Civic youth work

Any kind of activity undertaken with others in relation to an issue of public interest or concern can be considered political activity – for example, getting together with others to set up a food bank for families who are struggling financially, or joining with others to respond to changes in a public service, such as, the closure of a hospital. When we do something like this we are not only being political, we are also acting out our citizenship. This reflects an understanding of citizenship that goes far beyond the limited notion of having a passport or voting in elections. When applied to youth work, these ideas build further on the perspective that sees young people in terms of their capacity. Rather than being seen as people who will attain full citizenship once they are old enough to vote or have acquired certain kinds of knowledge, young people are interpreted as ‘citizens now.’ Civic youth work is a practice that has emerged as a result of this interpretation of citizenship and of seeing young people’s capacity to be initiators and agents of social change. In contrast to a purely skills-based approach to citizenship, civic youth work draws on the concept of ‘civic literacy.’ This encourages young people’s learning on what it means to be democratic and to live democratically – and to learn by doing through addressing common problems in collaboration with others. Civic youth work could be described as a political approach to youth work. It challenges accepted social norms and asks questions – such as, ‘What is normal’, and ‘Who decides?’ Civic youth work also supports young people to analyse power relationships and challenge power dynamics, particularly in situations where they feel disempowered. Civic youth work recognises the importance of its underlying values – particularly fairness, diversity and democracy.

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