Levi-Strauss in his book ‘Myth and Meaning’ considers the view that as humans alive on this planet of earth that we, per generation, use less and less of our sensory perceptions. Recalling the story of the ancient tribe who could see the planet Venus on a clear day from a desert, unbelievable nowadays, but not just a myth, but a reality for that tribe who trained their senses in the world to engage with the world in this deep mythological sensory way.
Detached youthwork starts off on the streets with a retraining experience. No longer are the streets no-go areas, you’re in them. No longer are they a space to drive through, to walk through to get to the chippy, they are a space to be present in, and stay. Because of this the retraining is to become acclimatised using our senses to the space. To view the streetlights, and shop fronts as glaring interruptions of light on dark nights, to listen for the distant obvious sounds of groups of young people, with slightly higher, fearful/loud/shrieky voices (than adults), the smells of food, take aways, car fumes (depending how busy the roads are). These are all important sensory experiences, and because of our intention, to be in the space, maybe its only detached youthworkers, who become regular, who become attuned to the space take in these things, maybe more than others.
Levi-Strauss may have a point, but in his book he talks about the skills required , instead of looking for venus, we now turn on the Radio or television, and we are able to make technology such as cars safer, but the personal sensory interaction has shifted somewhat in the less used direction. However, as i watched the GBBO final this evening, it was, not unlike lots of of popular TV or Sport, the TV is now only the sideshow to the online community of commentators of it, all who glance up and down at the TV, just so they can write tweets about it, myself included. The community gathering in separate homes is as much the attraction as the object of the attention itself. The Twitter generation clearly is craving community, and is it using TV as a means to share that experience. So what does that mean for being on the streets?
Well, because of our own guidelines of practice, and personal safety, we, as detached youthworkers are likely to be seldom on our phones, we are present in the space, as i said above, we have one task in mind, one focus, and generally, aside from the team banter, want to give young people our full presentness. Which is likely to be very different to everyone else who a young person is going to encounter, or even the young persons own motivation for being there. No one else in that space is likely to be present focussing solely on the space; it a jogger with headphones on, a dog walker listening to a podcast and picking up poo, people going to shops. The space to everyone else is to travel through, and if anything to be as ignored as possible. Even for the young adult, their focus may not be their actual friends in the space either, they might be all away from the space itself connecting with those not present. Not always, but sometimes & often. And so young people are so likely to wonder why we are actually present in the space, being there in the actual moment, not as distracted (maybe sometimes), and valuing the presentness of being conversation in the space with people face to face might almost be a rarity, a valued and never to be underestimated rarity. One that requires many senses, one that requires being very present.
(Levi-Strauss ‘Myth and Meaning’ 1978)