Transformative participation in the lifeworlds of marginalised youth: learning for change

Mette Bladt, Barry Percy-Smith

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Transformative participation in the lifeworlds of marginalised youth: learning for change Mette Bladt and Barry Percy-​Smith This chapter contributes to discourses of youth participation by developing understanding about which forms of participation might make a difference for marginalised young people living in the context of structural inequality. The chapter critically reflects on some of the complexities and limitations currently at play in relation to enhancing the participation of marginalised young people and sets out key elements of a more critical epistemological framework. Drawing on youth participatory action research (YPAR) and critical utopian action research (CUAR), the chapter makes the case for a transformational learning approach to participation that involves learning and change at both an individual level and professional level in interventions with marginalised young people. The chapter is supported by case-​ study empirical material focusing on one project developed in collaboration with young people engaged in criminal and violent activities in Denmark. This case study provides an opportunity to reflect on the challenges and possibilities of using ‘alternative’, transformative, action-​ based interpretations of youth participation and empowerment involving social learning rooted in professional encounters with young people’s lifeworlds. Key findings • Conventional, formalised approaches and interpretations of youth participation are falling short in terms of efficacy and accountability of policy and professional-​ led responses to youth marginalisation and inequality. • Participatory action research offers an alternative possibility for transformative work rooted in the everyday lived realities of marginalised young people rather than professional agendas based on normative assumptions of youth. Young People’s Participation 276 • Reconstructing interventions using YPAR and CUAR reframes professional relationships with young people in ways that redress power imbalances and engender co-​ inquiry and mutual reciprocity in relationships of respect. Participation of marginalised youth: contesting orthodoxies and assumptions Austerity across Europe in the past decade has exacerbated the plight of large sections of the youth population already experiencing marginalisation and exclusion at the edge of society (Blackman and Rogers, 2017; Davies, 2019). In Europe, the current numbers of young people in the Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET) category range from 7% to 24%.1 At the same time, in the context of post-​ austerity, inequality has given rise to higher levels of crime, homelessness, poverty and mental health problems for young people in Europe (Horton, 2016) and decreasing levels of participation in education and the labour market (Andersen et al, 2017). As a consequence, at the European level there have been mounting concerns about how to enhance social, economic and political participation of young people reflected in, for example, European Commission funding priorities2 research on youth representation and participation in democratic life (Cammaerts et al, 2013), and the forthcoming European Union Youth Strategy (2019–​ 27); with an explicit commitment to adopt inclusive approaches towards youth participation. At the same time, the likelihood of the necessary policy commitment and reinvestment in social infrastructure to address fundamental inequalities appears somewhat distant, raising questions not only about political accountability, but also about what forms of participation (in decision-​ making and change processes) are meaningful and effective in response to youth marginalisation. It is important to highlight the coexistence of two separate, but interrelated, interpretations of youth participation. The first considers the influence of young people in decision-​ making and change processes (Thomas, 2007). This is commonly taken to involve young people having a voice or being consulted about their views, needs and experiences to inform decisions made by professionals. However, increasing concerns about the limitations of voice in bringing about some kind of impact or change has given rise to an appreciation of the value of deeper processes of interactive engagement and joint learning that occur with co-​ production (Tisdall, 2013) involving dialogue and co-​ inquiry (Percy-​ Smith et al, 2019). More recently, the youth Transformative participation 277 participation field has witnessed developments in understanding the significance of youth-​ led initiatives and manifestations of young people’s own agency and activism as actors of change in the context of their own everyday lives (Kalio and Hakli, 2013; Caraballo et al, 2017). However, while these forms of participation are appropriate for responding to public issues, they are arguably less conducive to responding to issues concerning young people’s own personal experiential lifeworlds. What is significant, however, is the shift towards a recognition of the agency and role of young people as actors of change. The second keyway participation is understood in terms of young people’s actual engagement in everyday social processes such as benefitting...
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationYoung people's participation
Subtitle of host publicationRevisiting youth and inequalities in Europe
EditorsMaria Bruselius-Jensen, Ilaria Pitti, E. Kay M. Tisdall
PublisherPolicy Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781447345442
ISBN (Print)9781447345411, 9781447345435
Publication statusPublished - 29 Mar 2021


Dive into the research topics of 'Transformative participation in the lifeworlds of marginalised youth: learning for change'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this