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Children’s exclusion from (and inclusion in) a ‘political community’. Nigel Thomas Swansea University Edinburgh September 2006. Sheffield paper 1 - Mapping the territory . Definition and purpose Experiences of participation Attempts to measure impact

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children s exclusion from and inclusion in a political community

Children’s exclusion from (and inclusion in) a ‘political community’

Nigel Thomas

Swansea University

Edinburgh September 2006

sheffield paper 1 mapping the territory
Sheffield paper 1 - Mapping the territory

Definition and purpose

Experiences of participation

Attempts to measure impact

Challenges to theory and practice of participation

Conclusion – despite undoubted progress, fundamental objections to much current practice:

  • does not give real power to children
  • fails to include certain groups of children

Children and ‘political community’

sheffield paper 2 conceptualising participation
Sheffield paper 2 - Conceptualising participation

Ladders of participation –

Two competing visions:

  • shared decision-making between children and adults
  • power handed over from adults to children

Two discourses of children’s participation:

  • social –networks, inclusion, adult-child relations, opportunities for social connection
  • political –power, challenge, change

Children and ‘political community’

sheffield paper 2 conceptualising participation4
Sheffield paper 2 - Conceptualising participation

Participation, politics and change –

If we aim to open up existing institutions to the voices of children, do the institutions have to change? What is relationship between participatory practice and ‘mainstream’ politics?

Institutions that ‘mimic’ conventional political structures – social and educational value considerable, political impact slight – decoupled from mainstream politics but have same drawbacks

Activities that are more ‘participatory’ are often experienced as exciting and dynamic, but do not connect in any clear way with ‘real’ politics

Children and ‘political community’

sheffield paper 2 conceptualising participation5
Sheffield paper 2 - Conceptualising participation

End result:

  • Little sign of children and young people really participating in important political decisions, or defining terms of policy debate
  • Little sign of children as social group effectively expressing common interests – despite fact that many issues in public policy are to do with children

Responses:

  • To include children and young people in more formal political institutions – by giving them the vote
  • To use more directly participatory work being done with children to improve or challenge formal political institutions

Children and ‘political community’

sheffield paper 2 conceptualising participation6
Sheffield paper 2 - Conceptualising participation

Theoretical frameworks

Bourdieu:

  • ‘habitus’, social and cultural capital, analysis of representation

Young:

  • bringing disparate groups with distinctive perspectives into a political community in conditions of inequality

Children and ‘political community’

sheffield paper 2 conceptualising participation7
Sheffield paper 2 - Conceptualising participation

What should a theory of children’s participation do?

  • encompass range of sites at which ‘children’s participation’ may take place
  • be located in broader context of inter-generational relations;
  • understand distinction between activity that children engage in jointly with adults and children’s autonomous activity
  • accommodate new kinds of participatory practice with children and young people
  • account for demands for children to have the same political rights as adults

Children and ‘political community’

children s exclusion from political community
Children’s exclusion from ‘political community’

Legal definitions and institutions:

  • denial of legal competence
  • disqualification from public office
  • exclusion from ‘universal’ suffrage

Expectations and dispositions embedded in individuals and social interaction:

  • understood in terms of discourse
  • understood in terms of habitus (as embodied history) – and of children’s lack of ‘capital’

Inclusion demands work on both fronts

Children and ‘political community’

children s exclusion from political community9
Children’s exclusion from ‘political community’

Importance of suffrage in establishing membership of political community

  • Voting equality as ‘a minimal condition of political equality’ (Young)
  • Objections not very convincing
  • Allowing children to vote would give legitimacy to their participation and to their perspectives
  • Crucial if participation is to become ‘embedded’

Children and ‘political community’

children s inclusion in political community
Children’s inclusion in political community

Young:

  • ‘What are the norms and conditions of inclusive democratic communication under circumstances of structural inequality and cultural difference?’
  • Formal democratic systems tend to reinforce structural inequalities – the challenge is to deepen democracy by making it more inclusive
  • This means enabling groups to have access to democratic institutions and processes, and adapting institutions and processes to meet needs of wider range of groups
  • Representation is most inclusive when it encourages marginalised groups to express their perspectives

Children and ‘political community’

children s inclusion in political community11
Children’s inclusion in political community

Young:

  • ‘Perspective’ not same as interest or opinion – ‘an approach to looking at social events that conditions but does not determine what one sees’
  • Inclusion of different groups in democratic discussion and decision-making increases likelihood of promoting justice:
    • ‘because the interests of all are taken into account’
    • ‘by increasing the store of social knowledge available to participants’

Children and ‘political community’

children s inclusion in political community12
Children’s inclusion in political community

Problematic issues:

  • Equal access and relative disadvantage

‘but they’d chose the people who do all the best in school, and everything, and they’re not average people, are they?’ (Morrow)

  • Who actually wants to be included (the ‘anorak’ question)

What about children who don’t want to ‘have a voice’ but prefer to ‘have a life’?

  • Communicative style

Inclusive communication essential to avoid ‘internal exclusion’

Children and ‘political community’

children s inclusion in political community13
Children’s inclusion in political community

Deliberative discourse (Young)

Not simply a matter of ‘rational’ argument – also includes:

Greeting – communicative political gestures which recognize others as included in the discussion (cf ‘recognition’, Honneth)

Rhetoric – emotional tone, figures of speech, non-verbal and symbolic gestures, orientation to audience

Narrative and ‘situated knowledge’ – essential in enabling groups to understand experience of others and develop shared discourse

Obvious relevance to children – also think about ‘playful’ approaches to citizenship (Jans)

Children and ‘political community’

representative and participatory models of democracy
Representative and participatory models of democracy

Young –

Representation and participation not opposed but complementary

Active participation and engagement of citizens gives representation strength and credibility – depends on representatives being connected with citizens

Bourdieu –

Representative assemblies as a spatial projection of the field of class relations of which the political scene is a theatricalized representation

Those who are ‘represented’ do not experience themselves as such, because politicians have their own interests which diverge from those they represent

Children and ‘political community’

representative and participatory models of democracy15
Representative and participatory models of democracy

Also problems with participatory processes

The more vocal dominate – others reduced to passive assent or dissent (Young)

Gives more influence to those willing to put in the time (back to the anorak question)

Power relations ever-present – participation on other people’s terms can reproduce subordination (White)

Participation for children tends to be costly if high levels of adult support and supervision perceived to be needed

Children and ‘political community’

conclusion 1
Conclusion 1

Promoting children’s participation in public life requires work in two directions:

Encourage new approaches based on different communicative styles

  • to child-adult dialogue
  • to children’s self-directed organisations

Ensure that developments engage with conventional politics – not in ‘parallel universe’

  • foreground demand for political rights of citizenship

Children and ‘political community’

conclusion 2
Conclusion 2

Young’s account a good one for thinking about things could work

Bourdieu may be better for analysis of how they actually do work

  • cf Michael Gallagher’s ‘two insufficient models of children’s participation’?

Children and ‘political community’

questions
Questions

How do children get access to the political (‘deliberative’) community?

How does the political (‘deliberative’) community make space for children?

– especially given the opportunity costs of overemphasis on ‘voice’ and talk

What is the role of adults in child movements?

– cf Freire, Alinsky

What is the place for ideas of children’s distinctive interests?

How do these conceptualisations map onto particular social/political realities in different countries?

Where are younger children in all this?

Children and ‘political community’