Polarizing participation in local government – inclusion/exclusion of youths
Karen Nairn, Judith Sligo, and Claire Freeman present an interesting argument/discussion about the ways in which youth experience (or do not experience) participation as citizens in local government. They “argue that young people’s inclusion in local government processes depended on adult initiation, invitation or “targeting.” We show how inclusion therefore depended on which groups of young people adults in local government deemed important to include and, by default, which young people would therefore be excluded. We show how this process in effect polarizes participation to two “types” of young people. One group is comprised of those young people who are considered problems; local government attempts to find ways to meaningfully occupy such young people with particular types of participation. The other group is made up of those who are considered to be community-focused or high achievers, and are therefore “future leaders.” We argue that local government provides participation initiatives for these two groups in the first case to protect society from “unruly” groups of young people, and in the second case to advance a new generation of administrators or leaders. If local government in effect focuses only on those young people from opposite ends of the continuum, we argue they are reproducing a polarized representation of young people and excluding the participation of “ordinary” young people. We use the term “the excluded middle” to refer to the diverse young people who occupy the continuum between the polar opposites of “achievers” and “troublemakers.” While “the excluded middle” risks homogenizing the many groups covered by this umbrella term, we use it nevertheless to highlight the significant proportion of [-p.249] young people that may be excluded from participation in local government.” (249)
Nairn et al. discuss the ‘need for’ participation and state that: “The case for participation has been convincingly argued in the literature. The justifications for and positive outcomes of appropriate participation have been detailed by authors such as Ewen (1994), Hart (1997), Freeman and colleagues (1999), Lansdown (1994), and Malone (1999). Justifications for young people’s participation include upholding their rights; fulfilling legal responsibilities (for example, concerning the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child); improving services and decision-making; enhancing democratic processes; promoting protection; enhancing skills and self-esteem; and empowering young people.” (250) However, Nairn et al. explain: “The literature regarding participatory initiatives (see Checkoway et al. 2005; Hill et al. 2004; Matthews 2001) questions which young people are involved in decision-making and suggests that particular types of young people are likely to be selected or volunteer to participate. Matthews (2001, 310) states that there is a danger that “participation advances the interests of the vociferous, articulate and confident at the expense of others.” They question which young people get to participate and what their responsibilities are in relation to representing other young people. It seems that “participation initiatives may reinforce existing patterns of social exclusion and disadvantage” (Lowndes et al. 2001, 453). While there is a considerable literature on young people’s participation in a variety of contexts − school, local government and community − much of this literature is descriptive rather than theoretical.” (250)
“Theorizing around place and space is also evident in the literature. Karsten (2002) describes young people’s exclusion from public (adult) spaces and the provision of separate activities and spaces to ensure that young people have “meaningful” and “useful” pastimes. Invariably, these are more easily accessed by young people with social capital who are then able to increase their existing resources. Malone (1999) also reflects on the ways in which power is mapped out in public spaces and finds young people in a “liminal zone” where they are too old for playgrounds but not old enough to enjoy “spatial freedoms” taken for granted by most adults, although such spatial freedoms are shaped by gender, ethnicity and social class. Building on a spatial analysis and linking it with identity, Prout (2000) explores the separation of public/private spheres and state/family. He notes increasing attempts to control young people in the public sphere, while it is expected that the private sphere of the home and family is generally considered the appropriate space for young people to express greater autonomy. Prout describes this juxtaposition of surveillance and autonomy as an expression of the tension between “public” control and “private” self realization characteristic of late modernity. Rose (1993) goes beyond, and indeed seeks to break down, dichotomies such as private/public and inclusion/exclusion by considering how “opposing” features are inextricably linked. Although Rose (1993) has theorized how “masculinist” spaces (social spaces that are dominated by and reproduced to favor men) exclude women, her theorizing also has broader application to understanding how “adultist” spaces exclude children and young people. Rose (1993) is similar to Foucault (1995) in her belief that the working of power is more complex than simply the exclusion of subordinate groups by dominant groups. Indeed, policies requiring the inclusion of subordinate groups such as women, indigenous peoples and children and young people mean that subordinate groups are invited − or required to be invited − to participate in decision-making processes from which they were previously excluded. As we go on to show, this means subordinate groups are participating in decision-making processes on terms defined by the dominant group….” (251)
The authors continue… “although we argue that there are two groups of young people “targeted” by local government, the “achievers” and the “troublemakers,” it is not simply the case that both groups are invited into “the center” of local government processes. Rather, the “troublemakers” tend to be included on the periphery of local government. In other words, they are included insofar as services and activities are provided for them, but are also excluded if they are not invited to participate as advisors or decision-makers regarding the services and activities provided for them.” (252)
“From the perspective of local authorities (police as well as local government), the invisibility of young people is transformed when they are seen to be creating trouble or being a “menace to the moral order of neighborhoods” (Valentine 1996, 590). Groups of young people in public spaces are considered “troubled and troubling” (Checkoway et al. 2005, 1151).” (260)
“middle-class adults, although well-meaning, may contribute to the (re)production of class inequalities via their assumptions about who has the “right” dispositions for making appropriate contributions to local government. If the “right” dispositions are assumed to be middle-class and school-orientated, this can have the effect of relegating particular groups of young people to the periphery of local government decision-making processes.” (260)
They authors write that they “found that local councils paid particular attention to two types of young people when designing participatory youth strategies: “achievers” and “troublemakers.” Other groups of young people who did not fit either of these categories tended to be excluded by default, and we refer to these groups as “the excluded middle.” If local governments’ views of young people’s needs are primarily based on those of two “distinctive” groups, and if participatory opportunities are designed with reference only to youth who fit the image of these polarized groups, then other young people might not perceive local government as relevant to them and might elect not to participate at all.” (266)
In recent years in New Zealand, international and national imperatives have prompted local government authorities to find ways to consult children and young people. We analyze the workings of selected participation initiatives in one urban and one rural setting in New Zealand and argue that young people’s inclusion in local government processes depended on adult organizers’ perceptions of who should be “targeted.” We show how two “types” of young people, “achievers” and “troublemakers,” were often “targeted.” If local government in effect focuses only on those young people from opposite ends of the continuum, we argue they are reproducing a polarized representation of young people and excluding the participation of “ordinary” young people; we describe this group as “the excluded middle.” We conclude with some suggestions for adults who are interested in the ongoing challenges of developing relevant ways of working with youth, based on insights from our two case studies.” (248)
Ref: Karen Nairn, Judith Sligo, Claire Freeman (2006) ‘Polarizing Participation in Local Government: Which Young People Are Included and Excluded?’ Children, Youth and Environments 16(2), 248-271
References of Nairn et al.’s that look interesting…
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