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Summary of PARTISPACE outcomes

There is widespread concern across Europe about the future of democracy, and in particular about young people’s apparent failure to participate, often attributed to lack of motivation or capability. The PARTISPACE project shares the concern, but questions the diagnosis. It starts instead from an assumption that the dominant understanding of youth participation in research, policy and practice is too narrow, often limited to institutionalised forms of participation, and ignores much of what young people do in public space. This bias is related to structures of social inequality, and thus is itself a part of the problem of democracy.

PARTISPACE aims at a rethinking of youth participation by analysing what young people do in public space, what it means to them and to what extent this can be understood as political, civic and social. The research question is: How and where do young people participate, across social milieus and youth cultural scenes? What styles of participation do they prefer and develop – and in what spaces?

The project has undertaken a comparative mixed-method study in 8 cities across Europe: Bologna (IT), Frankfurt (DE), Gothenburg (SE), Eskisehir (TK), Manchester (UK), Plovdiv (BG), Rennes (FR), Zurich (CH). The design included reviews of national youth policies, a secondary analysis of survey data, and a critical discourse analysis of European policy documents. Then, qualitative local studies were conducted consisting of 188 expert interviews, 100 group discussions and 96 biographical interviews with young people as well as 48 ethnographic case studies of formal, non-formal and informal participatory settings. Additionally, 18 participatory action research projects have been conducted by and with young people. Continue reading

Forthcoming Book Publication

Contested Practices, Power and Pedagogies of Young People in Public Spaces: The Struggle for Participation

edited by Andreas Walther, Janet Batsleer, Patricia Loncle and Axel Pohl (Routledge)

The book aims at offering a new perspective towards youth participation. It starts from a critique of a narrow institutionalised interpretation of participation and the exclusion of a majority of young people’s activities in public spaces form what is being recognised as participation. Against this backdrop, it provides empirical analyses and theoretical reflections on young people’s practices in formal, non-formal and informal public spaces. It is based on the research carried out in the framework of the EU-funded project “Spaces and Styles of Participation. Formal, non-formal and informal possibilities of young people’s participation in European cities” (PARTISPACE). The book is expected to be published in late 2019.

Focus on the style analysis

The style thematic group is interested in how styles of participation can be compared across the case studies of youth participation in eight European cities included in PARTISPACE. The notion of style is concerned with the performance of participation or put more simply the ‘how and the what’ of participation. The focus of analysis is primarily at the group level, using a grounded theory approach the group has compared the case studies in terms of repertories of practices, reasons and aims, internal/external relationships and political meaning. Researchers from this thematic group are working towards the second draft of the thematic report, consisting of a state of the art section, which outlines the relationship between style and participation at a conceptual level, followed by four analytical chapters each primarily comparing two case studies.  Researchers from the style thematic group are looking forward to bringing the material together and thinking about what the implications are for how they can understand the relationship between styles and participation, also more broadly, the considerations for policy and practice.

Focus on the space analysis

Since space is at the heart of the PARTISPACE project, the thematic group space has a great amount of empirical data at its disposal. The group is working to develop an analytical framework that contains different concepts useful for a spatial understanding of youth participation.

Reflection springs from two main research questions. The first one focuses on how young people make use of different spaces in the city. This investigation is based on the micro-level and is centered on spatial practices. These are practices related to the appropriation of spaces, places and/or territories in the city by young people. Within this topic, it seems to be relevant to stress also the sensorial aspects of these embodied practices.

The second research question concerns how the spatial practices connect young people to the city. This is a discussion on a more general and abstract level where the group of researchers explores spatial imaginaries, that is how young people imagine or – more specifically – represent their cities including their and other people’s place(s) in urban spaces. They are using examples from all eight cities involved in the project and link them to one another by constructing a ‘topography’ of young people’s participatory practices. ​

Focus on the biographical analysis

Young European citizens are at the heart of a ‘crisis of representative democracy’ and, according to recent accounts, distrusting of political systems, institutions, and social elites (e.g. Newton, 2001; Mishler and Rose, 1997; Seligman, 1997; Kaase, Newton and Scarbrough, 1996). However, it is plausible that this claim arises from an institution-led normative understanding of youth participation and not from an analysis of what young people actively do for themselves, their community and wider society. Against this backdrop, and aiming at a deeper understanding of an individual’s life as a social being part of a larger sociocultural context, a focus on individual biography is essential in order to explore the “told life” (i.e. subjective meaning making with regard to one’s individual life course and the participation experiences embedded within it).

The aim of the biographical analysis is to explore the relationship between biographies and young people’s styles and spaces of participation. The analysis conceives of social and political participation as a crucial element of a young person’s biography and, vice versa, argues that the biography is integral to participation experiences. The analysis, which includes 16 biographies across the eight European cities, is twofold. First, we explore how participation trajectories (careers) emerge and develop differently, why young people decide to engage and for how long, and who (significant others) or what (turning point) contribute/ support this decision and in what way. Second, we explore the ways in which biographical experiences relate to and bring about young people’s participation, 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.