Below are some of the thoughts I had when I initially contemplated the topic of the seminar.
Inclusion? Conversations about young people often focus on promoting inclusion, participation and empowering choice. However, it is important to ask ourselves: inclusion in what and on what terms? With what consequence for other (sub-culture) identities?
Inclusion can sometimes be another way of saying ‘promoting social uniformity’, in this sense it’s about strengthening dominant values and power structures. In fact, some young people openly express the desire to deconstruct existing systems of social relations (see the current Occupy movement). This could be essential before progress toward a more just and equitable society can be made - the demise of slavery provides a case in point.
In today’s world, self-determination and choice is largely regulated by market economics. The many choices we have often fall within a narrow bandwidth of extrinsic values which promote power, status, money... An example of this (which, in my opinion, reflects the experience of many youth sub-cultures) is the experience of North American Indians who were granted ownership of their own land to enable self-determination. On receiving owenership they were aggressively lobbied by casino conglomerates to ‘sell-out’ to big capital. This led to in-fighting disagreement and conflict within indian tribes. This mirrors the expectations of some young people, that all the choices currently on offer ultimately require you to sell-out.
When we talk about empowering self-determination and choice amongst young people (or other groups) there are a number of things we need to consider? For example, what about collective and communal rights and responsibilities?
We would benefit from having a broader vision which considers society as a whole. A broader vision will ensure that we locate the issue of urban youth within wider social narratives. It will help the group to maintain a holistic approach when looking at challenges and opportunities, seeing young people not as isolated homogenous groups living only in the present, but as diverse social beings acting within and influenced by their wider societies. Without a broader vision there is the risk that:
· We narrowly focus on young people ignoring the wider social frame and young people’s multiple identities.
· We achieve outcomes for young people now whilst undermining broader goals, such as justice, peace, equity, trust, understanding and sustainable development.
A jokey example of the risks of narrowly focusing on youth is narrated in ‘Logans Run’ a novel which pictures a society where youth is all powerful, and people beyond the age of 35 are eliminated. There are, also, many examples in the real world, including: inter-generational tensions emerging from the tendency to hire and fast- track young employees at the expense of older staff - whilst initially empowering for young people this can create a negative feedback loop which is damaging for society as a whole. Another example would be the black-hole in international development funding for people who have recently left the official youth age group. Also, by focusing on youth we often imply that young people are the same, that they are a minority and that collectively they are oppressed / oppressors, involved / excluded - ignoring the myriad of other factors involved such as socio-economic status, ethnicity, access.