Jason Wood De Montfort University May 2011 Young People and Active Citizenship
Citizenship is difficult to define It can ‘carry significantly different meanings. It has no “essential” or universally true meaning’ (Crick 2000: 1). It is what philosophers call an ‘essentially contested concept’ (Lister 2003: 14) It concerns ‘status’ and ‘membership’ usually of a state. It is also a ‘normative ideal’ (Coffey 2004), a ‘set of practices … which define a person as a competent member of society’ (Turner 1993: 2)
Table 18 - Frequency of types of responsibility ** Category 10 adapted from Smith et al 2005: 173-174
The Context of Active Citizenship Formation Institutions Offered programmes that were explicitly seeking to promote active citizenship Offered programmes that certainly lent themselves to an ‘active citizenship’ agenda but this was not cited as a key goal. The Community
Problem 1: Adult ‘approval’ “We were pissed off about the canteen stopping its breakfast service…some pupils only get their breakfast at school…[so we] set up a campaign with some others, got a petition to [the headteacher] and we managed to get our breakfast club back.” “Its about what they think is important and what will help the school in their view. An example I can give is when all the boys wanted to make a basketball area on the playground and we had a meeting about it with [a teacher] but they said that we couldn’t do it, so it was kind of left really.”
Adult approval To what extent is participation possible, or indeed desirable, without adult approval? What are the limits? How are these limits communicated?
Approval: key points Certain acts of participation are deemed acceptable and receive adult endorsement or approval (no surprise). But reasons for non-approval are not explained by adults, so young people do not understand the differences between what is acceptable and what is not.
Problem 2: ‘responsible responsibility’ – the case of hanging around “I think [being responsible] is making sure that we don’t hang about…they don’t like us to meet around here and … its probably not responsible…being responsible probably means being at home.” “I think we get a bad name because we spend so much time in a group…people can be scared of us because we’re a group.”
But… “I love being with my mates… we can meet up after school cause we all go to different places in the day. I’m not really mates with people at school… We hang around the bus shelter...” “There’s not really anywhere to go to be with your friends [in the town] but we like to hang out together wherever really. I don’t want to be a loner.” “I like it down my estate…it’s near my yard and my friends so it’s easy. In the summer it’s the best … you can play footie down at the grass, its like our own patch that people know is ours.”
Responsible responsibility What definitions of ‘socially responsible behaviour’ guide our work with young people? To what extent do we defer to the most powerful voices in determining what is ‘responsible behaviour’?
Perceptions of risk and responsibility A group of young people spend lots of their evening time with each other, ‘hanging around’ local shops and communal areas. They used to hang around the front of the local supermarket. Following complaints by residents (but not by the supermarket), they were continuously moved on by the police. Eventually, they began to hang around a local communal garden before again, being moved on by the police. When asked by the researcher why they chose these two areas, they said they were very near to their homes, and friends, and they were safe and well lit. There was a local playing field but they were scared to go there due to adult strangers hanging around at night. Eventually, after being continuously moved on from the two ‘safe’ places, they went further away from the estate and ended up by a railway track. One of their friends was messing around on the line when he was fatally hit by an oncoming train.
Problem 3: Control Punitive control: these were elements of control used to exclude young people on account of their behaviours that were seen as problematic to the wider community. Frequently this was associated with being ‘moved on’ or ‘being banned’. Paternalistic control: these were forms of control specifically determined as underpinned by care. Young people usually determined that this form of control was often about being kept safe from harm, usually in terms of the very things that were linked to decision making, i.e. the use of leisure time or public space.
“My Mum tells me that I shouldn’t hang around the park because all sorts of bad shit goes on there. There’s a pervert who hangs around at night and all the crackheads go down there as well. She thinks I’ll cause trouble … get involved with them and do that shit [punitive] or I’ll get hurt or something [paternalistic].”
Controls Controls (both internal and external) are necessary for human wellbeing. How do we work with young people to engage with, accept, challenge and reject controls imposed by others?
Acceptance/rejection of controls Respect “There’s no point trying to behave if people already think you’re up to no good.” Validity “wise to the lies [laughter]…its like saying that we’ll all die if we just have a drink now and then, or get pissed at the weekend with our mates, it doesn’t make sense so we don’t listen.” Integrity “it’s a different rule for them”
Overarching themes The difference in definitions of ‘social and moral responsibility’ and ‘activism’, and consequently the approval that comes with a preferred definition. The importance of recognising ‘subjectively rational’ behaviour by young people.
But… “The fact remains that young people are rarely given opportunities to contribute and yet, as important stakeholders in society, young people have much to contribute to […] the formulation of a relevant and effective education for citizenship.” (Osler and Starkey 2003: 244)