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Youth illegal political involvement in an intergenerational perspective

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - YOUTHBLOCS (Youth illegal political involvement in an intergenerational perspective)

Reporting period: 2016-09-01 to 2018-08-31

"Combining the perspectives of youth studies with that of social movements studies the project Youthblocs has focused its attention on the analysis of young people' involvement in illegal political activities.
Defined in terms of actions and behaviours that aim at influencing different audiences in order to achieve or impede political, social and/or cultural changes by using non-legal means, illegal political activities have been considered as a specific part of the broader cluster of political activities, generally referred to as unconventional political behaviours.
While the youth choice to express political views through illegal modes has been frequently interpreted as one of the many faces of the widely reported ""youth escape"" from politics, Youthblocs has sought to understand these practices as integral part of young people's ways of expressing their interest in politics.
In this perspective, the project has been guided by three main research questions: 1. What are the meanings young people ascribe to their involvement in illegal political activities?;
2. How and to what extent intergenerational relationships between young people and adults influence and shape youth illegal activities?;
3. How and to what extent the local context shapes the motivations and the forms of youth engagement in illegal political activities?"
"The project has contributed to the understanding of illegal political activities and of their adoption by young people (18-30) through the conduction of a multidisciplinary mixed-method research in two different national contexts - Sweden and Italy - selected because of their differences in terms of current socio-demographic and economic conditions, participatory traditions and welfare systems.
The research has adopted an intergenerational perspective of analysis, involving young people and adults in a study aimed at exploring and explaining the meanings and the practices related to this specific way of being engaged.
In particular, the project has focused its attention on youth involvement in building occupation, unauthorised demonstrations, street blockades, vandalism, riots, sabotages, and various forms of civil disobedience. During the time covered by the action, qualitative case studies have been conducted in two cities (one in Italy and one in Sweden) on experiences of youth political activation that have deployed also illegal political actions.
Each case study has been conducted combining biographical interviews with young people, focus groups, participant observation, social network analysis and semi-structured interviews with adults.
The results of the project have been widely and extensively communicated to different audiences, organising and taking part to academic conferences, seminars, workshops and engaging in dissemination activities with the involved groups too.
Results have been published in scientific publications such as the monograph book ""Youth and Unconventional Political Engagement"" (2018, Palgrave McMillan).
The project has addressed a number of theoretical and empirical issues in youth transitions to adulthood, youth involvement in illegal political activities, social movements' strategies of political action and intergenerational relationships.
Deploying a multidisciplinary perspective of analysis and combining insights from different methodological approaches, Youthblocs has gone beyond the traditional analyses on political illegal behaviours, highlighting the complex and articulated role these actions have in contemporary young people's ways of expressing their presence in society. While research to date has often understood young people's adoption of this kind of political behaviours as just a troublesome for society or as a form of transitory rebellion that does not have real political implications, Youthblocs' in-depth approach of analysis has allowed, first of all, to underlined how illegal political actions are often integrated in a broader repertory of engagement and how these practices' goals are more 'constructive' than 'disruptive'.
In most of the cases, young people interpret illegal political actions has a necessary step one has to consider in order to start and foster societal change. Illegal political actions - such as occupation of buildings, riots, street blockades, vandalism, and different forms of civic disobedience - are, in fact, seen an integral part of a broader political strategy of action that can include also very conventional forms of involvement (i.e. standing for election, petitioning, volunteering).
The use of an intergenerational perspective of analysis has allowed to underline how young people and adults co-construct their meaning and practices of participation engaging in mutual processes of socialisation, questioning existing understanding of illegal political actions as temporary political behaviours associated exclusively to the coming-of-age phase. Lastly, the international comparison carried out between two cities in Italy and Sweden has allowed to shed light on the connection between the development and use of certain kinds of political behaviours and the specific conditions of life that young people experience in contemporary Western societies, linking their political action to the economic crisis and the processes of restructuring of welfare state in Europe.
In so doing, the project has contributed not only to problematize existing discourses on younger generations' political disinterest and disengagement, but also to foster a debate on the concepts of 'political radicalisation' and 'unconventional' political participation. Giving voice and visibility to young people and their actions, Youthblocs has gone beyond the 'surface' of these terms showing the potential for participation and societal change that these behaviours can entail.
In terms of societal impact and implications, we expect that Youthblocs contributes to challenge existing discourses on young people's role as political actors in contemporary Western societies, fostering a change in the way adults and institutions understand and deal with young people's more controversial forms of participation.