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Adolescent Lives: Cross-disciplinary, cross-national and critical perspectives on youth and wellbeing

By UCL Global Youth, on 21 September 2017

A cross-disciplinary conference co-organised by the Centre for Global Youth and the Great Ormond Street Institute for Child Health, University College London.

This one-day conference will take place on 12th December 2017, at the UCL-Institute of Education. The main aim of the event is to bring together researchers from neuro-science, health sciences, and social sciences to examine a common challenge (how do we ensure the wellbeing of adolescents in diverse contexts?) from different disciplinary perspectives.

To facilitate a cross-disciplinary conversation, we are adopting a broad definition of wellbeing, so that it includes not just physical health or mental health, but also social, political and/or economic wellbeing (and the challenges youth face in attaining these types of wellbeing). Many of these different facets of young lives are interlinked, but their connections are not necessarily fully understood.

In addition to exploring different dimensions of wellbeing, we will also highlight how the risks to adolescent wellbeing vary in different contents and for different sub-samples of youth. ‘Risk’ means very different things for Middle Class girls in the Global North, young men in gangs, and young people in developing or conflict-ridden societies. This event will thus shed light on the diversity of risks, but we also seek to identify any common concerns that can help us to work across disciplines and cases.

Call for papers: If you would like to present a paper at this event, please send a short abstract (250 words) to Avril Keating (a.keating@ucl.ac.uk) by 5th October 2017. (Please also include your name, title, institutional affiliation, and email address in your attachment).

We are particularly interested in hearing from scholars that are researching the follow topics:

– Adolescent physical and mental health

– The impact of digital technologies/ social media

– Youth politics in times of division and conflict

– The challenges of researching youth wellbeing

– Youth attitudes towards their future wellbeing

– Gender and wellbeing

Registration: This event is free and open to all, but spaces are limited and pre-registration is required. To register, simply RSVP via Eventbrite by 24th November 2017.

To find out more, contact Dr Avril Keating (a.keating@ucl.ac.uk), subscribe to the CGY mailing list, or follow us on Twitter, @uclglobalyouth.

This event is sponsored by UCL Grand Challenges Programme (Human Wellbeing strand), the Department of Education, Practice and Society and Great Ormond Street Institute for Child Health.

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Comparing youth attitudes towards politics in Britain and Pakistan: Some initial reflections

By UCL Global Youth, on 19 September 2017

Posted by Dr. Laila Kadiwal, Research Associate at the Centre for Global Youth

Over the past few years, I have conducted a range of in-depth interviews with young people in Britain and Pakistan [1]. Youth attitudes towards politics was one of the key issues that these interviews touched upon, and over the summer, I have been reflecting upon the similarities and differences in their attitudes and experiences. This question is particularly interesting at this juncture as both countries are undergoing extraordinary political changes at the moment. In the UK, the youth vote has become significant in the context of older population predominantly choosing to leave the European Union. And in Pakistan, where nearly 64% of the population is below the age of 29, youth engagement is seen as significant to democracy in the country.

In this blog post, I will discuss two initial observations. These broad observations are likely to change as I explore the data in more depth to understand the nuances and variations in youth attitudes to politics. In Britain and Pakistan, the media have tended to depict Pakistani youth as apolitical and pessimistic. However, I will argue that young people in both countries are concerned citizens raising some of the key politically-critical issues.

Young people in both countries feel somewhat frustrated with politics

Across the spectrum of gender, ethnic and class affiliations, young people in my sample from both the countries see themselves as somewhat unrepresented and disheartened and frustrated with politics.

A majority of young British people in my sample preferred the Labour party over any other political party, but not without skepticism and issues with the broader nature of politics itself. For instance, a 19-year-old male Labour voter who identified himself as working class and from a mixed background studying at a university told me ‘I don’t think any party caters to my ideology and I think we need to have a radical overview of how the system works before they can actually represent us.’

Some of these sentiments resonated with the ‘anti-politics’ discourse (Clarke et al. 2016) that seeks to bridge left and right and rejects current politics and parties. Many British youth in my sample felt less inclined to vote for varied reasons: they were not sure what politicians were promising them, they did not believe in politicians, or politics was not a significant aspect of their lives. This finds an echo in recent studies (e.g. Howker and Malik 2010; BSA, 2017; Pearce 2015) that suggest that young people believe that politicians do not address the issues which matter to them. The State of the Nation 2015 report highlights that young people care about different issues to those of the population as a whole. They ranked the NHS, unemployment, education, immigration and living standards as their top five key issues in the survey but did not feel that any political parties satisfactorily addressed these. Howker and Malik (2010) describe these young people as a ‘jilted generation’ that feels uncertain in terms of jobs security, affordable housing and stable future but does not believe that the political elites are listening to them.

Similar to the young people I spoke to in the UK, in Pakistan, youth found themselves disempowered in terms of representing themselves, holding the government accountable, and seeking justice. The participants raised issues around corruption, inequality and falling development indicators. They worried about inequality, inflation, inefficient public services and declining development indicators. They felt concerned about the law and order, road safety, corruption, nepotism, and crime, but the police and judiciary were perceived as serving politicians and bureaucrats. They felt aggrieved by inequitable access to resources and inequitable opportunities for development.

The key difference between the youth in the UK and those in Pakistan seemed to me the different degrees of hope and confidence about their future in their respective countries. Many young Pakistani felt hopeless and insecure and they feared about their and their families’ future due the falling development indicators, violence and the state of affairs in politics, whereas, most of the British young people in my sample group seemed to demonstrate a sense of optimism and hope that they lived in a developed country that stood among the top economies in the world and therefore, things will not be as ‘apocalyptic’ for them.

Young people are divided in their attitudes towards diversity

Another key political issue in both countries is the complexity of youth attitudes to the ‘other’. In Pakistan, politics is deeply intertwined with people’s ethnolinguistic identities. This is further exacerbated by the ideology of Pakistan as articulated in educational curricula that constructs an exclusivist and a narrow notion of who an ideal citizen is. Scholars and activists have argued that the national ideology of Pakistan underplays the religious and ethnic diversity of the nation; twists and omits important historical details (Aziz 2004); and glorifies militarisation and war (Hoodbhoy and Nayyar 1985). It presents India, Hindu, and British people as enemies of Islam (Nayyar and Salim 2002).

Historically, Britain has also faced difficulties in embracing diversity. In the past, the term ‘diversity’ carried a negative meaning in English from the late 15th century, as ‘being contrary to what is agreeable or right; perversity, evil’. In the 1650s, diversity also signified dissidence, derived from the Latin dissidentia. It is only in the late 20th century the term ‘diversity’ has acquired a positive connotation in policy discourse and the benefits have started to be embraced (Kadiwal, 2014). That said, values such as tolerance continue to be tested on issues involving gender and sexuality, multiculturalism and immigration in the UK. The ideology of the fundamental British values also continues to be controversial.

In my research, young people were not passive recipients of socially divisive political narratives; rather, they actively responded to diversity in light of their everyday life in Britain and Pakistan, and in reaction to the prevailing socio-political situations of their countries. Factors such as their socio-economic status, their education, and particularly the levels of issues affecting their local communities, in which they were located, influenced their perceptions of diversity.

Nearly all young Pakistani felt concerned about ethnolinguistic based politics and considered it as the cause of conflict. They felt aggrieved with the (mis)use of ethnic and religious differences to political ends and believed that the conflict among the political parties along ethnic and sectarian lines was one of the key barriers to their unity and development. Yet, young Pakistani appeared to relate to the questions of diversity differently in different contexts, and with different effects. Some of the most exclusivist tendencies in the sample group were demonstrated by male students in a conflict-affected and deprived area. Others, however, constructed non-Muslims as citizens with equal rights. Thus, young Pakistani constructed their relationship with the ‘other’ in multiple and contradictory ways.

Similarly, young British people were divided in their attitudes towards diversity and immigration in Britain. Some young British detested the political discourse of identity and immigration as being divisive. They argued in favour of a more open, mobile and outward looking society and appreciated diversity positively as an asset to the British economic and cultural life, whereas some young people said that their lives revolved around their home and their region and they did not wish to necessarily embrace the ‘other’.

Goodhart (2017) divides these opposite tendencies into ‘anywheres’ and ‘somewheres’. ‘Anywheres’ represent degree-educated and geographically mobile who embrace new people and experiences; in contrast, ‘somewheres’ are rooted in their home region and find the rapid change that mobility or migration overwhelming. It has been argued that this polarization is between those economically benefiting from globalisation and those marginalized from the benefits of globalization. Some have also argued that people embrace the ‘open’ versus the ‘closed’ outlooks in life; openness is about embracing an open economy and tolerant society, while closedness involved those wanting to keep competition and change at bay (Harding 2017). In my interviews, some young British people from a mixed background found themselves at the receiving end of what they perceived as racism, while, other young British believed that people from other cultures and countries were adversely affecting their chances for employment, housing, and education and jeopardising their safety, identity and their ways of life.

These discussions revealed young people in both countries as concerned citizens raising some of the key politically-critical issues. This contrasts with perceptions of politically apathetic youth in both countries and rather point to larger problems with political systems in both the countries. Across the spectrum of gender, ethnic, national and class affiliations, I saw young people asking vital questions that affected their lives directly but feeling to some extent unrepresented in politics. Young people actively engaged with political narratives in their micro-contexts of everyday lives and they actively responded to socio-cultural and economic diversity in light of their everyday life in Britain and Pakistan, but their reactions were not static, decontextualized or homogeneous. It was not always possible to neatly straightjacket young people in one position. Thus, I would recommend that as researchers we need a fluid, dynamic, and open theoretical framework to analyze young people’s attitudes towards politics.


[1] My observations here are based on my research with young people in these two states. In 2017, I interviewed 13 young people (six females and seven males) between the ages of 15 to 24 on their responses to Brexit and the EU Referendum in a South-Eastern city of England. Eight participants identified themselves as the White British and five hailed from a range of mixed backgrounds. Prior to this, in 2015, I had interviewed 62 (32 females and 30 male) young people between 14 to 29 years in a Southern megacity of Pakistan on their perceptions of peace, education and conflict. In both the countries, youth participants hailed from a spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds (from marginalised to politically active; from out of school to elite and highly educated). A qualitative research approach was used, including semi-structured interviews and focus group discussion.

Additional References

Ali, Mubarak. 2002. “History, Ideology and Curriculum.” Economic and Political Weekly 37 (44/45). Economic and Political Weekly: 4530–31.
Aziz, K. K. 2004. The Murder of History: A Critique of History Textbooks Used in Pakistan. Lahore: Vanguard Books.
BC. 2013. “Next Generation Goes to Ballot.” Islamabad: British Council.
CCE. 2007. “Civic Health of Pakistani Youth: Study of Voice, Volunteering and Voting among Young People.” Islamabad: Centre for Civic Education Pakistan.
Hoodbhoy, P.A., and A.K. Nayyar. 1985. “Rewriting the History of Pakistan:” In Islam, Politics and the State: The Pakistan Experience, edited by A. Khan. London: Zed Books.
JI. 2013. Apolitical or Depoliticised? Pakistan’s Youth and Politics: A Historical Analysis of Youth Participation in Pakistan Politics. Jinnah Institute.
Nayyar, A. H., and Ahmad Salim, eds. 2002. The Subtle Subversion: The State of Curricula and Textbooks in Pakistan. Islamabad: Sustainable Development Policy Institute. http://unesco.org.pk/education/teachereducation/reports/rp22.pdf.

Teaching young citizens about politics: Lessons from a political education workshop with primary school students

By UCL Global Youth, on 18 August 2017

A guest blog from Rosie Beacon, the Centre for Global Youth intern

I found myself increasingly frustrated during the EU referendum campaign and the aftermath to see my friends and peers making very opinionated and quite inflammatory statements, often using information that was factually incorrect or lacking context. I always wondered if they’d been taught always politics at school whether they might think differently, or maybe less harshly. To explore this theory, in October of last year I started a project called Politeach and, along with a team of fellow volunteers, designed an interactive political education workshop for Key Stage 2 pupils. I was unsure how to go about doing this, but thankfully, UCL Volunteering Services Unit (VSU) gave me the tools to help Politeach to come to life.

Why did I feel the need to actively involve myself in political education?

I’ve been dissatisfied with the political education system since I left school, and I think it will always be a pressing issue for numerous reasons. Firstly, it is difficult to reconcile voter apathy with such low levels of political literacy. Secondly, social media has become the best worst nightmare for politics. While it can be a world of opportunity for engaging new audiences, it can also influence people into thinking a certain way when they’re not equipped to challenge it, making it just as much of a liability as an opportunity. And lastly, politics can be simplified to an easily digestible level that not only encourages pupils to understand political mechanisms but also stimulates debate and reasoning skills, which is an indispensable skill in any discipline, not just politics. It is these reasons that inspired me to get stuck into political education myself.

What did Politeach involve?

Politeach is a two-hour workshop designed for Key Stage 2 pupils. It is role-play based and entirely hypothetical so there is no association to real-life political parties, which, we believe, gives the students a sense of agency over their decisions whilst simultaneously learning about how the government works.

The workshop is based around three main activities:

  1. Party selection, Election of Party leaders and Election of Government
    The students are organised into small groups of 10, which are then further sub-divided into an Orange Party and a Blue Party. Each party then chooses a party leader, writes a manifesto (we give them a list of policy options and they choose which options they would like) and a mini election speech. This activity culminates in a general election to decide a government.
  2. House of Commons debate
    After some preparation time, the new government and the opposition party then debate their party platforms.
  3. Referendum
    The entire class comes together for this section, which is usually done outside. The entire workshop is orchestrated so that every party has one manifesto pledge that is the same (e.g. every Orange Party has ‘Longer break times instead of going home early’ and every Blue Party has ‘Going home early instead of longer break times’. We close the debate section at an inconclusive point to try and demonstrate how political decisions can be taken to a referendum when politicians cannot decide. When outside, volunteer teachers hold up signs saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and the pupils have to run to the side they agree with.

Design and delivery: the obstacles

While Politeach was a very successful initiative, it was not without obstacles. When attempting an education initiative in particular, it is imperative to do as much planning as possible. That said, Politeach was constantly changing, and even during the workshop we were adding things in here and there, in addition to meticulous planning leading up to the delivery.

With a workshop structure in particular it is of utmost importance to be flexible. This is applicable at all stages of planning. We actually started out Politeach planning to do 8-10 lessons in one school over a term, an idea I initially preferred because I thought it then seemed like politics was a proper lesson and not an extra-curricular activity. However, we soon realised this was borderline impossible; schools do not have the time or resources to delegate this sort of time. Once we adjusted to a workshop design, the actual delivery also required flexibility. Since the main benefit of a workshop is that you arrive, you teach, you leave, this means that you end up in a variety of different environments and have to shape the workshop accordingly to that school. This involves taking into account what the general attainment is at that school, how much politics is taught internally, the class size, the classroom size and how receptive the pupils are.

Moreover, it was my worst fear to have a bunch of disenchanted students and an uncomfortable on-looking teacher during the workshop. This is partially why the workshop is so role-play based, to give the pupils a sense of responsibility instead of being passive observers to a twenty slide PowerPoint on elections. The last thing we wanted was for us to be talking at the students for two hours. If I’m completely honest, I’d rather the pupils not learn a huge amount about the granular details of the political structure and instead, associate politics as something interesting and stimulating which they can play an active role in. So the workshop has a basic structure of replicating the political process, but it also exists to show that politics is not boring, it’s not just for adults, and is relatively easy to get engaged in because the fundamental structure of politics is debating over something you believe in, which you can practice at almost any age.

An additional factor to take into account when teaching political education in particular, is non-partisan teaching. By nature, the workshop is inherently non-partisan because the parties and manifesto options are completely hypothetical and there is very little room for political indoctrination. However, politics is characterised by subjectivity and it should not be underestimated how often the notion of ‘all political education is a form of indoctrination’ is entertained. In practice, particularly with Politeach, it’s very difficult to even imply some sort of party association as there is no way it could be brought in in relation to the content of the workshop. With this said, the volunteers might not say something biased but the pupils certainly can. We were shocked at how much some students knew in regards to party politics. In this situation we had to think of different ways of dealing with political opinions, without expressing our own political view, but still encouraging them and other students to deconstruct a judgement and try and think of a counter-argument.

What is the future for Politeach?

I find it bizarre that the main source of political education for this generation comes from their own research, despite huge decisions like Brexit and the day-to-day decisions made in the government affecting them just as much as anyone else. Politics in its most fundamental form can be quite simple to teach and it can be exciting and enjoyable too. Particularly in the current political climate, pupils are even more receptive and eager to understand what is actually going on while buzzwords of Brexit, single market, immigration, and the NHS are constantly thrown around. Politeach will continue to run next year as a student-led project in the VSU, hopefully going into more schools. However, in an ideal world, Politeach should not be necessary because of a long term, integrated political education system in the main curriculum. Until then however, I hope Politeach, other social enterprises and pressure groups of a similar orientation fill the gaps that the current education system fails to provide.

Jeremy Corbyn the trend or Jeremy Corbyn the politician: Thoughts on the General Election

By UCL Global Youth, on 19 July 2017

A guest blog from Rosie Beacon, the Centre for Global Youth intern

As a politically engaged university student, I have mixed feelings about the general election. In crude terms, the youth voted Labour, the older generations voted Tory. Why? It would be unwise to reduce the exceptional voter turnout to the tuition fees extravaganza. What else could it have been? It is slightly more likely that the youth were more inclined to voting Labour, but what was it that actually pushed them to get up and go to the polling station this time?

Party preferences in the 2017 UK general election by age

Party preferences in the 2017 UK general election by age

It is no secret that social media has become a political campaigning vehicle in its own right. The growth of micro-targeting in electoral campaigns is unprecedented; Labour, in particular, invested heavily in this through ‘Promote’, their own social media micro-targeting wing. Momentum also perfected social outreach through contemporary platforms such as Facebook.

While this was certainly effective, an immense tool which no political party can attempt to control but only to influence, is ‘organic’ social media activity. By organic social media activity, I mean the ways in which people share political material on social media because they are interested in or entertained by the material, not because they have been asked or paid to do so. The term ‘political material’ is now increasingly flexible due to the way that social media has casualised politics, so that ‘organic sharing’ now includes a plethora of political news – it can be funny, it can be informative, it can be incredibly opinionated, or a combination of all of the above.

From my personal experience, it wasn’t the micro-targeting revolution that helped Labour capture the attention of the youth. It was memes, videos, photos, Facebook statuses, and tweets. Jeremy Corbyn was presented on social media as a trend, not a politician. I personally didn’t vote Labour, but I can certainly see why its enticing. Jeremy Corbyn seems like a cool guy and has a cat who features in his Snapchat stories. How likely is it that I know this from reading The Guardian? The fact that he managed to transcend politics and present himself as a person that just happened to be a politician (with ‘hopeful’ policies) is what made him so appealing – a persona he determined for himself and with the help of spin doctors no doubt, but a persona that captured the beady eyes of the social media generation who thrived off it.

The Social Media Generation

Thus the 2017 general election – and the EU referendum for that matter – symbolise a far more endemic trend in the future of youth politics; the social media generation. The formative years of this generation have been characterised by myspace, Bebo, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Snapchat – sources of socialising but also immediate sources of information.

Would being part of this ‘information generation’ necessarily affect political literacy? Not completely, but social media has certainly provided an innovative platform for those who were already engaged with politics, and it also allows for those that were not necessarily interested to follow it to varying degrees. Whether you want to follow it or not, especially during the general election, it’s highly likely you saw something to do with politics on your timeline once a day. Its mere appearance on our news feeds equates politics and current affairs with off-the-cuff events happening among your friends, not only making it seem casual but this subtly and incrementally builds up an awareness of what’s going on in the seemingly distant world of politics.

But then, on the other hand, couldn’t you just ignore political news if it appears on your timeline? Not everyone follows the Independent and the Times? Crucially, social media has not only created a contemporary platform for politics, but it has fundamentally altered the face of it. It has turned politics into something you wouldn’t necessarily want to scroll past. Politics on social media can be incredibly personal but it can also be lighthearted, humorous and very witty. This could mean anything from reading your friend’s Facebook status debate disputing how corporation tax should be managed or more likely, one of your other friends sharing a video compilation of Joe Biden telling Barack Obama how much he adores him.

Two political memes that have gone viral in the US and the UK

Biden memeTheresa May meme

The latter demonstrates how social media has made politics casual and easily digestible, and has exacerbated the trend for ‘personality politics’, which, based on my peer group, Jeremy Corbyn hugely benefitted from. Particularly in the context of the 2017 general election, this is evident in the unforgettable wheat fields trend with Theresa May, heightening her representation as the ‘Maybot’, and further alienating younger voters from someone who looks like just another right wing politician who doesn’t quite ‘get’ the youth. This trend in particular shouldn’t be underestimated – it was massive because ultimately it’s funny and easy to find funny, meaning new audiences could engage with this trend, and thus politics, in a simple way. Social media also allowed for nostalgic photos to be shared of Jeremy Corbyn protesting in the 80s and for videos with Stormzy to become viral, furthering his persona as a man who doesn’t just know the people, he’s another one of the people.

Moreover, it is not just viral videos and memes that build up a political awareness among young people. As we start to make progress with our careers, we are starting to recognise our dependence on political decisions. Now, when young people appreciate how politics affects their adult lives, there is a platform in which they can voice their opinions through status updates and comments on others’ status – a new mechanism of debating and reasoning with other political views that hasn’t always existed. All of these trends are also inevitably heightened against a background of drastic political upheavals, such as Brexit and Trump’s election, which saw young people turning to social media sites as a way of voicing their opinions on these dramatic events.

Is social media a political opportunity or political danger?  

In many ways, the general election 2017 crystallized the relationship between social media and politics that has been building for some time. Social media is ultimately invasive (which is why we love it) but this means political personalities are now more important than ever. This is why Corbyn was so successful. Snapchat stories of his cat might not seem like much, but politics has a tendency to dehumanize politicians and he managed to fight against this with the social media generation massively on his side, encouraging a huge and powerful demographic to go out and vote for a man that seemed like he was an actual human being.

However, this social media facet to politics isn’t always a blessing. Social media is a source of misinformation just as much as it is actual information. With such a poor system of compulsory political education in the UK, social media can make voters vulnerable to persuasive views that they’re not well equipped to challenge, particularly when it’s their friends or family sharing them as opposed to a newspaper – people they actively trust. Moreover, the downside to personality politics is that it fails to take into account the whole picture, such as their party platform and their general aptitude as a politician, negotiator and leader. Social media is an innovative new outlet that exposes people to myriad of political news and opinions which they may not have noticed or spoken about before, which is good. However, just like with a newspaper, not everything you read on social media will be true nor impartial. While social media may be the future for politics and political campaigning, we should also be treating it with caution.


Politics, economics, children and young people

By Dr Laila Kadiwal, on 14 June 2017

A guest post from Prof.  Priscilla Alderson, Professor Emerita of Childhood Studies, Social Science Research Unit, University College London Institute of Education

The ‘youthquake’ in the June 2017 UK election promises two important developments. One is young people’s new interest in voting, debating politics, and attending political meetings. This was partly encouraged by Labour’s promotion of social media contacts, rallies and gigs where star musicians were very keen to perform. The second development we can hope for is that governments will have to take young people’s needs and interests far more seriously in all their policy making.

However, to date children and young people under-18 tend to be excluded from politics and economics in two main ways. The mainstream researchers, policy makers and journalists tend to ignore young people, while those who research, discuss and write about people aged under-18 tend to avoid politics and economics. They concentrate instead on services and amenities for young people, their relationships and daily experiences, the personal rather than the political.

Yet policies affect the youngest generations most of all. Brexit, for instance, will shape many decades of their lives, but few decades for older people. Taking the legal definition of childhood to include everyone aged under-18, my book The Politics of Childhoods Real and Imagined examines how they are central to mainstream society and policy.

politics priscila book

In the book, I review three main areas: climate change, the breaking up of the welfare state especially the NHS, and neoliberal economics. Academics are supposed to stay inside their very small area of expertise, not to risk showing their ignorance if they venture beyond it. And yet childhood and youth can only be understood within their broad, complex social and political contexts, not apart from them. And each context, such as climate change, can only be understood in relation to the others, to global politics and economics, trade, conflict and inequality.

So I have risked exploring large areas at the level of the informed citizen, to search for the missing children and young people in the policy debates and reports, and to fill in some of the missing analysis of how they are so greatly affected by policies and events. I’ve aimed to summarise knowledge and debates on topics from climate change to neo-liberalism in ways that will interest general readers and not offend experts.

I hope everyone concerned with children and young people will look at the book, so that they can further the book’s aims: to see how deeply current affairs affect young people, and to urge everyone to recognise this and take the youngest generations far more seriously when they think about and work for ‘society’.

To take the NHS and the rapid privatising, for example (see here),  children are among the highest users of healthcare, which can give lifelong benefit by preventing and healing problems or at least reducing them. When the NHS opened in 1948, for the first time, most children in Britain began to have access to healthcare, and therefore the numbers of paediatric staff and researchers quickly grew. By the 1960s-1970s, new services for premature babies and for children’s heart surgery were beginning to save many lives. Children’s heart services depend on swift referral and close contact between local and regional centres, while young people with diabetes need care from a wide range of specialities, which the National Health Service is uniquely able to coordinate.

For 70 years, older people have enjoyed the welfare state, relative peace and a fairly stable climate. But great changes and losses are now starting to affect everyone, and most of all those who may live into the 22nd century. My book ends with a chapter on how to work for utopian change towards more just and peaceful societies with and for young people as well as adults.

The Politics of Childhoods Real and Imagined: Practical Application of Critical Realism and Childhood Studies, Volume 2 (2016 Routledge).

Understanding youth turnout in GenElec2017: some comments, cautions and caveats

By UCL Global Youth, on 11 June 2017

Posted by Dr. Avril Keating, Director of the Centre for Global Youth.

Youth turnout in the British general election has once again been the focus of much media attention and social media comment, with some calling this election a “youthquake”. In this blog, I provide some contextual information for these stories, and some words of caution for interpreting the data that is currently available.

1. It is widely being claimed that 72% of young people turned out to vote in the General Election. This is an early estimate, and likely to be contradicted. After the EU referendum in 2016, the headlines focused on initial claims that only 36% of young people aged 18-24 voted, however subsequent polls estimated that turnout among this age group was closer to 60%.
2. The best sources to look for are the How Britain Voted series (published by Ipsos-MORI, usually a few weeks after the election) and the British Election Study (which will release its figures in the Autumn).
3. Even these two sources are likely to contradict each other. In 2015, Ipsos-MORI data suggested that turnout among the 18-24s was 43%, while BES data put turnout at 57%. The Ipsos-MORI data tends to be more widely cited, but the BES data has important methodological advantages and allows us to look at turnout trends as far back as the 1960s.

Screenshot 2017-06-11 16.39.52

4. All of these figures are estimates. The Electoral Commission does not collect data on the demographic characteristics of voters. Instead, we have to rely on surveys that ask people if they voted after the fact, and studies have regularly shown that some people claim that they voted when they have not, as they are embarrassed to admit that they did not vote. This is known as social desirability bias, and studies such as the BES are devising methods to estimate the level of over-claiming so that we can take this into account. Interestingly, their methods suggest that young people are even more likely than other age groups to say that they voted when they have not.
5. Despite their differences (and their flaws), both show that turnout fell among all age groups between 1992 and 2010, and has been increasing across all age groups (including the 18-24s) since 2010.
6. For this reason, it is also important to look at the change in the inter-generational gap, and not just the change in proportions over time. By doing this, we can see that the inter-generational gap has existed since the 1960s, increased in the late 1990s and over the course of the 2000s, but seems to be closing again since 2010.

Screenshot 2017-06-11 16.37.45

7. We also need to look at trends among the slightly less, ahem, ‘young’ voters (the 25s-44s), and not just the 18-24s. Although the level of support varies, it appears that a majority of all voters under 44 voted for Labour in 2017 and against Brexit in 2016. In addition, youth turnout first began to decline when the current cohort of 35-44 year olds were 18-24 (i.e. in the 1990s). The generational dividing line may therefore be between the under-45s versus the over 45s.
8. Is Brexit the reason for the apparent increase in young people voting in the 2017 election?
Brexit is likely to be one reason (at least for some), but far from the only one. When analysing these patterns in the next weeks, months, and years, we will need to take into account other factors including: campaign effects (including how good Corbyn’s campaign was and how poor the Conservative’s campaign was); the appeal of the Labour Party’s policy proposals (e.g. NHS spending and the abolition of tuition fees); the upwards trend in youth voting (see point 5); the impact of 7 years of Conservative government and anti-austerity policies that hit young people and youth services particularly hard; the continued rise in house prices and rents at a time when real pay for young people is falling; and generational differences in cultural values. All of these factors (and more) are likely to have galvanised younger voters.

9. Finally, if, as we expect, there has been a substantial increase in the proportion of young people voting, the next question we need to be asking is how can we sustain this and more importantly, broaden the range of young people voting? Among the 18-24s, the rise in turnout is likely to be among young people that are studying for degrees, or are on their way to getting one. The debate is currently focused on the inter-generational gap, but we should also start paying more attention to the intra-generational gap, so that we don’t overlook that the most excluded young people are still not voting. Let’s find out why not, and try to address this also.

The multiple roles that young people play in conflict-affected contexts

By Dr Laila Kadiwal, on 2 June 2017

Increasingly, attention is being directed internationally to the important role of youth in violence and conflict. In my research with the Research Consortium on Education and Peacebuilding on youth in armed conflict-affected settings, I have noticed that there are five roles that are commonly ascribed to young people in contexts of violent conflict.

Youth model

Youth as perpetrators of violent conflict: This perspective sees young people as risks, threats and active agents in perpetuating conflict and in undermining national or international security. Youth are often described as soldiers, combatants, fighters, terrorists, militants, rebel, abductors, suicide bombers, drug dealers, gang members, violent extremists, and criminals.

Youth as victims in violent conflict: Conflict affects young people negatively in many ways. According to recent figures, more than 25 million young people are currently living in crisis situations (UNICEF 2016). Conflict violates their basic human right – namely, ‘the right to life, liberty and security of person’. They are at increased risk of being killed, injured, orphaned, abducted, or raped in conflict. They are also often forced into roles that make them even more vulnerable, such as: providers of sexual services, couriers, cooks, spies, child soldiers, unwilling abductees and suicide bombers. Most of the young people in zones of conflict are cut off from sustained humanitarian aid and basic services. Studies suggest that conflict hugely harms young people even psychologically as they experience strong feelings of guilt, fear, desire for vengeance and an overwhelming sense of loss and hopelessness in conflict.

Youth as bystanders in peace processes: This perspective views youth mainly as passive onlookers in conflict and peace processes. Many conflict contexts do not have the institutional apparatuses, resources, and /or political will to involve young people or address youth issues, which results in a marginalization of youth from dialogue and reform. Youth are frequently accorded an implicit and indirect place within broader international and governmental initiatives (Lopes Cardozo, et al. 2016).

Youth as an asset in peace processes: Despite this, a substantial policy discourse, promoted more recently by international and local actors, revolves around viewing young people as resourceful agents for rebuilding communities, state and society. Young people are characterized as leaders, ‘capital’ and assets. The findings of the Research Consortium on Education and Peacebuilding from four conflict contexts suggest that the economic dimensions of youth agency receive the most emphasis within the broader national and international economic policies. Youth is often narrowly conceived as an economic asset, whose primary role is to support the neoliberal agenda of the national and international elites rather than as critical agents who question the very basis of inequalities and conflict.

Youth as peacebuilders: This perspective views a youth as a transformative agent, who mitigate social, economic and political drivers of conflict for just and sustainable peace. The characterisation of youth as peacebuilders does not reductively see their role as merely ensuring ‘negative peace’ (as the absence of war and violence), or ‘liberal peace’ (as the promotion of democracy and free trade) but enables them to play a critical role in challenging the root causes of violent conflict. It is this role which receives the least attention in contemporary peace processes.

peace youth

Problems with the descriptions of youth in conflict
While the above labels serve as analytical categories, in practice their application is contextual, incoherent, and problematic in at least three ways.

First, in different contexts and settings, a youth may simultaneously play multiple roles. An armed youth could be seen as both a terrorist and a victim of the broader structure. This means that youths’ peacebuilding agency cannot be understood in isolation to how their surroundings influence them and in turn how they influence their environment.

Secondly, different actors ascribe different labels to the youth depending on their interests and agenda. For instance, earlier this year, I attended a Sikh Vaisakhi festival at a Gurudwara (a Sikh place of worship) near London. Inside, I saw photos of young men that were killed in a violent conflict with the Indian army during the 1970s and ‘80s. While the Sikh diaspora of this Gurudwara venerated these youth as holy martyrs, who sacrificed their lives for an independent Sikh homeland, the state of India view them as militants whose separatist rebellion threatened the national integrity.

Thirdly, different notions of peace underpin different assumptions about the role of youth in conflict. Whether peace means maintaining security, promoting free trade, implementing democracy or promoting a more transformational process determines how the role of youth is viewed in peace process.

In short, youth are simultaneously seen as threats, victims, bystanders, assets and socially conscious actors in conflict and peace processes and these contrasting views tell us of the very different (and often contradictory) roles that are ascribed to young people in conflict by different actors.

The shifting roles of youth in post-conflict Cote d’Ivoire: the role of political discussion and intergenerational learning

By UCL Global Youth, on 5 May 2017

Posted by Dr Marika Tsolakis, ESRC Global Challenges Research Fund Postdoctoral Fellow



Côte d’Ivoire provides an important example of how youth and elders are navigating new realities in a post-conflict era through participation in community-based discussion groups called agoras and grins. These spaces helped to propel youth to the forefront of the country’s political crisis in the 1990s and 2000s and, alongside youth militias, facilitated the manipulation and instrumentalisation of youth in violent conflict.

My recent study of 38 agoras and grins included 118 observation hours and 30 in-depth interviews sheds some light on how youth and elders live and learn together in these spaces. In particular, I found that inter-generational activities can benefit both younger and older people and can contribute to reconstruction at a societal level. These findings suggest that ‘youth’ oriented peace projects should consider a multi-age approach.

Youth Identity in Local Political Discussion Groups

In 2010-2011, Côte d’Ivoire experienced four months of post-electoral violence that resulted in over 3,000 fatalities. This was the culmination of a decade of political divisions that cut across ethnic, religious and regional differences. Since 2011, attempts at peace and reconciliation have had varying levels of efficacy and youth violence has steadily increased.

A dynamic culture of public discussion and debate was cultivated over these tumultuous decades, through public discussion forums called agoras and grins. Agoras generally supported the former president Laurent Gbagbo, now on trial at the International Criminal Court, and at the height of the crisis each space amassed hundreds of people in vacant lots or squares to listen to speakers deliberate on political issues. Over 300 agoras (also known as parlements and Sorbonnes) sprang up during the crisis, and most met on a daily basis.

Grins, on the other hand, consisted of smaller familiar groupings, traditionally of men, who would discuss pressing issues during a three-cup tea ceremony. Members of these spaces generally supported then-opposition leader and current president Alassane Ouattara and often identified as Muslim, Northern Ivoirian, or/ of foreign origin. This demographic had suffered discrimination and suppression under the Gbagbo regime.

In both agoras and grins, young (predominantly male) people often eschewed tradition to become speakers and leaders, reflecting their newly enhanced agency as politically powerful actors.

Different age, different knowledge 

My research found that agoras and grins remained relevant sites of intergenerational learning three years after the post-electoral crisis. Members of both groups acknowledged that each individual, regardless of age, contributed to a discussion space through life experience, religious devotion, profession or otherwise. One young male agora member reported that in their agora, ‘things weren’t done by age anymore,’ indicating a shift from prevalent societal norms.

Rather, members attributed ‘young’ knowledge to matters of technology (specifically on-the-job knowledge) and other skills, sometimes including literacy. In some cases, it also related to political insider information or analysis. On the other hand, elder knowledge generally consisted of life skills, religion, cultural values, and professional networks.

Youth, particularly in grins, sought discussion spaces with older members. Displaced from their families due to conflict or poverty, they desired contact with adults to ‘stay on track’ and to avoid veering towards new forms of violence and social exclusion.

We say what we want, but with manners

However, participants of all ages admitted to following certain age-based protocols. For example, youth could disagree with elders in debate, but it involved following delicate processes of ‘manners’ and politeness in arguing one’s point.

One grin member explained, ‘there are certain behaviours to have. In front of elders…. Me, for example who is 40 years old, won’t talk to someone who is 60 as if I was talking to my equal.’ This 40-year old was an elder to some, but to his seniors he still need to respect age-based hierarchical norms.

Elders, however, felt a responsibility to teach younger members with an attitude of care, love and respect. A Quranic school teacher who hosted a grin felt that learning could not happen in the absence of a loving environment, evoking concepts prevalent in critical pedagogy and dialogic education.

Creating Creative Leadership Solutions

In order to maintain this delicate age balance, agoras and grins found new ways to allocate leadership roles. A 28-year old male grin member explained that ‘for things to work,’ elders occupied a leadership board called the Council of Wise Men, whereas younger members held the more modern positions of President, Secretary and Treasurer.

I observed this creative strategy in a number of spaces and noted that it permitted youth leadership without devaluing older members’ contributions.

Intergenerational Approaches to Reconciliation               

Many post-conflict projects in Côte d’Ivoire and beyond focus on youth empowerment and dialogue. However, this study illustrates that youth often place a high value on the opinions and knowledge of their older counterparts and actively seek out spaces of interaction in their daily life. Multigenerational approaches could not only appeal to younger participants but also facilitate a broader societal healing.

More so, elders in Côte d’Ivoire may not face the same social and economic vulnerabilities that youth do, especially in terms of fear of retaliation. Although the political crisis has abated, one participant explained that young people are ‘still scared,’ unlike old people who had not participated in violence or divisive speech that could invite retaliation or indictment. This fear was compounded by the wider political climate, in which peace and justice has not been accomplished by the current Ouattara regime. A perception of ‘two-speed justice’ and discrimination against ethnicities that traditionally supported Gbagbo has meant that some youth have hesitated from voicing opinions unfavourable to the government or associating with agoras.

However, this project found that intergenerational spaces of dialogue and learning can help to protect young people from further violence through mentorship and access to safety networks. Community-based projects such as these could thus be a useful model for other post-conflict settings to use to help to re-integrate youth after violence and political upheaval.

Why have we established a Centre for Global Youth at UCL?

By UCL Global Youth, on 4 May 2017

Posted by Avril Keating, Director of the Centre for Global Youth

It is estimated that there are currently 1.8 billion young people around the world – the largest generation of young people in human history. This generation is growing up amidst the rapid acceleration of globalisation, and are becoming adults at a time when education, markets, technologies, and social demographics are changing rapidly.

Young people have been at the forefront of these changes and have borne the brunt of many of the challenges it has posed. In some countries, youth unemployment is three times the rate of that for adults, and the Global Youth Wellbeing Index found that 85% of young people are experiencing below average levels of wellbeing (whether it be in the realm of health, safety and security, civic participation or economic opportunity). What is more, the consequences of some of these longer-term shifts have been further exacerbated by global austerity, and more recently, the resurgence of populism and political uncertainty (ranging from the Arab Spring to the Brexit referendum).

Uncertainty and change raise a host of questions for everyone, but the core aim of this Centre is to place young people at the heart of our research and to examine how young people are responding to the challenges and opportunities that are emerging from greater global integration. For example, what are young people’s perceptions of and attitudes towards these changes? Has global integration altered their sense of agency? And what actions are young people taking in response to these changes?

At UCL, we have a vibrant community of researchers that are helping to address these questions. Drawing on a range of disciplines and a variety of research methods, we are conducting research on the different domains of young lives, including:

At the same time, we also look at youth in diverse settings: from highly developed economies in the Global North, to conflict and post-conflict contexts; and from elite educational sites to areas of high deprivation. By bringing these diverse disciplines and perspectives together, the Centre activities are also enabling us to address a further key question: what are the commonalities, differences and inequalities in experiences of growing up in a global world?

One forum through which we hope to address these questions is this blog. Here, we will feature the latest news from our projects, summaries of our publications, and news about our events and activities. To find out more, subscribe to the blog or follow us on Twitter (@UCLGlobalYouth). We also invite you to contribute a blog post; if you are interested, email us at globalyouth@ucl.ac.uk