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  • Author or Editor: Maria Bruselius-Jensen x
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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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This chapter focuses on professionally facilitated efforts to promote young people’s participation through project-based activities located within young people’s everyday spaces. Inspired by theories of the emergence of a ‘project society’ (Jensen, 2012) and ‘projective regimes’ (Boltanski and Chiapello, 2005), the chapter discusses the implications of a regime driven by social mobility, fast and continuous innovation and managerial logics with the aim to promote societal activity through projects. Drawing on case studies of young people’s experiences while taking part in two project-based initiatives that aim to promote young people’s participation in school and in the psychiatric system respectively, the chapter demonstrates how this project regime greatly affects who, how and to what aims young people are able to participate in change and decision making.

Professionally facilitated projects are a core contemporary feature of young people’s participation and generate both new opportunities and new barriers for their participation.

These facilitated participatory spaces allow for less hierarchical relations between young people and professionals, but tend to have difficulties in addressing more permanent concerns in the arenas or institutions that accommodate the activities.

Projects often follow predefined programmes. This allows for many organisations to apply the programmes, but limits the room for young people’s own priorities.

Projects often produce and reproduce inequalities because they tend to have a core group of highly engaged young participants, while the vast majority become mere recipients.

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This chapter explores how journey mapping as a qualitative research method allows young people on the edge of society to reflect on and make sense of their engagement in different youth projects. The method provides young people with the time, space and means to explore the participatory activities they engage in and to map the multiple ways they interact with the often messy, multi-sensual and frictional youth life on the edge of society. This approach to journey mapping is inspired by cultural researcher Roz Stewart-Hall (hereafter and in the References quoted as Hall). She developed the method to address a critique of how project evaluations seldom carried any meaningful insights into what makes a difference to the participants as well as in broader explorations of what it means to be a young person on the edge of society (Hall, 2005).

Journey mapping is a way to invite young people on the edge of society to (re)define and negotiate that which makes sense to them when they engage in participatory activities.

The method emphasises the significance of a space for young people on the edge of society to reflect on their engagement and participation in adult-led programmes.

The method promotes a multiplicity of insights into youth lives on the edge of society rather than a unifying overview.

The method argues that this multiplicity can lead to new questions and understandings of what matters, when young people on the edge of society engage in participatory activities.

The method can easily be employed in arenas other than research, in order to increase and strengthen knowledge exchanges between professionals and young people on the edge of society.

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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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