Based upon fieldwork at an ordinary London school, The Class examines young people’s experiences of growing up and learning in a digital world. In this original and engaging study, Sonia Livingstone and Julian Sefton-Green explore youth values, teenagers’ perspectives on their futures, and their tactics for facing the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. The authors follow the students as they move across their different social worlds — in school, at home, and with their friends, engaging in a range of activities from video games to drama clubs and music lessons. By portraying the texture of the students’ everyday lives, The Class seeks to understand how the structures of social class and cultural capital shape the development of personal interests, relationships and autonomy. Providing insights into how young people’s social, digital, and learning networks enable or disempower them, Livingstone and Sefton-Green reveal that the experience of disconnections and blocked pathways is often more common than that of connections and new opportunities.

This book is part of the Connected Youth and Digital Futures series that explores young people’s day-to-day lives and futures. The volumes consider changes at the intersection of civil and political reform, transformations in employment and education, and the growing presence of digital technologies in all aspects of social, cultural and political life. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning (DML) Initiative has supported two research networks that have helped launch this series: the Youth and Participatory Politics Research Network and the Connected Learning Research Network. The DML Initiative and the DML Research Hub at the University of California, Irvine, support production and open access for this series, published by New York University Press.

Sonia Livingstone and Julian Sefton-Green Discuss 'The Class'


"In a richly textured account, The Class unpacks many of the grand claims made in public discourse about the perceived impact — positive and negative — of new media technologies on young people’s lives and future prospects. Intellectually engaging, lucidly written, and emotionally engrossing, The Class is required reading for policy makers, parents, and teachers alike."

Kirsten Drotner, co-editor of Informal Learning and Digital Media

"An exemplary ethnography whose holistic engagement with children at home as well as at school allow for judicious appraisals of what actually matters, motivates, and has consequences for their lives. By fully respecting the children’s attempts to control the impact of digital technologies, negotiate their relationships and internalise but tame institutional pressures, this book gives us precisely the kind of empathetic sense of the child that we need to retain as adults."

Daniel Miller, author of Social Media in an English Village

"One of the richest investigations to date of young people across the major sites of their lives — school, family, and among their peers — The Class will be a distinctive contribution to media and youth studies. Displaying an impressive breadth of knowledge, the authors showcase lively ethnographic vignettes to draw significant, convincing, and exciting insights."

Dorothy Holland, co-author of Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds


Why is it interesting to examine the interconnected lives of a class of 13-year-olds now? How can we explore what matters about their lives—with what concepts and what questions? Public debate asks anxious and judgmental questions about whether families are “broken” or schools are “failing” or young people have lost their “moral compass.” These questions typically focus on society’s values, practices, and institutions in changing times and are often framed by (inevitable) uncertainties about the future. Such questions may resonate with young people and, more especially, those who provide for them and worry about their future. For the past twenty years, the rhetoric of “the digital age” has loudly claimed that the recent and rapid take-up of digital, online, and networked technologies is fundamentally reshaping homes, schools, and communities. This rhetoric claims that society must find a way to prepare its youth for jobs that have not yet been invented and to live in ways—more digital, more connected—that the adults responsible for them cannot imagine.

Yet there is a substantial disconnect between the public anxieties swirling around young people’s everyday experiences, persistently claiming dramatic change, and a sense of continuity with the past. This disconnect is evident to those who live or work with young people and who are often skeptical of the extreme emotions and oversimplified views expressed in discourses about youth. But this “noise” also conceals important questions. These ask less about the “state of youth” or “where society is going” but instead puzzle over the present in relation to the past. What has really changed between, say, the childhoods of today’s parents or grandparents and those of children growing up now? What aspects of change or continuity really matter, and over what timescale should changes be gauged?

This perspective pays more attention to what it feels like to be young now compared with previous generations, investigating the texture of home, school, or leisure experiences in order to reach a judgment about what might have been lost or gained. These questions help to put “the digital” in its place, asking just what difference it makes or whether it is too soon to tell. Importantly, the answers tend to position children’s own agency in constructing their identities and environments as part and parcel of the more fundamental historical changes of modernity occurring over recent centuries, rather than young people being subject to radical transformation in a matter of a few years.

In this chapter, we develop a framework that sets out our main concepts, unpacks the debates we hope to contribute to, and refines the questions that guided our fieldwork with the class. In terms of structure, we will organize the framework loosely around the three core spheres of young people’s lifeworld presented in the introduction, namely, home, school, and peer group. In terms of analysis and evidence, we focus on what is changing, including but going considerably beyond changes in digital technology.

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