What we’re reading: youth engagement
Rethinking young people’s political participation and civic engagement in the global South
‘Many times, adolescents are seen as a group that does not have the skills to participate, and if they do, people think we talk nonsense. They do not give us value, and say that to be a citizen one must be 18 years old. But we are doing things now to improve the future and we should be considered as citizens, because we consider ourselves citizens.’ Leyla, regional coordinator for a children and young people’s participation network, aged 17, Peru.
Over the past three decades, a growing interest in youth politics within global development has instigated an evolving debate over the role of adolescents and young people in political processes. In the 1990s, the term ‘youth bulge’ was popularised, anxiously describing the large numbers of underemployed and disaffected young people reaching adulthood in the global South – and presenting a risk to democratic futures. In a move away from this negative framing, more recently young people’s civic and political participation has become seen as key to the pursuit of equitable, peaceful and sustainable global futures.
Yet much of the work around young people’s participation focuses on their engagement with formal politics through a normative and homogenising lens that disregards both the everyday realities of growing up in the global South, and the way that young people’s opportunities for participation are shaped by gender, age, disability, ethnicity, displacement and other inequalities.
An innovative lens for exploring
The forthcoming textbook, Young People in the Global South: Voice, Agency and Citizenship, offers an innovative intersectional lens for exploring and understanding young people’s civic engagement and political participation in lower and middle-income contexts. It interrogates and nuances existing understandings of young people’s ‘citizenship’ in the Global South, and questions anxieties about the future and normative assumptions about what young people need and want in relation to civic engagement and political participation.
Drawing on youth studies of the global South, literature on young people’s ‘everyday politics’, and an intersectional lens on inequality, the book offers a framework to engage with the interlinked temporal, relational and material dimensions of adolescent and young people’s voice, agency and participation. We explore how civic and political engagement is enacted and experienced at different scales, from the interpersonal to the global, as well as how structural inequalities, social norms and attitudes shape the expression of voice, agency and participation by diverse young people in different contexts with unique histories.
The book is organised into five sections, each exploring a different dimension of voice, agency and participation. The first presents methodologies for researching adolescents’ voice and agency; the following three sections in turn examine how agency is conceptualised in relation to citizenship, participation in contexts of inequality and injustice, and voice and participation ‘beyond borders’. A final section explores adolescents’ and young people’s experiences in policy and programming arenas at the local, national and international level, and reflects upon the wider implications for policies and programming. Each section begins with an introduction, which gives a more detailed overview of the issues at hand and outlines how subsequent case studies speak to these. The book also includes illustrative visual materials from participatory research with adolescents and young people and photographs both of and taken by young people. Discussion questions to reflect on are provided at the end of each section of the book, making this an ideal resource for postgraduate and mid-level professional courses in international development, citizenship studies, human rights, and research methods.
Voices of young people
Two of the most striking and novel features of the book are the heterogeneity of contributions, and its centring of adolescent and young people’s voices. The principle of adolescents’ and young people’s right to be heard on issues that affect their lives is at the heart of the way this textbook is organised. Accordingly, each section features several contributions from young people themselves about their own experiences of participation in different spaces, alongside academic case studies presenting evidence from diverse research projects. Attending to the need to understand the experiences of heterogenous young people, contributions explore how age, gender, sexuality, disability, citizenship status and geographical location shape participation and civic engagement. Case studies engage with the experiences of young people across the global South in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. The book is also linked to a podcast series featuring several of the book’s young contributors reflecting on their experiences in more depth in dialogue with academics and practitioners working on issues related to adolescent and youth participation.
It is the ambition that this textbook will not only be accessible and relevant for academics, students and practitioners working in international development, but will also encourage a rethinking of how we conceptualise, research and design policies and programmes in relation to adolescent and young people’s voice, agency, and participation. As one young contributor observes in the book:
‘The whole concept of sustainable development is rooted in balancing the needs of the current and future generations in a way that protects the planet and enhances people’s quality of life, particularly the most marginalised people. Discussing our collective futures without young people around the table is a missed opportunity.’ Pooja Singh, Youth Engagement Officer, Adolescent Girls Investment Plan.