Dissertation Abstracts

The Other Side of the City: Children, Socialization and the Delinquency in Public Housing Neighbourhoods

Author: Leote de Carvalho, Maria João F., mjleotec@sapo.pt
Department: Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas
University: Univesidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal
Supervisor: Professor Nelson Lourenço
Year of completion: 2011
Language of dissertation: Portuguese

Keywords: childhood , socialization , delinquency , social ecology
Areas of Research: Deviance and Social Control , Childhood , Visual Sociology


Delinquency is an increasing topic of public discussion in contemporary societies, and its study is important in the analysis of social change in a given context and time. Rooted in the symbolic interactionism theory, social ecology theoretical approaches and childhood studies that recognize children as social actors, the main goal of this dissertation was to study the relations emerging among childhood delinquency (among children 6-12 years of age) and the urbanization models that have supported the construction of six public housing neighbourhoods in Oeiras, a county within the Lisbon Metropolitan Area, Portugal. Aiming to achieve a better understanding of children’s socialization processes considering multi-problematic spaces, mainly about their involvement in delinquency, we have started from the hypothesis that these models are linked with the development of socialization processes that facilitate children’s access to windows of opportunities for committing delinquent acts.
The study stresses the importance of social five pillars – organization, cohesion, control, trust and shared expectations. Children’s delinquency is seen as an expression of a social problem associated with a range of factors and circumstances brought into play in a specific territory. These children’s physical and social environment influences, and simultaneously suffers the effects of the action and social control exercised by individuals, and for which children, as social actors, ascribe a particular meaning by appropriating, integrating, (re)constructing and (re)producing it in their lives.
This dissertation is based on ethnographic research between late 2005 and 2009. The data draws on a combination of qualitative methodologies – participant observation, visual techniques (neighbourhood drawings and community photography), interviews and textual analysis−, sustained in a comprehensive analytical logic that has considered the voice of children as its starting point.
In conclusion, most children complained about living in these neighbourhoods, describing how social and spatial segregation, associated with a ‘normalization’ of disorder and violence due to their intense frequency, affected them. In this other side of the city, precocity in delinquency escapes official entities, and differential association is felt in particular ways. The findings indicate that the residents’ low level of agency and the dilution of informal social control in these neighbourhoods reinforce the lack of social regulation and facilitate children’s social learning of delinquency. Part of childhood cultures generated here is underpinned by a street culture of violence, and some children emerge not only as victims, but also as agents of violence and delinquency at young ages. Their family and group involvement, especially with older children or youth, are key factors in this process. For many children, delinquency has a functional and instrumental role in their lives. They find delinquency a rewarding form of socialization for various reasons: they may consider it children’s play or they may engage in it to obtain recognition in socially stigmatized areas. The experience of 'other childhoods' and its place in the city informs the dissertation's discussion of debates around urban development and some childhood policies.

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