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Author Topic: Participation in Local Government: Which Young People Are Included / Excluded?  (Read 3819 times)
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« on: July 07 2007 »

by Karen Nairn, Judith Sligo, Claire Freeman

In this article from the journal Children, Youth and Environment, Vol. 16(2), 2006, the authors analyse recent youth participation in local governments in New Zealand. They state that international and national imperatives have prompted local government authorities to find ways to consult children and young people. Their analysis of the workings of selected participation initiatives in one urban and one rural setting in New Zealand examines youth inclusion issues. It argues that young people’s inclusion in local government processes depended on adult organisers’ perceptions of who should be “targeted.”

In first revisiting the case for youth participation, the authors review theory including that of young people’s participation with regard to human rights and citizenship. In seeking explanations for why young people are often not taken seriously and how this in turn may lead to young people's reluctance to participate in public life, they cite the assertion of some that rights and responsibilities are linked. However, they suggest that it is possible for young people to have rights, and that responsibilities might follow. "Young people’s reluctance to participate in public life is linked to their lack of rights (to vote, to socialize where they want to, and to feel valued, to name a few)." They also cite literature that examines "space and place" in looking at whether young people can be ensured meaningful pastimes and can find physical places to occupy in their new spatial freedom beyond the playground, and to what extent there is autonomy or surveillance. The authors conclude that inclusion and exclusion occurs via local government processes and also in actual physical spaces, for example, where young people are excluded from particular adult spaces.

The authors argue that inclusion, in this study, depended on which groups of young people the adults in local government deemed important to include and, by default, which young people would therefore be excluded, resulting in polarisation. They show how two “types” of young people, “achievers,” who are considered future leaders, and “troublemakers,” whom the local government would like to "meaningfully occupy with particular types of participation," were often “targeted.”

They find that if "local government... focuses only on those young people from opposite ends of the continuum, ...they are reproducing a polarized representation of young people and excluding the participation of “ordinary” young people..." They describe the missing representation as “the excluded middle.” They also note that recruitment of diverse youth can be negated "if some of these participants experience local government spaces and practices as adultist, white and/or middle-class..."

In their conclusions, the authors offer strategies from an ex-youth councillor who suggests that young people’s involvement in governance works best if there is flexibility in terms of how they can be involved, if they have some control over the structure of that involvement, and if there is a critical mass in order to avoid the problem of a few young people “representing” all young people.

Source: The Communication Initiative / The Drum Beat - Issue 402
http://www.comminit.com/strategicthinking/st2007/thinking-2234.html
(where you can download this article in PDF format).

Contact:
Dr. Karen Nairn
College of Education
Te Kura Akau Taitoka, Office for Postgraduate Studies & Research Development
University of Otago
New Zealand
karen.nairn@otago.ac.nz
University of Otago, New Zealand
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