Accessibility statement

University of York 14 - 16 September 2016

Project Visit to York High School

The visit was planned through email correspondence and a preliminary visit to the school in which discussions took place between Ian Davies and David Ellis, Headteacher, York High School. In those early discussions the purpose and nature of the project was described and discussed. During the group visit it was a pleasure and privilege to be able to listen to professionals and young people about the wide range of aspirational engagement activities that take place within the school and in collaboration with many communities.

Roundtable discussion held at the University of York


Members of the project team met with 10 colleagues who have significant experience and expertise in relation to the themes of the project, including student unions, international volunteering, academic research in sociology, politics and other fields, foster care and party politics. Those colleagues were:

  • Rachel BarberMillie Beach and Ben Vulliamy, Students’ Union, University of York
  • Dr Eleanor Brown, Provost, and Keith Kinsella, Assistant Head, Derwent College, University of York
  • Dr Bob Campbell, international volunteer, Voluntary Service Overseas
  • Nikki Davis, Assistant Principal (Employer Engagement), York College
  • Viv Kind, former chair, York Labour party, and foster parent
  • Brian Loader, Co-director, Centre for Political Youth Culture And Communication, University of York
  • Professor Martin Smith, Head of the Department of Politics, University of York

Those attending the meeting were kind enough to respond to an invitation to discuss issues about the Leverhulme Youth activism project. Colleagues were given a brief contextual note in which the purpose of the project and its key questions were outlined.

The purpose of the meeting was not to agree or identify in a very systematic way key ideas and issues. Rather the discussion, taking place at an early stage of the project, was a means by which the project team can begin to clarify some things about which further work might be needed.

A wide ranging discussion took place in which the following issues were raised as needing further careful consideration:

  • The definitions and characterizations of civic activism and engagement
  • The linkages between levels of formal, non-formal and informal education and the nature of engagement
  • Issues about radicalisation which are increasingly prominent in UK society and elsewhere
  • Significant recent political developments such as Brexit which may have an influence on young people’s engagement
  • Different types of engagement (e.g., micro to macro) and whether they are variously attractive to young people
  • The nature of possible advantage associated with engagement (psychologically and/or for society-related instrumental purposes)
  • The possibilities of overlaps between people’s reasons for their engagement
  • The nature of altruism in relation to engagement (i.e., whether or not it may, at least initially, be concretely motivated)
  • Broad social factors such as social class, gender, ethnicity insofar as they relate to youth engagement
  • Precisely focused factors that facilitate engagement including the financial costs of volunteering.
  • The nature of new, especially technologically facilitated forms of engagement in relation to the types and extent of engagement

Public Meeting, Research Centre for Social Sciences, University of York

Paul Wakeling, Department of Education, University of York gave a talk to interested members of the public. Dr Wakeling has written a summary of the talk:

In my talk I focussed on how age, social class and activism are interrelated in the 21st century. Some accounts of youth activism strongly emphasise significant shifts by generation in young people’s engagement. There are certainly indications of renewed political engagement and activism among today’s youth, seen in campaigns such as #BlackLivesMatter or in new left-wing movements from Syriza to Podemos to Momentum. However, we need to recall that activists tend to be drawn from particular, typically more advantaged and highly educated parts of society.

Drawing on data from the BBC’s Great British Class Survey, I outlined how younger people were distributed across Savage et al’s (2013) ‘new model’ social class. Three social classes in particular – Emerging Service Workers, New Affluent Workers and the Precariat – were prominent among younger cohorts. The former group have modest economic capital, but higher ‘emerging’ cultural capital, suggesting greater political nous and ‘savviness’. Here activism itself might be thought of as a kind of social advantage, even where it is directed at apparently altruistic ends. Findings from the survey tend to support this, with clear differences by social class among young people in how much they believe they can influence decision-making which affects them. This contrasts with only minor differences in political efficacy beliefs across age cohorts.


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