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WP5 – Young people’s participation: learning from action research in eight European cities
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2018 (English)Book (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The objectives of this work package (see Partispace proposal) were to involve young people in local, city-based action research (AR) projects by encouraging and assisting them in carrying out their own research, developing ‘products’, and co-analysing findings. Recent developments in youth participation discourses have highlighted a broadening of the focus beyond involvement in public decision-making to recognising the significance of participation in the context of young people’s everyday lives. The Partispace project acknowledges that participation does not happen only in response to adult agendas and in formal arenas, but that young people are also participating on their own initiative and in a myriad of ways. As such, the central concern of Partispace has been exploring and better understanding young people’s own stylesand spacesof participation. 

One of the recurring themes emerging in the Partispace project is the extent to which participation is ‘staged’ by adults (what Pells, 2010 refers to as performed rather than lived participation) with an underlying pedagogic intention of ‘educating’ young people to be good citizens. Such a critique is both positive and negative. Whilst acknowledging that an emphasis on formalised participation may be limiting for young people in practice as well as in theory (in terms of understanding the broader ways in which young people can and do participate as citizens), the evidence also suggests that many young people do derive benefits from adult-led forms of participation. Nonetheless, and in the context of the increasing dissatisfaction of many young people with mainstream politics, young people are increasingly redefining the ways in which they participate in politics and wider society, both within and outside the political system. 

A key development in youth participation has been the rise in social activism (Earls et al, 2017) from lobbying and counter-political activities that explicitly seek to contest the political status quo, to self-help and social movements defined by a primary concern with engaging in activities according to members’ own agendas and interests. In some cases, group activities may not have an explicit political or change agenda at all, but may be characterised more as a form of ‘social participation’ (see Thomas 2007) where supportive relationships and common interests are important. These forms of participation are not, however, clearly demarcated ‘types’ despite research findings that self-initiated activities by young people around their own concerns may become more political as they pursue their own agendas. These findings also indicate that many instances of youth participation occur in quite organic and emergent ways and around the motivations, needs and interests of young people as they reflexively engage in some form of participation (social and/ or political). In this respect, participation can be understood as a process guided more immediately in the ‘here and now’ by young people themselves. 

Some of the varying interpretations and enactings of participation in current discourse and praxis are useful for making sense of the different action research projects (ARPs) in the Partispace project. Epistemologically, participation concerns involvement or activity of young people, organised by themselves or others, while participation discourses relate to young people taking part in research, development and decision-making processes. Whilst these processes focus on mainstream adult-dominated agendas, there is now also considerable attention on youth-initiated processes and particularly youth-led research initiatives (see for example Acharya 2010; Kemmis, 2001). Ontological dimensions of participation are the concerns over how participation plays out in practice and the extent to which young people derive a sense of inclusion as equal citizens in society by, for example, acknowledging and treating them as users of public space and ensuring that they can benefit from equal rights and entitlements. Methodological interpretations of participation involve a democratic approach to research and decision-making. Whilst there are many research and decision-making processes that are broadly participatory because young people are involved, there is now also an established tradition of participatory research which draws upon post-positivist theories of knowledge production such as Participatory Action Research (Gibbons; Reason & Bradbury 2001; Kindon et al. 2010). 

Based on these ideas, the AR phase of Partispace shifted the focus explicitly from exploring different forms of youth participation according to adult-led research formulations, to working with groups of young people to understand how participation might be significant in their own terms of reference and outside of adult agendas. The rationale for the AR, then, was to provide a space for young people in the partner cities to make sense of participation through their own ‘lenses of meaning’ by supporting them to do their own projects on issues and questions that they identify as important. Some of the ARPs developed upon existing projects, while others pursued new ideas, agendas, interests and concerns, and in some cases started develop new forms of participation. 

The principal aims of the ARPs were to: 

  • Explore what participation might mean for young people if they are provided with an opportunity without predefined structures and processes
  • Provide an opportunity for experiential learning using a participatory action research process with young people

The meta-questions guiding this phase of the research were:

  • How can we understand how young people realise participation in action?
  • How do young people construct meanings of participation in practice according to their own agendas?
  • How do young people make sense of their own forms and styles of participation?
  • What can we learn about the factors which influence young people’s autonomous action?
  • What forms and styles of participation might young people develop when they are free from constraints?
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Huddersfield and Gothenburg: University of Huddersfield ; University of Gothenburg , 2018, 1. , p. 125
Keywords [en]
Participation action research, youth, Europe
National Category
Social Work
Research subject
Social Sciences, Social Work
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:lnu:diva-74035OAI: oai:DiVA.org:lnu-74035DiVA, id: diva2:1204805
Projects
Partispace
Funder
EU, Horizon 2020, 649416Available from: 2018-05-09 Created: 2018-05-09 Last updated: 2018-08-14Bibliographically approved

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CiteExportLink to record
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Citation style
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