Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

  • European Commission
  • Projects and Results
  • Periodic Reporting for period 1 - PARTISPACE (Spaces and Styles of Participation. Formal, non-formal and informal possibilities of young people’s participation in European cities.)

PARTISPACE Report Summary

Project ID: 649416
Funded under: H2020-EU.3.6.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - PARTISPACE (Spaces and Styles of Participation. Formal, non-formal and informal possibilities of young people’s participation in European cities.)

Reporting period: 2015-05-01 to 2016-04-30

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Social, political and civic participation of young people has been increasingly on the agenda of late modern societies. This accounts for municipalities concerned with engaging young people at local level, for national governments concerned with increasing trust of young people in institutions, it has been addressed by the UN Convention on Children’s Rights and – since the publication of the Commission’s White Paper ‘A New Impetus for European Youth’ (EC, 2001a) – it has also been at the centre of European youth policy development. The EU’s present youth strategy ‘Investing and Empowering’ claims: “Europe's youth need to be equipped to take advantage of opportunities such as civic and political participation, volunteering, creativity, entrepreneurship, sport and global engagement” (EC, 2009, p. 3). Among the reasons for this emphasis are:
- Integration of modern individualised societies more and more depends on choices and decisions of individuals. It is assumed that active participation contributes to both life satisfaction of citizens as well as to social cohesion. However, at the same time individualised identities are difficult to reconcile with collective issues whereby the meaning of participation undergoes a process of pluralisation.
- The increasing complexity of new mechanisms of governance requires new forms of legitimation of policy making and societal institutions beyond formal mechanisms of participation like voting or membership in parties and organisations. Especially, support for the process of European integration is assumed to suffer from the inadequacy of existing forms of legitimation and participation.
- This extends to the trend of activation in welfare, including labour market and health policies, as well as in education (lifelong learning). Where societies fail in providing young people sufficient jobs, education or training opportunities, social security and social services while making individuals accountable for their ‘choices’, participation is a discourse prioritising individual over collective claims.
- Youth policies suffer from a lack of visibility and strength: they are mainly underfunded, subject to changing political will, and unequally implemented. Youth participation serves to demonstrate that policy makers are concerned about youth without binding them to implement substantial policies. At EU level, participation fills the gap resulting from the principle of subsidiarity. Here, participation complements and is at the same time subject to the Open Method of Coordination.
- There are persisting – yet contested – concerns about a decrease and a social division of young people’s acceptance of and willingness to engage for society. Policies therefore address young people as “citizens in the making” (Williamson, 1997) aiming at providing them competencies for participation.
Concerns about a lack of youth participation are apparently confirmed by low intentions of young people to participate in European elections (cf. Eurobarometer, 2013) while recent protest movements – in France, Germany, Denmark, Greece, Spain, the UK, Sweden and Turkey – reflect conflicts both between young people and society in relation to different issues but also with regard to recognised forms of participation. Some conflicts relate to tensions between majorities and minorities, others to experiences of alienation in school, lack of jobs and life perspectives, between conservative, authoritarian state and modernised life styles, welfare cuts as reaction to ‘the crisis’ affecting especially young people, while in most cases several factors intersect. These protests are rarely accepted as forms of participation but criminalised and delegitimised as ‘riots’ (cf. Lagrange & Oberti, 2005). At the same time, policy makers but also representatives of youth or civil society organisations tend to reserve the concept of participation for officially recognised and formalised actions and issues – even if these prove to be not relevant for young people (cf. Smith et al., 2005; Kovacheva, 2000, 2005; Walther, 2012).
The project PARTISPACE starts from the assumption that there is a relation between the apparent lack of participation among young people on the one hand, and the prevalence of ideological and discursive limitations of what is recognised as participation on the other. Participation is understood as constructed in interaction between policies, provisions, and practices – or: between ideologies, institutions and individuals.
The study aims at undertaking a comparative analysis of youth participation or their involvement and engagement in decisions „which concern them and, in general, the life of their communities” (EC, 2001a, p. 8). The study will be conducted in eight cities across Europe – Bologna (IT), Frankfurt (DE), Gothenburg (SE), Eskisehir (TK), Manchester (UK), Plovdiv (BG), Rennes (FR) and Zurich (CH) – not representing but embedded in differing national, regional and local contexts which are comparable in terms of dimension and relevance in the respective country. It will cover formal, non-formal and informal settings and forms – or better: spaces and styles – of participation.
Framed by an analysis of data of the European Social Survey and of European discourses as well as of national policies, field work will focus on local case studies in each city consisting of a mapping of formal, non-formal and informal spaces of participation, of analysis of styles of participation, the reconstruction of biographies and the elaboration of local constellations of youth participation. Methods will be expert interviews, focus groups and city walks with young people, participatory observation, group discussions and biographical interviews with young people. It will also involve young people assisting them in carrying out own research.
Research question
In contrast to previous research on young people’s participation, this mixed methods design will not ask primarily if and to what extent young people do participate.
The central research question of PARTISPACE is HOW and WHERE young people do participate differently across social milieus and youth cultural scenes and across eight European cities (framed by different national welfare, education and youth policies): What STYLES of participation do they prefer, develop and apply and in what SPACES does participation take place?
This involves sub-questions with regard to
… different spaces and styles of youth participation:
- What is the relation between different social and political issues addressed through participation and the styles through which and the spaces in which they are developed?
- What are issues and themes to which formal participation programmes, non-formal activities and informal practices of participation refer? What are different and common issues?
- Are there relations between different styles and spaces of participation and if so what kind of relations?
… differences between young people:
- Who develops and/or shares what practice with regard to which issue? And when and where do they develop them?
- What is the relationship between spaces and styles of participation and young people’s individual biographies?
- How do young people experience various forms of participation and what is meaningful participation for them?
- What meanings are attached to inclusion or exclusion in particular spaces and places?
- What are young people doing who are referred to as not participating and where and when are they doing it? What participatory potential is involved in their practices?
- How do participatory activities influence young people’s biographies and how do their biographies influence their involvement and engagement?
… and the relation between youth policies and youth participation respectively facilitating and inhibiting factors:
- Are there differences in the ways and degrees in which participatory practices of young people are accepted, actively encouraged, supported and/or repressed?
- Do these differences reflect national, regional or local patterns? Are there any explicit or implicit relations and connections between local expressions and experiences and transnational, i.e. European or global, orientations?
- What is the relationship between spaces and styles of participation and political processes of legitimation
- To what extent is youth work a relevant actor of youth participation? Which methods do youth workers mobilise to support young people’s participation (in particular disadvantaged young people)?
Answers to these questions contribute to a deeper and broader understanding of youth participation in Europe. They also improve the understanding of the complexities and contradictions of youth participation – on the side of policy makers as well as on the side of young people – and thereby help empowering young people in participating in society.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

A first process initiated with the beginning of the project has been the development of a glossary containing the key terms of the theoretical framework. This glossary serves first for a mutual understanding among the researchers involved in the project, second for communicating the particular approach of PARTISPACE to a wider public, especially the scientific community. This includes also the rather open concept of participation according to which all practices of young people in the public or addressing the public can potentially represent participation. The glossary will be further developed throughout the research process.
As a second step, country reports were produced containing information on young people’s living conditions, structures of education, welfare and youth policy, dominant discourses of youth participation and their relation with European discourses, the national state of art of research on youth participation, and finally contextual information regarding the cities in which the empirical research is conducted. These national reports have been analysed in a comparative perspective. The respective report on the one hand highlights a rather rhetoric and tokenistic reference to youth participation in the cities and countries involved in PARTISPACE. Programmes and policies of youth participation share an instrumental and ideological meaning. Youth participation means teaching young people to participate in a specific, institutionalized way once they are adult citizens (democracy education). It also means participating in activities which have already been defined and set up (normally by adults and/or institutional representatives) rather than initiating own activities or political protest. In the context of the active welfare state it increasingly serves to redefine responsibilities for life chances in terms self-enterpreneurship. On the other hand however, there are repercussions of different living conditions (unemployment and poverty) as well as of different structures of welfare, education and youth policy. For example, young people enjoy broader options for choice in Sweden. At the same time, in Bulgaria or Turkey youth policy structures are currently developed through EU programmes and funds for which a participatory agenda is conditional. Although, reference to participation shares the general ambivalences, at the same an increase of possibilities of expression and experimentations of young people can be witnessed. The comparative report has been published in the internet.
The analysis of this European discourses has been the third step undertaken and a draft report has been produced. Documents of the European Commission, the Council of Europe and the European Youth Forum have been analysed covering the period between 2000 and 2015. Key findings first concern the relationship and difference between the three actors. Although the Council of Europe has been the first actor on the European youth policy stage, since the White Paper on Youth the European Commission has been dominating the discourse. The Youth Partnership between Council and Commission have lead to an increasing convergence with the Council losing visibility while still representing a wider Europe. The European Youth Forum not surprisingly is most radical in criticizing tokenist participation rhetoric and barriers of participation, yet documents reveal a corporatist alliance with the Commission. In terms of development over the years, the discourse is characterized by a reference towards ‘full participation’ whereby an extension to education and employment is intended and thus participation tends to being reduced to adapting to current societal structures rather than influencing the own life according to own needs and interest within society. To some extent, this confirms the diagnosis of participation being reframed as an ideology of self-responsibility, especially with regard to lifelong learning and employability.
Still on the European level, the fourth step has been concerned with providing the qualitative picture emerging from the PARTISPACE fieldwork into a more representative picture. For this purpose, data of the European Social Survey (ESS) have been re-analysed. The main focus was on socio-economic factors such as social origin, education, gender, and migration as well as country on the one hand and attitudes towards social and political participation on the other (limited to formal and non-formal participation). Surprisingly, it appeared that – contrary to previous research – aspects of socio-economic status appeared to have rather marginal influence, in contrast to country – with highest values in Sweden and lowest values in Bulgaria. The different picture compared to other quantitative surveys on youth participation underlines the necessity to understand in qualitative terms how different education and social origin, gender and migration influence young people’s orientations towards and practices of participation.
The fifth step of the project so far has been entering empirical fieldwork in terms of a process of mapping constellations of youth participation in the eight urban contexts. All in all, 174 expert interviews and 82 group discussions with young people have been conducted (some of the latter in the form of city walks in which young people were asked to show and comment positive and negative places in their everyday life worlds. First provisional findings reveal that formal participation is far from these everyday life world contexts. Second, most relevant activities in public space is hanging out with friends. Consequently, they prefer places in the public that can appropriated according to individual needs and shared youth cultural preferences. Third, among the most important issues in the lives of the interviewed young people one was an increasing concern with school-life-balance which tends to be undermined by increasing pressure to perform well in school. However, also even more existential issues such as experiences discrimination and racism or poverty and homelessness have been mentioned. These points are contrasted by experts tending to frame participation in institutional terms. Most think young people need to be empowered for participation which in most cases interpreted in terms of developing awareness and competence rather than extending participation rights and power.
Sixth, first findings have been discussed at local level with local advisory boards (LAB) that have been formed alongside the mapping process. LAB include different types of experts partly including also young people. They give feedback regarding the sampling process, they provide access to certain groups and institutions and contribute to disseminating PARTISPACE questions and findings throughout the process. Experience of first LAB meetings reveals that some experts with the radical open approach towards youth participation while others appreciate questioning apparently self-evident meanings and implications, assumptions on possibilities and limitations of participation.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

As regards progress beyond the state of art, it needs to be considered that PARTISPACE is still at the beginning of its research process. A first progress consists in the theoretical approach of the project which intentionally breaks with an apparent consensual meaning of participation as political, social and civic by extending it to young people’s everyday life practice. A second line of progress starts from the analysis of the relation between socio-economic status and participation that apparently deviate from previous research. This confirms the adoption of a broad concept of participation in order to get also other practices of young people in sight. A hypothesis is that social inequalities are reflected by unequal recognition of young people’s ways of acting and raising claims in the public. Third, comparative analysis of national contexts suggests that welfare, education and youth policy affect young people’s participation, yet less directly than expected. In contrast, in all countries and at European level, references to participation reveal to be ideological and instrumental. Fourth, young people are mostly concerned with surviving, succeeding and resisting education that takes more and more time of their lives. Consequently, leisure time should bring distraction and relaxation. This accounts for social and political engagement as well for which many young people are open and motivated – if it is compatible with their busy schedules and their vital need of fun.
The next steps of fieldwork will follow these traces in order to understand what participation means to young people and under what conditions becomes meaningful for them – individually and collectively. This will be achieved by reconstructing participatory group activities by ethnographic case studies as well as participation biographies of individual young people involved in these practices. Further, the participatory action research with young people evolving from these case studies will allow young people to be listened and visible directly.
In terms of societal impact and implications, we expect that PARTISPACE contributes to qualifying the picture of and discourse on young people’s participation in society. Especially, we expect to reconstruct processes through which issues and activities of groups and individuals overcome the threshold from ‘normal’ leisure activities to getting a wider visibility, recognition – and thus also self-awareness of participating in the public. The potential benefit of this knowledge most of all will concern how adults, institutions, policy makers and/or pedagogical professionals such as teachers, youth and social workers communicate with young people on what they do, want and need – whether this is in formal settings such as school, training or youth councils, non-formal settings such as youth work or associations or informal settings such as public places in the neighbourhood. The project will develop different ways of disseminating these findings and of multiplying the findings of young people’s own research processes.

Related information

Follow us on: RSS Facebook Twitter YouTube Managed by the EU Publications Office Top