Dressed up in whatever garb, be it social change versus social control or the educative versus the preventative, a critical youth work practice can never escape the inevitable political contradictions at the heart of our relationships with young people. In a fragile world still riven with inequality and injustice, fearful of the future, what is the purpose of our endeavour?
Given this is the time for vacations I’m not sure the following links make up a feast of holiday reading. However folk have their foibles. I used to be infamous for my pretension in taking Marx to read on the beach. In truth I used to fall asleep after 10 minutes. Hence I never finished Das Kapital. My failings aside I hope you might find time to dip into these suggestions.
My first recommendation is a touching, almost a farewell piece from Janet Batsleer, the academic-activist personified, who is retiring from her post at the Manchester Metropolian University. It is entitled, ‘We exist at the margins: and this is our greatest source of hope.’ Stimulated I responded immediately to Janet as follows:
I’ve just been inspired by your moving and challenging blog, ‘We exist at the margins: and this is our greatest source of hope’. It is both precise and passionate, clear-sighted and a call to arms.
I needed your inspiration as I’ve been struggling to write something useful about two intertwined anxieties, which lead me to worry that we no longer exist on the margins. These are firstly my sense that in the main practitioners no longer self-organise in ‘unauthorised spaces’, to borrow your own lovely turn of phrase and secondly that formalising the informal proceeds apace with little resistance from the field. Of course, my perspective is intuitive, speculative and perhaps woefully out of touch.
I urge you to spend some time mulling over Janet’s thoughts and as ever responses would be much appreciated.
My second link is offered with less passion and perhaps unnecessary caution. It is the All-Party Parliamentary Group Report, SECURING A BRIGHTER FUTURE:The role of youth services in tackling knife crime, produced by Barnardo’s and Redthread. It makes many of the right noises about a young-person-centred holistic perspective and recommends a much needed audit of youth servive provision, together with a commitment to local authority based long term sustainable funding. And yet the inevitable emphasis, given the group’s remit, on young people ‘at risk’ makes me wary as to how the report might be used within a target-dominated culture.
These services can play a vital role in supporting and diverting young people from serious youth
violence and knife crime. This document make four recommendations on how we can improve
access to these vital services and develop the workforce to support young people, especially those at risk of serious violence. Given proper investment and Government backing, youth services and youth workers have the power to stop children and young people ending up in A&E or in a prison cell.
Not by chance the third link is to a stimulating new Youth & Policy article, one part of which is entitled, ‘Youth work isn’t just about knife crime. Which is why it’s so necessary.’ The overall heading is ‘I’m not your… conversations about race and racism’.
Young person Sonny Inglis and youth worker Colin Brent reflect on how a recent art project – and youth work more widely – grapple with issues of race, racism, class inequalities, knife crime and more.
Coronavirus and the murder of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests have further highlighted societal and structural inequalities around race and class. Youth workers and young people are often acutely aware of the very real consequences of these inequalities and are active in looking for ways to challenge and overcome them. Below are two linked pieces, one by a young person and one by a youth worker, both from Bollo Brook Youth Centre in west London, looking at how a recent art project ‘I’m not your…’ – and youth work more widely – grapples with these issues.
Finally Kieran Breen argues there are reasons to be cheerful and optimistic in his article, #BuildBackBetter: You know it makes sense, but how do you do it? He suggests central to any change should be the “lived experience and voices” of local people shaping the agenda for how their communities develop.
Devolved decision making and giving more power to councils to decide how best their communities and local economies develop.
Creative forms of deliberative democracy that empower and enable local people to get involved, discuss, debate and reach consensus.
Local government, community, and business developing agile, creative teams and structures that can listen, learn, and adapt.
A nationally agreed index of happiness and wellbeing that is used alongside GDP to let us know how well we are doing.
Hard targets and KPI’s for eradicating poverty in its many forms.
And seeing Kieran has opened the door afresh by mentioning the notions of happiness and wellbeing I’ll be cheeky and direct you to my critique at ‘RESISTING THE HAPPINESS INDUSTRY: BEING JOYFUL TOGETHER’