices take place in specific cultural contexts, where the contexts influence the ways that these practices are experienced. Public health needs to strive for better understandings of young people's cultures and meanings of health related behaviours within contextualised settings in order to develop more effective health promotion strategies. The challenge for public health is to incorporate more sophisticated analyses of young people's health, and to address the diversity of young people's health as complex, multifaceted, social and cultural.

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