If you’ve followed any of the 2016 post-conference posts on this site you will know that we scratched the surface of the continuing debate about the significance or otherwise of the voluntary relationship in defining what we mean by youth work. As things stand the very first of IDYW’s cornerstones of practice reads:
- the primacy of the voluntary relationship, from which the young person can withdraw without compulsion or sanction.
Yet this interpretation is increasingly contested, so much so that we intend to organise a series of seminars this winter to explore further, given the present climate, the vexed question of ‘what we mean by voluntary’? In the run up to these gatherings we will post differing responses to the question. Hence we are pleased to hear from Jon Ord, who writes:
At the recent IDYW conference, in the debate on Voluntary Participation, Bernard Davies made reference to a chapter in my latest book, which looks in some detail at the concept. Afterwards someone did ask me: ‘what book’? So I thought it might be a good idea to share a little bit from it, which may go some way to publicise it…
The following is adapted from chapter 10, ‘On Voluntary Participation and Choice’:
‘Voluntary participation is perhaps one of the most controversial issues in contemporary youth work. Workers are increasingly finding themselves being asked to work in situations where the young people have not accessed the provision voluntarily. However despite the ease with which some youth workers are embracing these new environments we need to have a critical understanding of the concept of voluntary participation. For example: there is actually no opposite to voluntary participation. One cannot participate ‘involuntarily’. Neither is this mere semantics. Participation is an intentional act. One can be physically present but not actually participate. What this shows is that there are two important and distinctly different aspects to voluntary participation – attendance and participation…Ultimately it is the quality of the relationship which forms out of the engagement, the degree of choice at the disposal of the participants, and the participative practices of the workers, not simply whether the project was based on the participants being able to choose to attend, that defines the potential of youth work practice. Ultimately it is the ability to ‘enable young people to engage’ which is important. Choosing to attend is one of the factors which would assist this engagement but it is not the only one and in itself it is no guarantee. I would argue therefore it is possible to do youth work in settings where young people have not chosen to attend but of course success is not guaranteed. Youth work practice should be underpinned by a critical awareness of ‘power and authority’ whatever the context and such issues are of particular importance in settings where young people cannot leave of their own volition’. In such settings of course the possibilities for genuine participation may well be severely hampered and this should not be glossed over…
The above provides a brief insight into some of the arguments in the debate about voluntary participation but more can be found in chapter 10 of the 2nd edition of Youth Work Process Product and Practice. A flyer is attached which provides you with a 20% discount on your order should you wish to explore this further.
It is good stuff, so Jon, we forgive you for this flagrant act of publicity!