PARTISPACE – Spaces and Styles of Participation: challenging, must-read research

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. 

PARTISPACE – Spaces and Styles of Participation: Formal, non-formal and informal possibilities of young people’s participation in European cities


To whet your appetite,

Summary of PARTISPACE outcomes

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:

  • Local contexts differ according to socio-economic factors, discourses about youth, youth policy infrastructure and responsiveness, and youth discourses. Influence of national welfare systems is less direct, although regulation of access to education, welfare and good jobs affects social inclusion and citizenship. Where youth policies are most developed, forms of formal youth representation tend to be established. However, take-up tends to be low, they are criticised for tokenism and paternalism – aimed at forming ‘good’ citizens.
  • Social space structures young people’s practices, and young people’s practices structure social space. A key finding is that young people are active in appropriating public spaces, turning them into places that are meaningful for them, where they belong and feel they have control, which fit with their youth cultural styles, and where they feel safe. Appropriation involves exploration, conquering and defending spaces as well as ‘boundary’ work: inclusion/exclusion, insider/outsider, and relevance/irrelevance are constantly questioned, contested or confirmed.
  • Analysing young people’s styles of participation means asking not if and why young people participate, but how they participate in different ways, and noting the different and unequal recognition which different styles receive. Analysing differences in terms of (youth cultural) styles shows that not only forms but also issues matter. Young people participate only in ways that enable exploration of their individual and collective identities. However, there are also differences and distinctions reflecting social inequalities of life chances, risks, resources and recognition.
  • Young people’s participation biographies reveal that searching for recognition and belonging seems to be the most important motive to engage. In some cases, this is linked to coping with critical life events, problems with peers, experiences of injustice or lack of self-efficacy. Where and how young people participate depends on a complex interplay of factors in individual biographies. Positive experiences with formal institutions, especially school, seem to be a condition for involvement in formal participation, whilst most young people prefer informal settings.
  • The question of how young people learn to participate cannot be separated from the observation that across different contexts there is strong evidence of a ‘pedagogisation’ of youth participation: young people are being seen as not knowing or not wanting to participate and therefore needing education. There is little attention paid to structures of inequality and dominance or to young people’s competences and ideas. Rather than through teaching and training, participation is learned by doing. Adults can support this by recognising and offering young people dialogic reflection of their own activities in public space.

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:

  • Shifting from inviting young people into formal participation to recognition of a diversity of practices in public space
  • Making youth policies responsive and reflexive while increasing and diversifying funding making it accessible for young people directly
  • Accepting and allowing for the enactment of conflicts as constitutive for participatory democracy
  • Democracy is learned by doing, adults and professionals can support this by recognition and dialogue but power and rights should not be made conditional on prior learning.Democratising school to turn it into a place of experience and recognition of participation rather than of mere citizenship teaching
  • Opening up public spaces for young people by providing additional spaces, accepting diverse use and appropriation of public spaces and giving access to abandoned spaces
  • Developing and securing a reliable and diverse youth work infrastructure providing open spaces which are not instrumentalised for school, employability and entrepreneurship
  • Addressing discrimination, inequality and precariousness by unconditional access to welfare, education and employment
  • Developing a (European) Charter of Youth Rights – understood as living document – as a platform both for the conflict and the recognition aspects of youth participation.


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)


Sustenance for the Senses 1 – Loss, Loneliness, Narrative and Youth Policy

This is the first of the single regular weekly posting ‘Sustenance for the Senses’ promised in yesterday’s news that I’ll only be working one day a week for IDYW – Tony Taylor denies doing an MA in Entrepreneurial Philanthropy and being headhunted for a CEO Third Sector job. 

As of now, the posting will appear on Tuesday as the site statistics indicate that the highest number of visits occur on this day. Why? I haven’t a clue.


Lost Ys London

An impressive, thoughtful and thorough briefing London’s Lost Youth Services 2018 [pdf] produced by Sian Berry, Green Party member of the London Assembly.

Since 2011, the cumulative amount not spent on services for young people in
London is now more than £145 million.




ta to


Opening Words by 42nd Street’s youth co-researchers [on what I think is an exceptional piece of work TT]
We became involved in the research to learn more about youth loneliness because we are passionate about giving young people a voice – as experts in our own lives. We knew intuitively from our own experiences and those of our friends and family that youth loneliness is a really important but far from understood issue; we knew that it was a complex issue, with a whole host of causes and even wider implications on young people’s lives.

Janet Batsleer (MMU), James Duggan (MMU), Sarah McNicol (MMU), Simone Spray (42nd Street)


  • Develop new ways of thinking and talking about youth loneliness, beyond medicalised discourses of epidemics and towards more expansive understandings of youth and more inclusive ways of belonging.
  • Arts-based and creative methods create spaces and relationships where young people can find connection and navigate painful forms of loneliness.
  • Restore threatened youth work provision and fund a plurality of options so that all young people have someone who knows and accepts them for who they are.
  • Re-imagine interventions beyond individual funded projects and towards commons spaces and social movements to bring into being more co-operative and convivial communities.
  • Youth-led social action is necessary to develop the practical and political change, benefiting youth participants and their peers.


Spring Policy and Practice Seminar Programme – FREE Registration Via this Link

The Association’s FREE national, collaborative ‘Policy and Practice’ seminar programme continues to expand, and we have been delighted with the response. Registrations have topped 200 delegates (52 academics; 107 practitioners; 57 students) across the seminar programme. The aim of these seminars is to foster greater levels of collaboration between higher education institutions and practice agencies in the profiling of challenges and opportunities facing youth and community work policy and practice across the UK. Follow the link above for a full listing, or the unique links for each event found below (please note the ‘post-strike’ revised dates for Glasgow and Dumfries):

  1. Friday 20th April (Worcester) ‘Youth and Community Work in Transition’

  1. Friday 4th May (Carmarthen) ‘Young People, Resilience and Wellbeing’

  1. Tuesday 15th May (Newport) ‘Young People, Resilience and Wellbeing’

  1. Wednesday 16th May (Glasgow) ‘Developing a Charter for Post-Brexit Youth and Community Work’

  1. Thursday 17th May (Belfast) ‘Revisiting the Value of Faith-based Youth Work’

  1. Tuesday 22nd May (London) ‘The Changing Context for Youth Work Practice’

  1. Thursday 24th May (Dumfries) ‘Developing a Charter for Post-Brexit Youth and Community Work’

  1. Friday 25th May (Derby) ‘Youth Work and Inter-Professional Practice’

Given IDYW’s emphasis on both narrative and critical practice we can’t wait to get our hands on a copy. We quite fancy making the launch, but you can’t have everything………



Generations of Activism – 1918 – 1978 – 2018, to celebrate 100 years of women’s enfranchisement, feminist youth work and current feminist activism.

Generations of Activism – launch event
Fri 23rd March 2018, 10am-4.30pm
People’s History Museum
Left Bank, Manchester
M3 3ER 

Feminist Webs volunteers have initiated a collaborative project, Generations of Activism – 1918 – 1978 – 2018, to celebrate 100 years of women’s enfranchisement, feminist youth work and current feminist activism.


The project will launch at the People’s History Museum on 23rd March, as part of the Wonder Woman Festival. The event will focus on some 1970s themes from girls work: Our Bodies, Ourselves; Violence against Women; Creativity and Culture; and Women and Work. There will be talks, inter-generational conversations, and opportunities to reflect on activism then and now and to browse the Feminist Webs archive. There will be silkscreen and banner-making workshops and connected creative and adventurous activities in and around the museum… all this and more! Have a look at the Facebook event page and you can sign up already on Eventbrite.

A second strand of the project will involve making boxes to take to schools, youth groups and student groups to stimulate cross-generational conversations about feminism (and for the purposes of oral history). If you would like to be involved in selecting and creating materials for the boxes, please contact Janet Batsleer: There are plans to offer workshops, designed with young activists, as part of the International Day of the Girl Child in October. Suggestions are welcome for schools, colleges or youth groups to work with.

Youth & Policy on Feminism resurgent, Worklessness and the NCS Money-Tree

Having been out of action for a week and with loads happening I can’t sadly do justice to the latest trio of articles from the new-style Youth & Policy. However, they are all worth your time and contribute significantly to our understanding of the fluctuating scenario, within which we find ourselves.


Young Women, Youth Work and Spaces: Resurgent Feminist Approaches

Janet Batsleer begins:

There has – in one thread of youth and community work – been a long-standing desire to link our practice in the most excluded and precaritised neighbourhoods with working-class social movements which also seek to turn back and away from sexism, racism and other oppressive forces (Batsleer, 2013). It is in this context – as such movements against neoliberalism are gathering strength again and being reframed – that I was invited in 2017 by two wonderful projects to act as a consultant to their work. The first is based with YouthLink Scotland and has involved an oral history of the links between youth work and the women’s movement in Scotland ( The second is the publication by a Brussels NGO called Childcare Activists of a pamphlet called: Filles et autres minorises….des jeunes comme les autres? Vers un travail de jeunesse accessible a tou(s) (tes) which translated as ‘Girls and other minorities: youth like the others? Towards a youth work accessible to all?’ ( This study by Eleanor Miller and Mouhad Reghif, highlighted sexism, racism and intersectionality as key issues for street work, all of which have been captured in this pamphlet. In May 2017 I was invited to speak at a Conference for street workers and key figures in Francophone NGO’s from Belgium and France where the pamphlet was launched. What follows is a brief extract from my presentation.


Exploring ‘generations and cultures of worklessness’ in contemporary Britain

Despite research which emphasises that the idea of ‘generations of worklessness’ is a myth, the general public, politicians and the mainstream media still suggest that generations and cultures of worklessness exist in contemporary Britain. Kevin Ralston and Vernon Gayle outline evidence that disputes this damaging myth.

The concepts of generations and cultures of worklessness have popular, political and international resonance. In politics, high profile figures, such as the UK Government Minister Chris Grayling, are on record as stating there are ‘four generations of families where no-one has ever had a job’ (in MacDonald et al, 2013). Esther McVey, when she was UK Minister for Employment, made reference to the widespread idea that there is a ‘something for nothing culture’ among some of those claiming benefits (DWP, 2013). The general notion, that there is a section of undeserving poor who should receive punishment or correction, is a central concept in neo-liberal politics (Wiggan, 2012; Soss et al, 2011; Wacquant, 2009; de Goede, 1996). Ideas associated with generations and cultures of worklessness also regularly appear in the traditional UK print media and the international press. For example, in 2013, the Daily Mail reported the story of an individual convicted of burning down his house, which resulted in deaths. They reported his status as a benefit claimant and described living on welfare benefits as a ‘lifestyle choice’ for some.


The National Citizen Service and The “Magic Money Tree”

This article by Sean Murphy draws on interviews with youth workers to argue that youth citizenship and engagement would be better supported by sustained youth and community work, rather than through the National Citizen Service.

We are living in precarious times. Theresa May’s ‘snap election’ has catapulted the United Kingdom into a minority Conservative administration, and a far cry from the ‘strong and stable’ pre-election mantra. The nation is careering towards a Brexit with a limited mandate, its government, the economy and politics are in a state of flux. As Youniss et al. (2002) suggest, these changes can easily reshape concepts such as national identity, nationhood, and multiculturalism within a globalised world; and in such a moment, the meaning of citizenship can no longer be taken for granted. Moreover, the ‘snap election’ has led to the Conservative government devising a political deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) reportedly worth over £1.5billion additional public spending for Northern Ireland.

MMU BA Y&C course under threat! Advice and support appreciated.

The BA [Honours] Youth and Community course at the Manchester Metropolitan University is facing a precarious future. Against this worrying backcloth Janet Batsleer, Reader in Education and Principal Lecturer, Youth and Community, writes to ask our readers the following question.

What would you design into a Community Education course for the future that builds on the learning of the past 40 years or so? Or would you just close it down?

Your replies should be sent to Janet at and would be much appreciated.



Tony Taylor, Jon Ord and Janet Batsleer at the IDYW conference


These are indeed troubled times.

After the Referendum : Notes from Manchester via Janet Batsleer

I can but urge you to read this insightful and challenging piece from Janet.


After the Referendum  Notes from Manchester,UK

Janet Batsleer

July 2nd 2016

I woke up on Friday morning to Brexit and, as soon as I heard the news, I felt very afraid.  The sense of loss and shock was enormous. Later I recognised this was something like the feelings I had in the 1980’s when the miners were defeated.   Once I started to make sense of what had happened – I had said to my son that there might be a big anti-establishment revolt from the North – I could leave the house. But the feelings of fear persisted as the only outright winner seemed to be Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP, the far right anti-immigrant party.  A wave of anti-immigrant feeling had been unleashed in the campaign: the genie of British racism now out of the bottle, some-one said.  But also, in some ways, a continuity from last summer’s vote for Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.  The cat out of the bag about the class contempt that had been poured in plenty on some of the poorest parts of the country. Now people were kicking back, or just kicking.  Manchester itself, almost alone in the North West, voted REMAIN.  (I can’t claim to understand BREXIT from the point of view of the Conservative voting parts of the country but that seems to be a kind of taken for granted story that no-one can be troubled to tell.)

Oddly ,on the day of the Referendum, I had been in Brussels with Andreas and Anais and Patricia at the European Research Centre. It was OK; it was great to be with colleagues and feel European!  It was strange and worrying too. Maybe it gave me reasons, if I didn’t have them already, to think that change badly  needs to happen in the EU.

My work – including the Partispace project – is listening  and connecting.

Friday afternoon I went out to an event organised by young people at the Art Gallery. I found it hard to concentrate that day.  It was a fine and interesting event that I have written field notes about and one aspect was an intergenerational event.  At the end of the first section a man (maybe my age in fact but I like to think that he was much older) used the open mic session to read a Victory poem printed out on the back of a large voting paper inscribed LEAVE. It was about the country being free at last. First we were colonised by the Romans; then the Normans took out our King’s eye;; then the Europeans came…..but we’ve finally got rid of the sods!)  I was so angry I couldn’t stay.

 On Sunday I was at the North West Youth Council, Youthforia, It had been organised by the Manchester Youth Council and Alexandre and I were both there.  The team from Manchester Youth Council is brilliantly odd and diverse: a young person who looks like a boy with long hair but is called Ashley; two young men,Matthew and Sam (one tall and serious, one small and bouncy) from the Nigerian community now strong in North Manchester; a boy doing politics A level from a leafy suburb and his friend who, when I asked him where he was from (meaning, what part of Manchester?) answered Afghanistan; an enormously competent young woman from the Reclaim project who seemed to be organising the whole lot. After a few minutes in , of welcomes and ‘warm ups’, they announced that they still intended to bid for Manchester to be European City of Youth: because we are Manchester and we are differently diverse!

During one of the breaks I sat down with a young man, Jack, from Wigan, one of the Boroughs where a significant majority  had supported the Leave campaign.  He was a lovely young man and he said his family had been for Leave and that he would have voted Leave if he could have: he is 17 and is planning to do a degree in Cybersecurity at a local University.  I asked him why. He explained that people in Wigan felt the EU had done nothing for them; ‘We don’t have a University in Wigan’ he said. The big firm was an American one, and the small businesses were hampered by EU regulation. ‘Was immigration a big issue in the Leave vote?’  For about 50% of the people, yes. I’m very much for Jeremy Corbyn as well, he said. I told him that when I had arrived at the event I had met a youth worker close to tears because three Czech young people who were part of his project had arrived at the project on Friday to ask ‘Do we have to go home today?’  ‘That’s bad’ Jack said looking really sick.

There was an escalation in racialized and xenophobic abuse and assault over the weekend. It seems to be calming a little now.  There were also various attempts to get the vote declared invalid by middle class educated people who only support democracy when it goes the right way!

The worker for Wigan Youth Council is a man from Wigan called Ahmed who has been a Youth Worker with the Authority for 20 years. He set up the first anti-racist project in Wigan called Rafiki and more recently Kamosi, which works with Eastern European communities. Under New Labour, his work became framed as part of the Anti-Social Behaviour project and then the work moved into the Youth Offending Team. More contempt for working class estates. Now he is turning back to the anti-racist framing of the work. Now is the moment. Because of DevoManc, now is also the moment for Manchester and Wigan working-class anti-racist projects to reconnect….’it’s a very insular place’ he said.  Islands tend to be it seems. But so are cities; too easily cut off by their glamorous centres  from the pain of being poor and rubbished.

The following day I was in North Manchester where, it was suspected, many people voted LEAVE. It would fit with the demographic and the difficulty of knowing whether the flags were for the Referendum or the Football. I drank tea with the youth workers who told me about the Bulgarian boy who comes to the club and is a leading table tennis player.  His fears that he won’t be able to play for the UK now. That he will have to leave. And about the people who have been coming in saying ‘They’ll all have to go now won’t they.’  In turn I hear the youth worker ( a man of 28, one of my former students) flip the contempt: ‘The immigrants are the ones with good values, good attitudes: they work hard, they have ambition. The people on the estate: it’s just like Shameless. Drinking Skol  in the street in the middle of the day…..hardly any clothes on…..playing hoola-hoop while their kids are at school…..they are parents for goodness sake….)

Wednesday I am back in Hulme and working on the Community Learning Festival we are organising for the first week of the school holidays when I am co-ordinating a day on democracy and politics.  The neighbourhood we are linking with is the historic centre of  Manchester multi-culture and the local community activists I am working with on this project are so glad we are doing this as we all see the tension and chaos escalating. We are hearing stories every day of attacks on minority people on public transport in the City.  The anger that has been palpable for weeks seems to be taking a new and nastier turn. We are all happy we are doing this Festival: a place where people can come together. We will invite the people from Europia, the project working to support East European migrants who are facing hate crime, to be involved.

And I am writing a paper on ‘agonistic democracy’ for ECER: is this what it feels like?  I suppose so.

I believe that a small but not at all insignificant element in the situation we are in has been the abandonment of  community education, adult education and open youth work, in favour of schemes which target and shame people alongside the offer of meagre and insufficient resources in projects.  

I also think the reduction of people’s lives to being an economic cipher; the denial of a cultural, political life, a life of generous imagination and political memory, as well as the denial of justice and equality  …. is a further dimension. Projects which link Trade Union education with cultural resources and resources of popular memory  – such as our colleague Geoff Bright’s Ghost Labs conducted in former mining communities – are essential as are many comings together of people who have been denied justice and recognition. Projects which cross national boundaries to do this need to be part of our future as well as our past and they need to include people from all areas not just the ones where people have been to University.

We are all too familiar with the neo-liberal way.  We still need to come together to imagine,  propose and work otherwise; despite the false binaries and above all against the racism and  away from the anti-working class contempt, both so powerfully emergent now.

Note – ECER is the European Conference for Educational Research




The Return of Character Education- A BSA Debate, July 16

What we mean by character has been an ever present issue within youth work, even if at times it has been described in other ways. For example, the sub-title of Baden Powell’s seminal 1908 ‘Scouting for Boys’ was ‘A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship’, whilst a century later the Young Foundation’s 2012 ‘Framework of Outcomes for Young People’ seeks to form the ’emotionally resilient’ young person. At the heart of both is an interpretation of what constitutes good or indeed bad character, which can only be understood fully in the light of the underpinning economic and ideological circumstances of the day. Therefore it’s encouraging to see this BSA conference grasping the nettle of how to understand the the revival of ‘character’ education and to see the involvement of our good friend and critic, Janet Batsleer. It strikes me that it would be more than useful to organise a complementary event focused on youth work and the question of character.




‘Grit’, Governmentality & the Erasure of Inequality’
The Curious Rise of Character Education Policy
A BSA Sociology of Education Study Group Conference in association with Culture, Media and Creative Industries, King’s College London and the School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds

Monday 11 July 2016
9:30am – 5:00pm followed by a wine reception
King’s College London

Invited speakers: Dr Janet Batsleer (Manchester Metropolitan University) and Professor Val Gillies (Goldsmiths).

Over the past five years, there has been a growing interest and investment in ‘character’ education. A growing number of policy initiatives and reports have asserted the importance of nurturing character in children and young people – with qualities such as ‘grit’, ‘optimism’, ‘resilience’, ‘zest’, and ‘bouncebackability’ located as preparing young people for the challenges of the 21st century and enabling social mobility. This includes the Department for Education’s multi-million pound package of measures to help schools ‘instil character in pupils’ and the ‘All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility’ Character and Resilience Manifesto. The positioning of character education as a panacea to social and educational inequality has coincided with policies promoting ‘resilience’ in areas as diverse as health and housing to employment and welfare. It is notable that the policy traction of these terms has emerged against a backdrop of austerity in which programmes of welfare reform and continuing economic uncertainty have seen rising poverty levels among children and young people, and in which political rhetoric has explained poverty as resulting from behavioral and moral deficiencies rather than the structural inequalities unleashed by neoliberal capitalism. This one-day conference will bring together researchers across a range of disciplines and research areas to critically discuss this policy agenda. It will attempt to unravel how and why it has emerged and at this particular moment, and consider its implications.

Booking is now open.
Conference fee: BSA members £15 & Non-members £30, (includes lunch and refreshments)
Places are limited so early booking is recommended.
For further information please contact: or telephone: (0191) 383 0839.
For academic queries please contact: Anna Bull ( or Kim Allen ( )