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Polarizing participation in local government – inclusion/exclusion of youths

September 28, 2012

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)

NOTE:  “Abstract

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…

Adams, Eileen and Sue Ingham (1998). Changing Places: Children’s Participation in Environmental Planning. London: Children’s Society.

Bessant, Judith (2004). “Mixed Messages: Youth Participation and Democratic Practice.” Australian Journal of Political Science 39(2): 387-404.

Bourdieu, Pierre (2004). “The Forms of Capital.” In Stephen J. Ball, Ed. The Routledge Falmer Reader in Sociology of Education. London: Routledge Falmer, 15-29.

Elsley, Susan (2004). “Children’s Experience of Public Space.” Children and Society 18: 155-164.

Ewen, John (1994). “Youth Participation: Concepts and Structures.” Youth Studies Australia Spring: 13-20.

Foucault, Michel (1995). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, 2nd Ed. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage Books.

France, Alan (1998). “‘Why Should We Care?’ Young People, Citizenship and Questions of Social Responsibility.” Journal of Youth Studies 1(1): 97-111.

Freeman, Claire and Elizabeth Aitken-Rose (2005). “Future Shapers: Children, Young People and Planning in New Zealand Local Government.” Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 23: 227-246.

Freeman, Claire, Paul Henderson and Jane Kettle (1999). Planning with Children for Better Communities. Bristol: The Policy Press.

Freeman, Claire and Karen Nairn (2000). “Children, Young People and their Environments: Changing Themes.” Childrenz Issues 4(2): 7-12.

Place: Youth Identities and Citizenship.” British Journal of Sociology of Education 20(4): 501-513.

Hall, Tom, Howard Williamson and Amanda Coffey (1998). “Conceptualizing Citizenship: Young People and the Transition to Adulthood.” Journal of Education Policy 13(3): 301-315.

Hart, Roger (1997). Children’s Participation: The Theory and Practice of Involving Young Citizens in Community Development and Environmental Care. London: UNICEF.

Henderson, Paul (2000). “Children’s Participation. Time for a Change.” Childrenz Issues 4(2): 29-31.

Hetzel, Sue, Sally Watson, and Lesley Sampson (1992). “Participation and Partnership.” Youth Studies Australia, 33-36.

Hill, Malcolm, John Davis, Alan Prout and Kay Tisdall (2004). “Moving the Participation Agenda Forward.” Children and Society 18: 77-96

Horelli, Liisa (1998). “Creating Child-friendly Environments: Case Studies on  Children’s Participation in Three European Countries.” Childhood 5(2): 225-239.

Jamison, Andrea and Linda Gilbert (2000). “Facilitating Children’s Voices in the Community and Government.” In Anne B. Smith, Nicola Taylor and Megan Gollop, Eds. Children’s Voices: Research, Policy and Practice. Auckland: Longman.

Jones, Alison (1991). “Is Madonna a Feminist Folk Hero, Is Ruth Richardson a Woman? Postmodern Feminism and Dilemmas of Difference.” Sites 23: 84-100.

Karsten, Lia (2002). “Mapping Childhood in Amsterdam: The Spatial and Social Construction of Children’s Domains in the City.” Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie 93(3): 231-241.

Kobayashi, Audrey and Linda Peake (1994). “Unnatural Discourse: ‘Race’ and Gender in Geography.” Gender, Place and Culture 1(2): 225-243.

Lansdown, Gerison (1994). “Children’s Rights.” In Berry Mayall, Ed. Children’s Childhoods. Observed and Experienced. London: The Falmer Press, 33-44.

Lauder, Hugh, David Hughes, Sue Watson, Sietske Waslander, Martin Thrupp, Rob Strathdee, Ibrahim Simiyu, Ann Dupuis, Jim McGlinn and Jennie Hamlin (1999). Trading in Futures. Why Markets in Education Don’t Work. Buckingham and Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Lee, Alison (1996). Gender, Literacy, Curriculum: Re-Writing School Geography. London: Taylor and Francis.

Mahtani, Minelle (2001). “Racial Remappings: The Potential of Paradoxical Space.” Gender, Place and Culture 8(3): 299-305.

Malone, Karen (1999). “Growing Up in Cities as a Model of Participatory Planning and ‘Place-Making’ with Young People.” Youth Studies Australia 18(2): 17-23.

Matthews, Hugh (2003). “Children and Regeneration: Setting an Agenda for Community Participation and Integration.” Children and Society 17: 264-276.

—- (2001). “Citizenship, Youth Councils and Young People’s Participation.” Journal of Youth Studies 4(3): 299-318.

Matthews, Hugh, Melanie Limb, and Mark Taylor (1999). “Young People’s Representation in Society.” Geoforum 30: 135-144.

Meucci, Sandra and Michael Schwab (1997). “Children and the Environment: Young People’s Participation in Social Change.” Social Justice 24(3): 1-10.

Morrow, Virginia (1999). “‘We are People Too’: Children’s and Young People’s Perspectives on Children’s Rights and Decision-Making in England.” The International Journal of Children’s Rights 7: 149-170.

Moore, Robyn (2000). “Youth Participation: Grow It or Kill It—The Formula for Both.” Childrenz Issues 4(2): 26-28.

Nairn, Karen, Jenny Munro and Anne B. Smith (2005). “A Counter-Narrative of a ‘Failed’ Interview.” Qualitative Research 5(2): 221-244.

Nash, Roy (1999). “Social Capital, Class Identity, and Progress at School: Case Studies.” New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies 34(2): 267-280.

—- (2000). “Educational Inequality: The Special Case of Pacific Students.” Social Policy Journal of New Zealand 15: 69-86.

Prout, Alan (2000). “Children’s Participation: Control and Self-Realisation in British Late Modernity.” Children and Society 14: 304-315.

Roche, Jeremy (1999). “Children: Rights, Participation and Citizenship.” Childhood 6(4): 475-493.

Rose, Gillian (1993). Feminism and Geography: The Limits of Geographical Knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Shier, Harry (2001). “Pathways to Participation: Openings, Opportunities and Obligations. A New Model for Enhancing Children’s Participation in Decision-making, in Line with Article 12.1 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.” Children and Society 15: 107-117.

Simms, Meliors (2000). “Young People and Committee Meetings.” Childrenz Issues 4(2): 23-28.

Sinclair, Ruth (2004). “Participation in Practice: Making it Meaningful, Effective and Sustainable.” Children and Society 18: 106-118.

Smith, Anne B. (2002). “Interpreting and Supporting Participation Rights: Contributions from Sociocultural Theory.” The International Journal of Children’s Rights 10: 73-88.

Stafford, Anne, Ann Laybourn, Malcolm Hill, and Moira Walker (2003). “‘Having a Say’: Children and Young People Talk about Consultation.” Children and Society 17: 361-373.

Tisdall, E. Kay M. and John Davis (2004). “Making a Difference? Bringing Children’s and Young People’s Views into Policy-Making?” Children and Society 18: 131-142.

Trine Kjorholt, Anne (2002). “Small is Powerful. Discourses on ‘Children and Participation’ in Norway.” Childhood 9(1): 63-82.

Tuhiwai Smith, Linda, Megan Boler, Graham H. Smith, Margaret Kempton, Adreanne Ormond, Ho-Chia Chueh and Rona Waetford (2002). “‘Do you guys hate Aucklanders too?’ Youth: Voicing Difference from the Rural Heartland.” Journal of Rural Studies 18(2) Special Issue: Young Rural Lives: 169-178.

Valentine, Gill (1996). “Angels and Devils: Moral Landscapes of Childhood.” Environment and Planning D 14: 581-599.

—- (2000). “Exploring Children and Young People’s Narratives of Identity.” Geoforum 31: 257-267.

Wall, Melanie (1997). “Stereotypical Constructions of the Maori ‘Race’ in the Media.” New Zealand Geographer 53(2): 40-45.

Willoughby, Sue (2000). “Adults as Advocates for Children and Young People.” Childrenz Issues 4(2): 5.

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