The short film, RUFUS STONE, produced by Bournemouth University, is seven years old this year. The film has been screened widely over this time and seen in schools, universities, international conferences, community organisations, health and social care settings, and online internationally by more than 24,000 viewers in 150 countries.
RUFUS STONE tells the tale of youth and same-sex attraction and what happens when gossip and insensitivity impinge upon young lives, changing them forever. Our screenings of this story, particularly to youth, have impressed upon us how a supposedly ‘old’ story, (i.e., set in rural Britain more than 50 years ago), still very much has resonance with young people today. Awards presented by the Youth Jury at the Rhode Island Film Festival (2012) as well as presentations to young audiences in the community and academic settings raise the question:
Are youth today still troubled by issues of sexuality and identity in their interface with society?
The “RUFUS STONE … the next Generation” Project will contribute to knowledge on the substantive topic of ‘Post-Millennials’ or ‘Generation Z’ (GenZ). GenZ’s birth years range from the mid-1990s to early 2000s. Comfortable with technology, the cohort has grown up with a feeling of unsettlement and insecurity around the future, and ambivalence around gender and sexual identities. The Project will explore how these attitudes may impact on their mental health. The Project will also investigate the effect of their outlooks on their relationships with each other and their wider communities.
Evidence so far indicates dissidence around sexuality and fluidity of gender roles particularly in Generation Z.
Inspired by a major US survey by the Centre for Disease Control on GenZ’s concepts of gender and sexuality, our interest was further piqued by a major special issue on “The Gender Revolution” in National Geographic (Jan 2017). “Unimaginable a decade ago, the intensely personal subject of gender identity has entered the public square”. This openness to discussion of sexuality and gender begins to expose this latest generation’s ambivalence, even dissonance, around issues of gender and sexuality. Or are these insecurities similar to those of previous generations, but just more visible as a result of today’s no-holds-barred, but often anonymous, engagement with social media?
It is our belief that this study has the potential to unlock this phenomenon, and, through an interface of Project GenZ’s findings with knowledge of the experiences of past generations, understand more fully individual anxieties and dissonance in regard to sexuality and gender.
•How do Gen Z youth see themselves in relation to the wider, more pervasive heteronormative culture?
•How do Gen Z young people perceive differences (or not) in their interface with identity, sexuality and gender than those of previous generations?
The Project will use a multi-method approach to the research, employing a biographic narrative approach to individual life story interviews; the use of arts-led research group work such as film screenings to generate discussion; participant TV studio work; and video diaries, etc. to engage students and elicit personal takes on sexuality and gender issues. Students will be sensitively engaged in reflecting on their own experiences and anxieties around sexual identity through the various tools and methods.
The Project will involve GenZ (‘Post-Millennials’) as both participants in the research and as “co-creators”. Data will be gathered in a congenial and participatory way, conducive with the principles of Performative Social Science and Relational Aesthetics. Performative Social Science (PSS) is an arts-based method of research and dissemination developed by Jones at Bournemouth University over ten years and is recognized internationally. Relational Aesthetics provides the philosophical bedrock on which PSS has been built. Relational ‘Art’ is located in human interactions and their social contexts. Central to it are inter-subjectivity (“the psychological relation between people” or social psychology), being together, the encounter and collective elaboration of meaning (Bourriaud, 1998). These are philosophical principles that are central to PSS as a rich methodological development in qualitative research. Recently lauded by Sage Publications, they described Jones' Performative Social Science as pioneering work that will ‘propel arts-led research forward’ and be a “valued resource for students and researchers for years to come’.
We are currently applying for funding to work with young people aged 16-18 years and involving them in telling their stories, video recorded on their phones, iPads, etc., then concluding with a series of internet broadcasts co-created by involving them in every stage of production.
“Skam”, the Norwegian TV series about Oslo teenagers, has influenced our concept and will be used to engage youth in telling their own stories. Set in Oslo, SKAM, (or SHAME in English), is coming-of-age TV drama that follows the lives of a group of teenagers and the challenges that they face throughout high school. The Norwegian series shows a deep understanding of the struggles with self-identity and internalized homophobia that so many LGBTQ+ people go through. This series has touched the hearts of so many people and will certainly withstand the test of time, much the same as RUFUS STONE has done.
From personal correspondence:
It's a project on Generation Z, and their anxieties and ambiguous approaches around gender and sexuality. We have run one small workshop so far, and the participation was fantastic by the young people.
Because this is the first generation totally hooked up electronically since birth, I want to work with personal media and social media over several months in sessions with them producing their own film/video about their lives and relationships. We will then take the stories from that and some of the characters as well into the TV studio at Talbot and make some film. All this from their input, stories and participation at each phase. Would like to end up with something like the Norwegian series Skam or at least with that look and feeling in the end. Of course, things could change as we go along and that is okay too.Gen Z presentation video from Kip Jones on Vimeo.
Read all about the proposed project in the AHRC Blog!