Skip to main content

Youth - actor of social change

Final Report Summary - UP2YOUTH (Youth - actor of social change)

The UP2YOUTH project aimed to understand more deeply the ambivalences and dynamics of young people's agency in the context of social change. The goal was to document young people's choices for actions or non-actions which are contextualised with regard to social inequality and disadvantage, uncertainty and precariousness. UP2YOUTH followed a double objective:
- Improving the theoretical understanding of young people's agency: What does agency mean, how does it evolve? How is it related to structural factors on the one side and subjective factors on the other? What is the impact of social change on young people's choices; and does young people's agency influence social change; and if so how?
- Exploring the conditions of policies aimed at empowering young people's agency in terms of providing them with power and resources to make reflexive choices, allowing for reconciling subjective interest and societal demands; while also contributing to social integration.

UP2YOUTH has not been concerned with collecting its own empirical data but - funded as a coordinated action - with integrating existing youth research across Europe.

The objective of improving the understanding of young people's agency under conditions of social change has been both broad enough to include a variety of sub-topics - which themselves are on the agenda while being still under-researched - and in coincidence with current debates in youth research. The key element of UP2YOUTH have been three thematic working groups related to the three sub-topics in which five or six research partners were involved in collecting and re-analysing existing research. In a first phase, working groups collected studies and empirical findings from their own countries related to the topics and focussing on the areas of individualisation, culture and learning, while also taking recent policy developments into consideration. The interim phase was concerned with analysing implications of the draft thematic reports for the understanding and conceptualising of young people's agency. The second phase of the working group processes started with selecting a series of key issues emerging from the draft thematic report which were analysed more in depth. Here, the groups took different approaches such as undertaking small local case studies or elaborating on particular figurations.

In the project analysis plenty of evidence for contributions of young people's agency in social change was found. Networks of young parents sharing child care or transport of children, migrant networks and 're-ethnicised' sub-cultures as well as global networks of political activists connected through the internet or futile network evolving from and disappearing in the context of riots do change social structure. Through the growing distance and discrepancy between young people's lives and societal institutions, their coping strategies change the meanings of key assets of social integration - family, work, citizenship - inasmuch as in their striving for social integration (or better, a good life which depends on social recognition) they have to come to (their) terms with these societal issues.

Young people cope and shape their lives socially - together with their peers and families - and they do so in the public sphere whether in public institutions or through occupying public space by youth cultural activities. This means they express needs and interest towards the wider community and / or society claiming. It is therefore suggested to interpret young people's choices and actions not as non-participation but as a sign of a changing meaning of citizenship and participation as regards both forms and content. Transitions to work of young people with an ethnic minority or migration background, throughout this report have been conceived as one aspect of protracted transitions to adulthood. Work as the central mode of social integration in modern societies has changed considerably in European societies. The flexibilisation of labour markets, the rise of precarious work especially among young people and the higher share of young people among the unemployed render the transition to work more uncertain. These changes provide the historical frame especially for the young descendants of labour migrants. Individual agency actually contributes to social integration and thus to social change - not only (actually in very few cases) intentionally as a side-effect of personal coping strategies which need to be achieved within and negotiated or fought for against existing structures.

Transitions to work of young people with an ethnic minority or migration background have not yet been researched from a biographical perspective where local circumstances are compared between different European countries. The subjective meaning-making between the local and the global givens of the transition systems would shed light into why some policies are more likely to be taken up by local communities are some are not.

UP2YOUTH has been concerned with the obvious mismatch between institutional expectations of how young people should participate and young people's actual activities and priorities. Inasmuch as young people do not feel recognised as individuals policies need to be designed in a way allowing for visibility to make sure that one's subjective needs and interest are not neglected; and - what is as important - to realise that young people are already acting. Their activities are more or less successful due to unequal access to resources; their activities are more or less in line with dominant norms and models of coping. Discrepancies may partly result from lack of competencies and opportunities.

In general, institutions need to be open and reflexive regarding their own role in the process of ethnicisation or 'racialisation' of societal and social conflicts, and of social constellations. Ideally, they provide a flexible space wherein young people's negotiation of social identities and social positioning are kept open. Gender awareness is a critical point in case and the above principles means that both gender-specific approaches and gender-aware mainstream services are required. Addressing young people's activities in the public realm, or directed to a public audience, as potentially participatory implies that any means of dialogue, exchange and understanding exhibits the young people's underlying needs, interest and aspirations as well as offering the potential for altered meanings of participation.

Documents connexes