NeoLiberalism and the character and purpose of Youth Work

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My apologies re the lack of posts in the last fortnight. I’ve been a bit bogged down because of family illness and the need to submit a draft chapter for a proposed Sage Handbook of Youth Work Practice. A group of us have put together a piece entitled, ‘The Impact of Neoliberalism  upon the character and purpose of English Youth work and beyond’. As you might expect it’s full of rib-tickling jokes and satirical asides. If you’ve a moment the draft outline can be found here, although the structure of the piece has changed somewhat and we couldn’t do justice to some parts of the argument.


One significant consequence of the process has been to signal afresh the need to revisit together the voluntary principle and the notion of a discrete set of youth work values and skills. As it is within the chapter we defend passionately the primacy of the free-willed engagement with young people and remain deeply critical of the idea that youth work is the home of a corporate set of values and skills, unbeknown to other educators and professionals. We continue to argue that it is the informal setting, that is the hallmark of youth work’s distinctiveness. Enough for now as we are keen to open up this debate afresh in the light of the fragmentation of youth work itself. Indeed in chapter 11 of Youth Work : Histories, Policies and Contexts edited by Graham Bright, Annette Coburn and Sinead Gormally take us to task, suggesting that some of us are grieving for the loss of the established meaning of our practice. Focusing on youth work in schools they argue for a blurring of boundaries and reconceptualisation of practice, utilising the notion of border pedagogy taken from Henry Giroux. In no sense are they being abstract, speaking as they do to the shifting reality of where youth workers find themselves. However, speaking for myself, I think they misinterpret Giroux, who advocates a ‘borderless’ pedagogy, common to all radical educators, wherever they work. Any road I’d better write something proper as a response to Annette and Sinead. And it might well be that our annual conference delayed to the Autumn should grasp the nettle of dilemmas posed by the dramatic shifts in the youth work landscape and in doing so carry on the debates catalysed by UK Youth, ChooseYouth and TAG in recent months.

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