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  • Author or Editor: Ilaria Pitti x
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This chapter discusses young Italians’ political activation against the exacerbation of socioeconomic and intergenerational inequalities fostered by the 2008 economic crisis and the austerity measures. The study contributes to the book and to the broader scholarship in youth studies and social movement studies by providing an in-depth analysis of young people’s collective reaction to inequalities through self-organisation and mutualism. The chapter is based on qualitative materials (interviews, focus groups and participant observations) collected on five experiences of youth activism in political squats (centri sociali). These materials are analysed in relation to three main research questions: how did the crisis transform activists’ practices of participation? How has this transformation changed the relationships between activists and the surrounding communities? And what about young activists’ relationships with institutions?

Practices of self-organisation let young people experiment with alternative solutions to their own problems, limiting young people’s risk of disengaging with their communities because of experiences of inequalities.

Practices of self-organisation, working at a small scale and focusing locally, foster interactions between young people and other local community members.

Young people’s interest and involvement in political issues are reinvigorated by the combination of small-scale actions with long-term political goals, even though young people may remain sceptical of institutional politics.

This chapter presents emerging similarities in the reasons, aims and modes of political activation of young Italians against the growth of socioeconomic and intergenerational inequalities occurring in Italy following the 2008 economic downturn and the adoption of austerity measures by the national and European governments.

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Revisiting Youth and Inequalities in Europe

Young people’s participation is an urgent policy and practice concern, across countries and context. This book showcases original research evidence and analysis to consider how, under what conditions and for what purposes young people participate in different parts of Europe.

Focusing on the interplay between the concepts of youth, inequality and participation, this book explores how structural changes, including economic austerity, neoliberal policies and new patterns of migration, affect the conditions of young people’s participation and its aims.

With contributions from a range of subject experts, including young people themselves, the book challenges current policies and practices on young people’s participation. It asks how young people can be better supported to take part in social change and decision-making and what can be learnt from young people’s own initiatives.

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Over 30 years after the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was ratified by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 1989, young people’s active citizenship and participation rights have gained increased attention in both academia, policy and practice (Westwood et al, 2014; Gal and Duramy, 2015; McMellon and Tisdall, 2020). In particular, young people’s civic participation is promoted at local, national and regional levels through such organisations as the European Union, UNICEF and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Young people’s participation has become a major rights issue and one gaining increasing policy and practice importance.

While the UNCRC addresses the human rights of children under the age of 18, attention to participation also extends to older young people. Political institutions, research and society are concerned about young people’s societal engagement, carried by fears that new generations of European youth are unengaged and disinterested in politics and have lost trust in democratic institutions (Loncle et al, 2012), and that this will lead to a crisis in democracy. Such a deficit perspective has been counteracted by recent research, which demonstrates that young people are often not uninvolved but they use forms and means other than formal participation to engage in society and to influence politics (Quintelier, 2007; Pohl et al, 2020). Whether constructing youth participation as in crisis or changing, institutions from social work to education are investing in supporting, facilitating and educating young people to be engaged societally as the ‘citizens of tomorrow’ (Walther et al, 2020).

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Considerable policy and practice interest is currently promoting young people’s participation, locally, nationally and internationally. It has become a popularised requirement for numerous domains, from community regeneration, to service planning, to policy making (Tisdall et al, 2014; Gal and Duramy, 2015). As discussed in this book’s introduction, on the one hand, this popularisation is supported by the recognition of young people as current and not just future citizens, children and young people’s human rights (including participation rights), and examples of young people influencing change. On the other hand, it is propelled by concerns about too many young people being disengaged with formal democratic politics, being potentially disruptive influences and changing demographics. Involving young people in decisions that affect them and their communities, and that address their concerns, both respects and binds young people’s contributions to society.

Young people’s participation is not new, from their contributions as family members, workers and leaders to their involvement in protests and strikes (Cunningham and Lavalette, 2016; Blakemore, 2018). What is new is a particular combination of discourses and trends, such as the decades that have articulated ‘youth’ as a separate (often transitional age- and stage-limited) category from ‘childhood’ and ‘adulthood’; the rise of human rights, which has gradually extended to recognising both children and young people as rights holders and embedding a host of formal institutions and opportunities for participation; globalisation, which has arguably both connected much of the world’s population digitally, economically and culturally, while also widening inequalities and creating new threats; and the 2008 worldwide financial crisis, which shook particularly the Global North and traditional welfare states, to the disadvantage of young people’s future prospects.

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