UP2YOUTH final conference in Brussels on March 5-6 2009
The UP2YOUTH project was financed by the EU’s 6th framework program. At the final conference of this project, both main findings of UP2YOUTH were presented, but also findings from other EU-funded projects which focus on young people and exclusion.
In the discussion on the conference, weight was given to the importance of balancing a focus on agency with a focus on structural inequality. Culture is not only something which influences young immigrants; young people also construct culture in microsettings, where they negotiate their own norms and values. It is important to consider what age, clan, ethnicity and gender means in different contexts. It is also important to consider positive factors, and stories of success, not only risk factors, and stories of marginalization. These considerations fit well into the main objectives and focus of the EUMARGINS project. We will study a diversity of experiences, ranging from the most to the least excluded ones, and all the overlapping cases, and the changes during time. The mechanisms that make it possible for young immigrants to succeed are as important to study as the indicators of exclusion (and we know a lot more about them than about the success indicators). We know that in order to succeed in the labor market you need education, and in order to get access to higher education you need good grades in upper secondary school, as well as good parental support. What politicians and teachers cannot compensate is the effects of a dysfunctional family background. So how and why do some young immigrants manage to succeed despite having parents with lower (or no) education, despite coming from broken families, despite coming from families with many children, and despite having to overcome many barriers as regards language and lack of cultural knowledge?
Some main points from UP2YOUTH
Concepts such as agency, youth and change must be used as sensitizing concepts. The question is what do these concepts mean in different contexts?
Agency has traditionally been researched as: How they succeed or fail in social society? This understanding is one-sided, and far from young people’s everyday coping. It has a rational choice bias, as it sees young people as calculating. This is reflected in policies based on incentives. This perspective is ignoring structural constrains, as well as the interactive dimension of each decision making process.
Another approach to agency is youth subculture studies, which celebrate young people’s resistance. These are also one-sided, especially when they ignore power and structural barriers.
The UP2Youht’s conclusion is that we need a more integrative concept which includes both the focus on how young people are influenced by social structures and how they creatively act upon their surroundings. We must ask the following questions:
How is agency possible?
How is it enacted?
What do young people need in order to enact their agency?
Such a concept combines a focus on subjectivity with social structure research.
Consequences for policies
Some of the main conclusions for policy makers are that they should:
Recognize youth as a phase on its own
Focus on young people’s reflexivity and participation
Not make target group containers
Other contributions on the conference
There was a focus on the decreasing birthrates in Europe, combined with the fact that Europe is an ageing society. This means that immigrants are needed in the years to come, in order to balance the age structure and fill empty jobs.
Young adults are interesting not only because they represent the transitory phase between youth and adulthood. In fact, they represent three ages: they are the children of their parents (and formed by them), they are in an age group where they might become parents on their own (thus they represent the next generation), and finally, they represent their own age as such.
Youth are not necessarily active or actors. They are sometimes and sometimes not. It is necessary to show good practice, because those who are powerful agents should be recognized and visible. But the question is: where is the change, and what is the change?
Conclusion of conference
Integrative agency perspective
Intersectionality: who speaks? Reproduction of different inequalities, gender, race, class etc
Overcome dichotomy inclusion/exclusion
Look for apparently irrelevant issues, like music: position myself in relation to others
Not all knowledge is indicatorable (tacit everyday knowledge)
Not only look at problems but also what makes young people cope successfully – especially to inform policies
Contextual diversity stronger focus at the local level, not only level of implementation but everyday social integration
Action competence interrelated with action confidence, experiences of recognition
Negotiation: focus on interaction processes of inclusion/exclusion