In war and disaster, children and youth are some of the most at-risk, but they are also some of the most innovative at finding ways to handle new and unplanned situations.
Dr Holly Thorpe, a senior lecturer at the University of Waikato, will be studying youth and social change in spaces of war and disaster. She’s been awarded a $300,000 Marsden Fast Start grant to examine youths’ engagement with informal sports to improve their own and others’ health and wellbeing.
One of Dr Thorpe’s case studies will be post-earthquake Christchurch. Her early research suggests people who were involved in action sports such as skateboarding, surfing, mountain biking and climbing pre-quake, had to find new ways to participate in the sports they love and in so doing helped rebuild networks and community, and facilitated their resilience and coping during the long process of rebuilding.
“They’d had to look hard to find alternative locations for their activities – travel further to surf or climb, and some skateboarders built indoor skate parks amongst the ruins. People converged from all over the city to help build and play in these spaces. These new alternative mobilities gave them a reason to stay and helped them to deal with the stresses of life in this radically changed city,” Dr Thorpe says. She’ll be extending this research for her Marsden study.
Her other case studies will be Afghan children and youths' engagement with skateboarding; post-Katrina New Orleans; and a grassroots parkour group in Gaza. In Gaza, a younger generation of technologically savvy Gazan residents are the founders of the parkour group, PK Gaza. “This group also feels that running and jumping from broken buildings and training with their friends is important for their everyday coping strategies.” They have used the internet, cheap mobile phones, and social media for their parkour practices and for broader political purposes.
“I plan to examine trends within and across locations and the potential of youth engagement in non-competitive, ‘action sports’ such as skateboarding, parkour, surfing and climbing, for development and peace-building in disrupted and damaged geographies,” Dr Thorpe says.
She comes to the research from a sociologist perspective and will carry out interviews, observations and media analysis to understand youths’ (10-24 years) and action sport enthusiasts’ individual and collective struggles, strategies, and ambitions in particular contexts, and how broader social forces influence each initiative. She is currently working with Naomi Klein’s concept of ‘disaster capitalism’ to explore some of the similarities across the cases, and put her project into a broader social-political context.
Associate Professor Belinda Wheaton, also based at the University of Waikato, is the Associate Investigator on this project and will support Dr Thorpe in conducting the study. “This research will be the first global investigation into the different possibilities such non-competitive, informal sporting activities offer for achieving positive policy outcomes in war and disaster situations,” Dr Thorpe says.
Other 2015 Marsden Fast Start recipients were marine scientist Dr Phil Ross who will study ancient aquaculture, and Dr Lee Streeter an electronic engineer who will research improvements to time-of-flight photography.
Computer scientist Associate Professor Eibe Frank was awarded $410,000 to research deep learning - the process of extracting complex features from data.