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Young people’s perceptions of power and influence as a basis for understanding contemporary citizenship
journal contributionposted on 2018-01-01, 00:00 authored by L Walsh, Ros BlackRos Black, H Prosser
Persistent simplistic binary discourses of young people’s citizenship portray them either as civically deficit and disengaged citizens or the creators of new democratic modes and approaches. This paper draws on field research with two groups of young people in Australia to better recognise the nuance of young people’s experiences of citizenship, power and influence. The study investigated the extent to which different groups of young people believe that they have the power to influence society; the ways in which they seek this influence; the current barriers to their influence; and what would enable them to have greater influence. Our analysis in this paper draws on Lukes’ concepts of power [2005. Power: A Radical View. 2nd ed. London: Palgrave Macmillan] and Arvanitakis’ framework of citizenship engagement and empowerment [in Arvanitakis, J., and E. Sidoti. 2011. “The Politics of Change: Where to for Young People and Politics.” In Their Own Hands: Can Young People Change Australia?, edited by L. Walsh and R. Black, 11–20. Melbourne: ACER Press], but also builds on an emerging scholarship concerned with the geographic dimensions of young people’s citizenship engagement and action, as well as with the affective, relational and temporal dimensions of this engagement and action. Our findings suggest that power works in different ways to both constrain and liberate young people as citizens – sometimes at the same time. The paper concludes with an argument for the continuing need to understand young people’s lived and located experiences of engagement, power and influence in more nuanced and sophisticated ways. This includes reframing the discussion about young people’s experiences in terms of the nature of their democratic engagement and action rather than simply their citizenship.