Social exclusion, youth transitions and criminal careers: Five critical reflections on 'risk'

Robert MacDonald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


This article draws upon recent youth research in some of Britain's poorest neighbourhoods (in Teesside, north-east England). It stresses the importance of a qualitative, biographical and long-term perspective in attempting to understand drug-using and criminal careers (and wider youth transitions) and points to some difficulties in applying - straight-forwardly - influential models of risk assessment and prediction to individual biographies. In a context of deep, collective disadvantage, most research participants shared many of the risk factors associated with social exclusion in early adulthood. Yet the majority did not pursue full-blown criminal or drug-using careers and the research struggled to identify background factors that seemed to play a causal role in separating out more 'delinquent' transitions from more 'conventional' ones. Youth biographies were marked by flux; they did not roll on deterministically to foregone conclusions. Unpredictable 'critical moments' turned transitions in unpredictable directions; sometimes towards crime, sometimes away. The article concludes that there is danger in criminal career research - as in studies of youth transition - in prioritising individual level explanations at the expense of an assessment of the 'risks' presented by sociospatial and historical context.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371-383
Number of pages13
JournalAustralian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2006
Externally publishedYes


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