Worrying news from our good friends in Queensland, Australia as the Labour administration ignores its proposals for investment in the youth sector.
Worrying news from our good friends in Queensland, Australia as the Labour administration ignores its proposals for investment in the youth sector.
From time to time as worker, trainer, manager and lecturer I’ve had cause to bemoan what I’ve experienced as the anti-intellectual and anti-theoretical face of youth work. By and large, often understandably as much social theory seeks to impose its template on reality, workers lean to being pragmatic, drawing on what they see as their common-sense. Leave aside that the common-sense of today is neoliberal in its content I’m reminded of an argument I had years ago with a group of workers about my use of the notion of racially structured, patriarchal capitalism. Something of a mouthful, I grant you. However, as best I remember it, the discussion about the relationship between, class, gender, sexuality and race was lively, even if the critical consensus was that I should write like I spoke. In the intervening period, the concept of intersectionality has taken centre stage in explaining relations of oppression.
And, yet patriarchy is evidently on its way back and I would recommend this week’s Guardian Long Read by Charlotte Higgins, ‘The age of patriarchy: how an unfashionable idea became a rallying cry for feminism today‘. If nothing else it’s a well-written introduction to the history of patriarchy, offering a glimpse too of the 1970’s feminism, which inspired the rise of work with Girls and Young Women. Sensitive to contradiction it feeds more than a few questions into the essential, everyday dialogue between youth workers and young people about the world we live in and how it might be changed for the better.
I’ll resist being among the first to respond.
A pretty easy to answer question- isnt it? However, I was asked to do a 5 minute presentation on this question and could have probably expanded it to a 150 credit module length of study. I imagine, knowing what the point of youthwork is worth knowing so we know how to justify it and plead for its continuation. Here is what I think the point of youthwork is:
Youthwork is about young people, first and foremost, it makes it different from school, from social services and other institutions as young people are and should be placed first and foremost as the point for and at which the activity exists.
As a definition I would say that youthwork is a professional relationship with a young person who is the primary contributor in their social context.
Youthwork as a philosophy is geared towards and biased towards young people, being with them, not just for them, and has young peoples education, welfare and community as its core. Youthwork is about developing positive purposeful relationships between young people and adults, and learn, and create opportunities through these relationships.
Youthwork exists within the local community as it is affected by it, as young people learn to use, accept or reject the resources in their community, as youthworkers our role is to help young people navigate through these choices and also remove barriers that prevent them from participation.
The point of youthwork is to believe in young people and to work with them to use their gifts and accomplish dreams they may have for themselves and their local community.
- Youthwork is about values – empowerment, inclusion, participation, valuing young people
- Builds on what is already – turning open activity sessions in young person led and developed spaces of participation and empowerment
- Youthwork opens the opportunities for young people and their participation, from attenders and deciders to creators (and challenging the barriers that prevent this)
- Youthwork trusts young people and raises their game to take risks
- Youthwork is a place of fun, social relationships and creativity.
- Youthwork creates a safe space, a home for young people, where they can belong.
- Youthwork values young people individuals and groups in their community
- Youthwork challenges the narratives about young people and is inherently political
- Youthwork recognises that young people have needs, but focus on their gifts and positives in order to overcome them
- Youthwork creates a space for innovation and improvisation
- Youthwork is a space to help young people reflect on their place in the world and contribute within it
- Youthwork is also what people who do youthwork say that it is, it is an ongoing conversation. It continues and is future orientated.
The point of youthwork is that it strategises from the point of contact, it involves young people and believes in them to be better than what they may have been told about themselves. Youthwork changes young people, it changes all of us in the encounters we have.
You will notice a variety of influences here, from Howard Sercombe, Kerry Young, Jeffs and Smith, Goetchius and Tash, all deep thinkers and practitioners who have shaped the conversation so far and it’s our job to keep the conversation going. And help the conversation about young people be integral to other agencies and institutions.
What do you think – what’s the point of youth work?
See much more at James’s blog – Learning from the Streets
Gus John arrived in the UK in August 1964, aged 19, to study for the priesthood. But almost from the moment he arrived, he became involved in what was to become his life’s calling – education, youth work and the struggle for social justice and human rights for embattled communities as an activist and an academic.
Open Letter to Prime Minister Theresa May
Dear Prime Minister
Re: Invitation to a reception for the 70th anniversary of Windrush at 10 Downing Street
It was with both surprise and utter bemusement that I received your invitation to the above.
We in this country have become used to foreign heads of state and leaders of movements being made international pariahs and being refused entry to the UK. Robert Mugabe, Muammar Gaddafi, Louis Farrakhan, among others. In my book, Prime Minister, the policies of your government, the incitement to racial hatred that they undoubtedly represent and the denial of fundamental human rights and the right to life itself to citizens of the Windrush generation who devoted all of their adult years to the development of Britain are enough to make you no less a pariah in the eyes of the Commonwealth and of the freedom-loving world than those whom your government over time has sought to ostracise.
In July 2013, with you as Home Secretary, your government’s own vans were running around London boroughs with a large ‘immigrant’ population and displaying huge billboards targeted at ‘illegal’ immigrants and telling them to ‘Go Home or Face Arrest’. What is worse is that your government lied not just to ‘illegal immigrants’ whom it wished to flush out, but to the public whom it wished to impress with its ‘zero tolerance’ stance on illegal immigration: ‘106 Arrests Last Week In Your Area’. It turns out that 106 was the total number of arrests across the 6 pilot boroughs in which the vans had operated over a period of two days. Arrests, not prosecutions or deportations. In your attempts to create ‘a hostile environment’ for ‘illegal’ immigrants, you placed 4 generations of Windrush arrivants and their descendants in the sight of any would be defender of white Britain and its borders, including racists and neo-fascists who felt they had a patriotic duty to help prevent Britain from being ‘swamped’ by any means necessary, including murder and mayhem.
On 16 June 2016, Jo Cox MP was brutally murdered in a street in her constituency of Batley & Spen in West Yorkshire by the white supremacist, Thomas Mair. Cox was unequivocal in her support for refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants escaping armed conflict, genocide and hunger and risking their lives in rickety boats to cross the Mediterranean into Europe. She was doing this in a country where the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) was focusing the two main parliamentary parties on the anger of the white British population at their failure to control immigration and reclaim ‘Little England’ from the clutches and the legal strictures of the European Union, its Schengen Treaty, free movement of labour and human rights protocols.
Despite that horrific murder and all it said about Britain and its relentless conflation of immigration and race, the British electorate voted by a narrow margin to leave the European Union and ‘claim our country back’. What is worse, both as Home Secretary and as the post-Cameron Prime Minister, you redoubled your efforts to create a ‘hostile environment’ for immigrants, condemning long retired workers of the Windrush generation to uncertainty, misery, physical hardship and denial of the same life saving health services for which they had paid throughout their working lives.
It may well be, Prime Minister, that you would have the good grace to take the opportunity to tell your invited guests how sorry you are for your part in all of that brutal, inhumane and racist treatment of former colonised Africans who have and had no interest other than to serve this nation and do their best by their communities and families. But, one of the uglier manifestations of whiteness in this society is an unassailable sense of in-your-face entitlement. I do not believe that you are entitled to the magnanimity of those misguided folk who might well be happy to receive your invitation and to attend your Windrush anniversary celebration. As far as I am concerned, I stand with those who suffered detention, deportation and mental ill health, some of whom even now face an earlier death as a result of being denied access to health services on account of your ‘hostile environment’ regime.
It would be a shameful betrayal to them all to accept your invitation and join you in Downing Street to mark the arrival of the Windrush 70 years ago and the contribution to British society of those whom it brought and their descendants.
Invite me again, please, when you meet with civil society to discuss the findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission on Reparations for African Enslavement which you would no doubt waste no more time in establishing on the back of your government’s Windrush scandal.
Yours, with sadness
Professor Gus John
Equality and Human Rights Campaigner
Also see Gus John’s powerful critique of the Windrush Project itself.
If heaven forbid, I was Youth Work’s Overlord I would issue an edict requiring all youth workers of a reflective persuasion to immerse themselves in this thought-provoking research.
To whet your appetite,
There is widespread concern across Europe about the future of democracy, and in particular about young people’s apparent failure to participate, often attributed to lack of motivation or capability. The PARTISPACE project shares the concern, but questions the diagnosis. It starts instead from an assumption that the dominant understanding of youth participation in research, policy and practice is too narrow, often limited to institutionalised forms of participation, and ignores much of what young people do in public space. This bias is related to structures of social inequality, and thus is itself a part of the problem of democracy.
PARTISPACE aims at a rethinking of youth participation by analysing what young people do in public space, what it means to them and to what extent this can be understood as political, civic and social. The research question is: How and where do young people participate, across social milieus and youth cultural scenes? What styles of participation do they prefer and develop – and in what spaces?
The project has undertaken a comparative mixed-method study in 8 cities across Europe: Bologna (IT), Frankfurt (DE), Gothenburg (SE), Eskisehir (TK), Manchester (UK), Plovdiv (BG), Rennes (FR), Zurich (CH). The design included reviews of national youth policies, a secondary analysis of survey data, and a critical discourse analysis of European policy documents. Then, qualitative local studies were conducted consisting of 188 expert interviews, 100 group discussions and 96 biographical interviews with young people as well as 48 ethnographic case studies of formal, non-formal and informal participatory settings. Additionally, 18 participatory action research projects have been conducted by and with young people.
Policy reviews, discourse analysis, secondary analysis of surveys and expert interviews confirm the dominance of a narrow understanding of participation. Group discussions with young people in contrast revealed that they are highly active in public spaces, yet in most cases in informal ways. They are busy with coping with their lives which are structured by pressure to succeed, precariousness and discrimination. In so much as these practices of coping involve public space, they include claims of being a part of, and taking part in, society. Therefore, they are referred to as everyday life participation and thus as political (as distinct from politics).
PARTISPACE has studied a diversity of practices, some of which are recognised as participation whilst others are not. We have analysed their relationships with local contexts, spaces, styles, biographies, and learning:
In sum, PARTISPACE findings point to the need to understand youth participation as relational (not individualised), based on experiences and relationships of recognition, as political (but not politics) and as often conflictual. Participation is rooted in everyday life practices structured by social inequalities and dynamics of social inclusion and exclusion. It evolves in public spaces and thus includes claims to be a part of, and attempts to take part in, society.
Taking this into account, policy and practice can support youth participation by:
Late next year a book based on the research will be published, entitled, Contested Practices, Power and Pedagogies of Young People in Public Spaces: The Struggle for Participation
edited by Andreas Walther, Janet Batsleer, Patricia Loncle and Axel Pohl (Routledge)
Transformative Youth Work International Conference: Developing and Communicating Impact
4-6 September 2018, University of St Mark and St John, Plymouth
Book before 22nd June 2018 to join the conference. Registration available via this link
This conference will specifically address the issue of outcomes and the impact of youth work. The conference, supported by Erasmus +, will bring together a range of experts from across Europe and the wider world, to showcase the latest research on the Impact of Youth Work, including publication of the Erasmus + funded 2 year comparative study of the Impact of Youth Work in UK, Finland, Estonia, Italy and France. Keynote confirmed as Professor Rob White from Tasmania University addressing: ‘Innovative Approaches to Transformative Youth Work Practice’. Over 70 non-UK participants have already booked incl. from Japan, Nepal, USA and New Zealand, so be sure to reserve your place before the final deadline of 22nd June 2018.
PS Tony Taylor of IDYW is a contributor on the panel at the end of the conference. Given his hostility to the neoliberal discourse of outcomes and impact, it will be interesting to see how his argument is received.
As most readers/supporters will recognise IDYW is very much a voluntary venture. It relies on a few souls to maintain its organisational presence on the youth work scene. Without wanting to exaggerate my significance I have reached a moment when for personal reasons, I need to withdraw from my role as the IDYW coordinator. With this in mind, the IDYW steering group is meeting on Friday, June 15 in Manchester to explore the consequences of my decision, which has not been taken lightly.
For information, you will find below my report circulated to the steering group, which will be used to open the discussion. Obviously, we will report back to you on the outcome of our musings.
My experience of being the IDYW Coordinator
In the end, I’ve failed to quantify the privilege/burden of being the IDYW Coordinator across almost a decade. In addition, a couple of previous efforts to provide something useful for our discussion in Manchester on June 15 have foundered on my indulgent guilt about letting the side down by withdrawing from the role.
Before dealing with the three main areas – the website, social media and administration – it’s important to say something about the issues of time, capacity and energy, which govern how much any person[s] can give to the role. To offer but two examples from my experience.
Someone else might well be much more organised, efficient and innovative, provided circumstances allow.
The IDYW website
According to the statistics, in 2017 there were 24,000 visits and 48,928 views. Significantly many visitors found their way via search engines, where IDYW is prominent, because of the level of its activity. Facebook and Twitter are also prominent in guiding people to the site. Whilst the UK boasts the most views at roughly 75%, almost 20% emanate from the USA, Australia, Ireland, Canada and Belgium.
I think this data indicates the importance of posting regularly and interestingly to the website. Hence I have seen this as a priority, but, with the above caveats in mind, this is time-consuming.
The website has never generated ongoing debate through its Comments facility.
The Social Media [Facebook and Twitter]
As of May 27, the IDYW FB page has 3,677 members. Over the years it has grown to be, I believe, the most active and wide-ranging UK youth work discussion forum. Thus I feel obliged to enter its portals more or less every day – checking for new member requests, moderating [very rarely] posts, cross-referencing with the website, picking upon links posted by members and intervening myself in discussion threads.
This last point poses a contradiction. The FB page represents our best opportunity for a continuing dialogue with our readers/supporters, yet I have chastised the Steering Group [SG] with honourable exceptions for failing to grasp this opening. However, I suspect, the FB page would survive a lack of intervention from ourselves as it has morphed increasingly into being the place to go for advice on practice, to advertise projects and jobs etc. Our dilemma is that this pluralist shift risks the forum losing its grounding in the IDYW cornerstones, especially if the website was reduced in importance.
As a matter, of course, I link all website posts to Twitter, which, as we have seen, does generate traffic, but I only visit there a couple of times a week.
This area of responsibility has fluctuated over the years and at the meeting we should visit our attempted division of labour to see how successful it has been. Without going into detail it has confirmed my sense that we need a named person, who retains an overview of what’s going on. In the past, I think my efforts to summarise where we’ve seemed up to ahead of SG meetings have been valuable.
As things stand I’m still the first port of call via email for anyone wanting to get in touch with IDYW. To repeat this very ordinary demand leads to the daily pressure to think about IDYW.
More broadly my identification as the IDYW coordinator has led to invitations to contribute in that role at national and International gatherings, for example, the forthcoming Transformative Youth Work conference in Plymouth. So too it has meant that I’ve scribbled with this head on, both individually and collaboratively over recent years, for example, the chapter, ‘The Impact of Neoliberalism upon the Character and Purpose of English Youth Work and Beyond’, written with Paula Connaughton, Tania de St Croix, Bernard Davies and Pauline Grace, to appear shortly in the Sage Handbook of Youth Work Practice.
For the moment I’ll circulate these thoughts as a first provisional assay into our debate. I would welcome questions, criticisms.