Participation biographies: meaning-making, identity-work and the self

Grainne McMahon, Susanne Liljeholm Hansson, Larissa von Schwanenflügel, Jessica Lütgens, Marta Ilardo

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter explores a sample of biographies in detail in order to understand young people’s meaning-making and identity-work in their participation biographies. The analysis of the biographies is based on the idea that a biography is a subjective construction of a life story, and an ongoing and changing identity process that over time links the past, present and future in terms of subjective meaning and continuity. Participation biographies (Schwanenflügel, 2015) refer to the accumulation of subjectively relevant experiences of self-determination and recognition. In analytical terms, this implies considering the sequence of events in young people’s lives, the ways in which young people self-present and frame their narratives, contextually and discursively, and their telling of their interaction with the community, the public, and other participative spaces. Participation biographies, then, can be conceptualised, firstly as a series of key moments, from a young person’s perspective, and secondly as a biography of participation that can be reconstructed.

The chapter focuses on individual narrative constructions and reconstructions and their impact upon participation, and considers young people’s biographical meaning-making and identity-work as told within their narrative constructions. In doing so, the construction of meaning-making and identity-work of participation in young people’s life-stories is addressed through two questions. First,  what biographical experiences and orientations are expressed through and related to engaging in participatory activities? And second, how do participatory activities become subjectively meaningful in young people’s lives?  
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationYoung People and the Struggle for Participation
Subtitle of host publicationContested Practices, Power and Pedagogies in Public Spaces
EditorsAndreas Walther, Janet Batsleer, Patricia Loncle, Axel Pohl
Place of PublicationAbingdon
PublisherRoutledge, Taylor & Francis Group
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9780429432095
ISBN (Print)9781138362420
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jul 2019

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    McMahon, G., Liljeholm Hansson, S., von Schwanenflügel, L., Lütgens, J., & Ilardo, M. (2019). Participation biographies: meaning-making, identity-work and the self. In A. Walther, J. Batsleer, P. Loncle, & A. Pohl (Eds.), Young People and the Struggle for Participation: Contested Practices, Power and Pedagogies in Public Spaces (1 ed., pp. 161-175). Abingdon: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.