Youth voice – Bernard Davies’ latest analysis

Jon Ord and Bernard Davies in conversation

We are delighted to share news of Bernard Davies’ latest critical reflection on youth voice and participation: ‘Youth voice: the possibilities and constraints‘. Published over on Bernard’s ‘Youth Work’s Living Histories‘ site, this is an excellent piece that engages in what Bernard calls some ‘critical digging’ into ‘Involved‘, an Instagram-based platform for youth consultation, run by the British Youth Council.

Bernard’s post starts by acknowledging the importance of young people using technologies to tell government what they think – but raises ‘the complexities and contradictions built into a practice which, to be effective, needs to challenge some of our society’s entrenched power balances’. Bernard takes his typically rigorous and analytical historical approach to discuss how we came to the present moment in which ‘youth voice’ is a fashionable catchphrase. He then interrogates three of the terms most frequently used to describe and explain formal and informal ‘youth voice’ practice – ‘consultation’, ‘participation’ and ‘empowerment’.

Readers may particularly recognise Bernard’s analysis of some of the contradictions of government claims to listen to young people:

“This on-going rhetoric on the role of ‘youth voice’ has, however, to be seen in the context of the harder realities of some major youth policies over this decade and how they have been developed and implemented:

  • Immediately it came to power in 2010 – without consultation, least of all with young people – the government cut the Youth Capital Fund’s budget by half. [15]
  • Against the background of huge reductions in the Treasury’s financial support for local authorities, it subsequently removed the ringfencing of the Youth Capital and the Youth Opportunity Funds, leading within months to both programmes being wound up. [16]
  • Despite young people’s opposition[17], in 2013 Education Secretary Michael Gove insisted that responsibility for youth policy be moved out of his department.
  • More widely – and again without any consultation – Gove also pushed through radical reforms of the content and format of the GCSE and A level examinations which have had such stressful consequences for so many young people. [18]
  • And then in August this year came the exam-grading fiasco …

‘Youth voice’, it seems, is fine – as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the dominant ideological and political priorities determining government policies.”

The article is highly recommended for all youth workers, and anyone involved in working in youth participation and youth voice. Get yourself a cuppa or a beer and read more over at Youth Work’s Living Histories (and do subscribe to that site if you haven’t already). What do you think? Let us know on our Facebook page!

One comment

  1. Thanks for this, really helpful, clear and sharp. Love the insights/nudges towards what might be an appropriate response
    to state/civic wishes to have young people, involved, engaged and heard.
    The dilemma‘S are always sharp , when we take,at face value mechanism s by which the powerful help the so called under represented, marginalised.To comment on plans,to contribute to their development etc.
    Primarily because these might not be the salient: sharpest issue for young people.Let alone the ethical issues around representation etc, particularly tho will decide, the outcome. Let alone the purely pragmatic.How much room is there to change/ influence
    As we know with Democratic Engagement work the danger is always to be invited , as a young person, isolated group, part of movement for change on your own what others. Usually more powerful, would like to do, have done or are thinking of doing on your behalf
    Hence the bad name, feelings of being used etc. If so called voice work.In it’s engagement in formal structures from a position of exclusion
    For me the potential way out of this dilemma is to help / support young people to decide what issues are important to them. Working in, around, and outside other people’s structures/ power base.
    As a way of building autonomous agendas/ concerns, skills, knowledge, experience etc
    As well priorities their sense of who they are, want to be in a world they actively create, maintain extend.
    That is the search for individual agency, purpose, andd Solidarity
    As we know, it’s when people organise, mobilise and articulate what kind of world they aspire to that, it is just possible to move beyond
    Voice, Empowered and potential collusion, in shoring up neo liberalism primitive accumulation, managed democracy, and pretence of voice.
    We however, by being clear and
    helping young people and their communities to articulate collective aspirations and priorities .Might be able to re create democratic engagement as of right because we are citizens, tax payers and therefore in the tradition of French Revolution Us
    independence, enlightenment etc
    It is our right as a free equal citizen to be part of determining the world.
    As ever the key is what is our purpose? What are wanting to achieve?
    To hear views, feedback, endorsement etc Or to be clear that any World is possible, if we organise, educate agitate around
    Who we want to be ina world we are part of creating
    Offering the possibility of moving from comment to agency
    A largely marginalised part of the official agendas .Whether training agency’s, finders, sponsors, state at various levels, let alone what passes for good practice.
    Where outcome, representation,gatekeeping, hordeing resources, becoming the good bit can replace the role of
    autonomous agendas tested in Struggle and Solidarity
    Just some initial thoughts, to jump from the delusion of other people‘S priorities.
    But starting from Milton Fairborn notions: We can’t decide what youth work/participation we want until we know what world we
    want to create
    It’s our agenda priorities collectively arrived that are our starting points. Then solidarity and struggle to see how close we can get.
    Similar to some forms/purpose of Youth work , dedicated to autonomy, rather than outcomes
    Please read Bernard and Tony’s
    pieces , ponder, marinate and get
    Love struggle Solidarity

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