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Dr. Eldin Fahmy - Why is it important to promote young people's participation in conventional politics - and how can this be best achieved?


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Workshop on the Political Participation of Young People 21-22 June, 2013.
Gençlerin Siyasi Katılımı 21 – 22 Haziran 2013

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Dr. Eldin Fahmy - Why is it important to promote young people's participation in conventional politics - and how can this be best achieved?

  1. 1. Presentation at Youth and Participation Project Workshop, Bilgi University, Istanbul – 21st-22nd June 2013 Why is it important to promote young people's participation in conventional politics, and how can this be best achieved? Dr Eldin Fahmy School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol E: This presentation presents work in progress and should not be disseminated or quoted without written permission of the author
  2. 2. Session overview: Understanding youth political participation in Europe SUMMARY OF KEY ARGUMENTS 1.Thinking about ‘the political’ emphasises diversity of youth political behaviours but this can obscure the exclusion of youth from political institutions and elites 3.Youth-specific explanations can encourage a deficit-based model of youth participation. We need to ask rather why are political institutions failing to engage with different publics? 2.Focus on youth-specific explanations ignores the systemic changes in citizen political participation across rich countries 4.Understanding youth political participation should be contextualised. Political exclusion cannot be separated from the wider structures of social exclusion in contemporary societies
  3. 3. 3 Youth, ‘the political’, and participation • Many young people are disengaged from formal political processes • This has prompted claims about youth political ‘apathy’ and an emerging ‘crisis’ of youth participation. These concerns sometimes reflect a very narrow interpretation of ‘the political’ • Like many other politically marginalised groups, youth participation is characterised by relatively informal and/or unstructured modes of political expression and action • This results in an underestimation of the extent and nature of youth political engagement • Commentary about youth political ‘apathy’ often reflect concerns for the continued legitimacy of existing political institutions much more than an interest in promoting youth empowerment • BUT the continued exclusion of youth from formal mechanisms is a problem for all those committed to the pursuit of political equality because these institutions remain a key mechanism for holding socially powerful groups to account
  4. 4. 4 The social context of youth participation • • • Declining levels of citizen engagement in formal politics is not a youth-specific issue: youth-specific accounts do not provide a full explanation Changes over time in youth political engagement are part of a wider disenchantment of Western publics with representative political institutions: it is a systemic problem Existing accounts often focus on: – Lifecycle factors: networks, competency and knowledge, interest and ‘life tasks’ – Generational factors: postmaterialism, post-modernisation, individualism BUT : • Similar trends are largely evident amongst older citizens • The ‘new politics’ reflects traditional concerns with distributional issues (e.g. anti-globalisation, anticapitalism) • The history of counter-hegemonic social movements suggests that the politics of recognition have always marched hand-in-hand with concerns for redistribution of wealth and power
  5. 5. 5 Challenging deficit models of youth political participation • • • The dynamics of youth political participation need to take account of wider changes in the political economy of Western societies and their democratic institutions Existing popular explanations emphasise factors relating to youth themselves, rather than to changes in the institutional context of participation, incl. the declining efficacy of institutions in meeting citizens demands Challenging this narrative involves listening more closely to the views of young people themselves • Young people feel they lack the political skills and knowledge needed to operate as effective political actors • Young people feel that politicians are untrustworthy and out of touch, and that political institutions are ineffective in achieving positive changes • Young people feel that there is little to choose between the main political parties in the issue agendas they pursue – agendas which are in many cases widely perceived as being hostile to youth interests
  6. 6. 6 Addressing the institutional bases of non-participation • A lack of ‘political literacy’ reflects the decline of agencies of political socialisation for youth as political actors and not only ‘consumers’ of politics • More effective integration is needed between informal forms of political engagement with the formal political institutions of state power • Where collective action continues to be provide a political education this increasingly takes place outside the sphere of electoral politics • • State-sanctioned approaches to political literacy address an apparent crisis of legitimation rather than empowering youth In many Western societies, the institutional structure of formal participation have remained largely unaltered for more than half a century!! • New ways of engaging publics (e.g. citizens’ juries, people’s panels, and deliberative polling methods) have been tokenistic since they have not been integrated with existing representative mechanisms • Widespread citizen dissatisfaction with politics requires reform of existing institutions and processes to more effectively represent the interests of Europe’s citizens
  7. 7. 7 Youth, political exclusion and social marginalisation Explanations need to take account of the political economy of political engagement, e.g.: • • • • ‘Hollowing out’ of political parties with regard to their traditional support base and grass roots Increased ideological convergence of political parties around a neoliberal issue agenda Declining effectiveness of nation states in holding corporate power to account Progressive widening of disparities in income and wealth – and in youth transitions and outcomes What are the implications for democratic practice? • Re-engaging youth requires a commitment from policy makers to a more positive policy environment on youth issues • Young people are not unique in their political exclusion: institutionalisation of democratic norms has resulted in the reassertion of control by political elites • Radical democracy involves reconnecting informal, grassroots activity with the formal mechanisms of representation and government through which state power is exercised