Youth Work and Inequality: Discourse and Practice

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 10:55
Location: Hörsaal 47 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Maurice DEVLIN, Centre for Youth Research and Development (CYRD), Maynooth University, County Kildare, Ireland
Recent years have seen a greatly enhanced focus on youth work in the political and social policy agendas of many European states, including Ireland. Much of the “official” interest in youth work stems from a concern with social order and stability and an expectation that it can help to alleviate pressing social problems such as, in recent times, youth unemployment. On the other hand, the youth work sector also includes social movements with a strong focus on social change and on combating social inequality. There is, however, little empirical research on how these contrasting impulses are reflected in the activities and programmes of youth organisations or the discourse and practice of youth workers. This paper draws on two sources.  One is a national study of volunteer-led youth work in Ireland. Based on a documentary analysis of reports and application forms prepared by youth groups (n=1111) seeking state funding for their work, the paper explores the range of terms in which such groups describe their aims and objectives as well as their activities and programmes. In particular it focuses on the extent to which, and the ways in which, various dimensions of inequality (e.g. gender, class, ethnicity, sexuality, disability) feature in this discourse, and whether they do so in terms compatible with, or in tension with, “official policy”. The other source is a qualitative case study designed to explore the tacit and explicit “explanatory frameworks” that inform the professional practice of youth workers. This paper presents an integrated analysis of both sources that highlights some key opportunities and challenges for youth work in addressing social inequalities.