A critical view of NCS and citizenship from the world of political geography

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The National Citizen Service programme has been having a rough ride recently, but its supporters would claim that much of the criticism emanates from the ranks of jealous and prejudiced youth workers. Hence it’s illuminating to ponder the following piece of research undertaken by Sarah Mills and Catherine Waite, published in the journal, ‘Political Geography’.

Highlights

Explores youth citizenship and the politics of scale to propose concept of ‘brands of youth citizenship’.

Examines the imaginative and institutional geographies of learning to be a citizen.

An analysis of National Citizen Service and its scaling of youth citizenship.

Original fieldwork with NCS architects, delivery providers and young people.

Examines ‘Britishness’, devolution and youthful politics in the United Kingdom.

Brands of youth citizenship and the politics of scale: National Citizen Service in the United Kingdom

Abstract
This paper explores the politics of scale in the context of youth citizenship. We propose the concept of ‘brands of youth citizenship’ to understand recent shifts in the state promotion of citizenship formations for young people, and demonstrate how scale is crucial to that agenda. As such, we push forward debates on the scaling of citizenship more broadly through an examination of the imaginative and institutional geographies of learning to be a citizen. The paper’s empirical focus is a state-funded youth programme in the UK – National Citizen Service – launched in 2011 and now reaching tens of thousands of 15–17 year olds. We demonstrate the ‘branding’ of youth citizenship, cast here in terms of social action and designed to create a particular type of citizen-subject. Original research with key architects, delivery providers and young people demonstrates two key points of interest. First, that the scales of youth citizenship embedded in NCS promote engagement at the local scale, as part of a national collective, whilst the global scale is curiously absent. Second, that discourses of youth citizenship are increasingly mobilised alongside ideas of Britishness yet fractured by the geographies of devolution. Overall, the paper explores the scalar politics and performance of youth citizenship, the tensions therein, and the wider implications of this study for both political geographers and society more broadly at a time of heated debate about youthful politics in the United Kingdom and beyond.

If possible don’t be put off by the denseness of the abstract or the profusion of bracketed references demanded by academia, the article explores insightfully the continuing tension about what we mean by citizenship and the particular interpretation advocated via NCS. As ever responses would be most welcome.

Thanks to Lyam Galpin for drawing the article to our attention.

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