Under curfew and under siege? Legal geographies of young people

Damian C.A. Collins & Robin A. Kearns

Go to article

Collins, D. C. & Kearns, R. A. (1). Under curfew and under siege? Legal geographies of young people. Geoforum, 32(3), 389–403. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0016-7185(00)00033-6

Juvenile curfews , Legal geography , Moral panics , Public space , Teenagers

Against a backdrop of widespread panic about children's safety and the unruliness of teenagers, efforts to remove young people from public space are becoming increasingly pervasive. Public space is being constructed as adult space through legal mechanisms such as curfews, which seek to curtail young people's spatial freedoms and contain them within their homes. Ostensibly motivated by a desire to reduce youth crime and victimisation, curfews reflect a contemporary preoccupation with achieving social control through the control of space. This is certainly the case in the US – the Western nation where juvenile curfews are most prevalent, despite rhetoric about the `fundamental' nature of individual freedoms. In this paper, critical discussion of the American situation provides a backdrop for considering curfews recently imposed in Paeroa and Te Kuiti, two New Zealand towns. It is contended that these curfews were as much about enforcing a particular notion of `parental responsibility' as controlling young people themselves. We conclude that a discourse of rights provides a particularly strong foundation for arguing against curfews.

Main finding
Themes from the interviews found that curfews in both towns were aimed at controlling and containing outsiders - those youth seen as troublemakers coming from the city - and that curfews unjustly infringe on the youths’ rights. A ‘disease’ metaphor tended to depict the concerns about outsider youth in these areas with an especially racialized view of areas predominantly made up of minority populations. The authors argue that these stereotypes serve to both absolve communities from dealing with delinquency problems and justify curfews as a safety measure - inciting fear of classed and raced youth. However, there was little evidence of a racial motivation to the curfews it the two towns studied. Also, curfews were seen to promote a particular form of parental responsibility or potential to invoke a Foucauldian notion of self-disciplining; yet, this ultimately undermines parents’ ability to determine their child’ spatial freedoms.

Description of method used in the article
Fieldwork was carried out over a two-month period in two towns chosen due to the fact that their local police had enforced juvenile curfews for two years prior (they ended six months prior to the fieldwork) and had community spokespeople who expressed concern about youth behavior. This work included a questionnaire survey of high school students aged 14-19 administered during their geography and social studies’ classes. The survey took about 10-20 mins with 115 participants. Questions focused on uses and perceptions of public space, understanding of local crime patterns, and opinions on juvenile curfews. Additionally, 10 key informants, outspoken on issues of children’s rights and youth advocacy, were given semi-structured interviews that at time leaned more conversational when needed to solicit key details. Secondary sources included analysis of media reports, policy documents, press releases, and relevant court cases.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Other or N/A
Field Observations
Physical types
Geographic locations