At the ‘risky’ end of things: labelling, self-concept and the role of supportive relationships in young lives

Raquel Matos*, Luísa Campos, Filipe Martins, Jo Deakin, Alexandra Carneiro, Claire Fox, Anna Markina

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review



The ‘risky’ label attached to certain groups of young people has disproportionately made them the target of ‘interventions’ designed to monitor, rehabilitate or punish. This article explores how young people experience and respond to that label across many aspects of their lives from school to leisure and from justice to welfare. We employ the notion of self-concept to understand the negative impact of labelling on young people and by contrast, the enabling influence of supportive relationships. Our analysis points to a relevant link between labelling and conflict and young people’s self-concept, as well as to the relationship between self-concept and demonstrations of different forms of agency. Drawing on key findings from a meta-ethnographic synthesis of case studies from three countries (Estonia, Portugal and UK), we find that, regardless of the country where young people live, the significant relationships in their lives are essential for breaking the ‘risk-labelled’ cycle and to promote a more positive path. The case studies were developed with 71 participants (49 male), mostly aged between 15 and 24 years old, who presented long paths of conflict with major normative social institutions like the family, school, or the law, frequently leading to school exclusion and, sometimes, anti-social or criminal behaviour.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-330
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Youth Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 20 Feb 2023


  • Labelling
  • Risk
  • Self-concept
  • Significant relationships
  • Youth justice interventions


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