Generating Authentic Understandings of Participation: Working with Young People
Young people’s right to participate has intensively been the subject of law, policy and practice at supranational, nation state and devolved administrative levels. Although often constructive in nature, the rhetoric of ‘participation’ is largely controlled by adults. As a concept, participation is associated with a number of potentially positive outcomes. However, as research with young people aged between 11-18 years in Swansea, Wales, suggests, significant problems exist concerning the definition and understanding of participation. In this article, what young people said when they were asked to explain what participation meant to them is presented and explored. Critically, through the research, new understandings of participation that pose profound challenges, notably concerning the very nature and operation of participation, were offered. For instance, eschewing traditional concepts, young people revealed that, to them, participation was founded on: understandings of their intention and communication when participating; the importance of relationships; and the reality that participation is located within everyday decision making. Drawing upon research findings, it is argued that young people not only offered better than current understandings of participation, but that what research participants said is transformative and has serious implications, suggesting the need for changes in legislation, policy and practice.
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