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Political Research Exchange

Young People as (In)adequate Citizens; Understandings Through Community (Dis)engagement

Political Participation
Aimee Harragan
University of Manchester
Aimee Harragan
University of Manchester

This paper builds on the conceptual findings of a European collaborative study (Horizon 2020 PROMISE), as well as the findings of a doctoral project. The findings of both studies dovetail closely and this paper reflects on the impacts of acknowledging the many aspects of ‘conflict’ and ‘barriers’ which young people experience in their everyday lives. Young people’s political and community participation and engagement is consistently misrepresented in public discourse (Phelps 2012). Often, their absence in political institutions is over-relied on as the source of these misrepresentations. Increasingly, literature challenges the assumptions of a homogenous body of young people, devoid of political engagement and calls for young people to be recognised as real citizens (Flanagan 2013; Wood 2016). This paper calls into focus where young people are present in their local communities and the intra- and inter-generational recognition this receives. Their participation in various spheres of their community was based on several different rationales including, most significantly, making a difference through meaningful actions and the occupation of sovereign youth space. This paper seeks to examine the ways in which young people’s meanings and understandings of their participation and engagement in their everyday lives, interlinks with their conceptions of politics and the political. Set against the backdrop of the 2015 General Election, the EU referendum and the impacts of austerity in the form of service closures in the community, young people’s narratives of the political are weaved throughout the data. These contextual features are framed as either limitations or enablers of young people’s negotiation of identities and recognition as citizens. This transition in status, for these young people, was associated with the recognition of their actions as autonomous and efficacious by themselves and others.
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