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Liberation or containment : paradoxes in youth work as a catalyst for powerful learning

Coburn, Annette (2011) Liberation or containment : paradoxes in youth work as a catalyst for powerful learning. Youth and Policy, 106. pp. 60-77. ISSN 0262-9798

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Abstract

Youth work discourse often promotes engagement and an empowering educational purpose where voluntary participation is considered an authentic signpost of effective practice (Davies, 2005; Jeffs and Smith, 1999). Yet, Ord (2009) has noted that voluntary participation brings no guarantee of empowered engagement and Taylor (2008) has called for youth workers and young people to work together to challenge and change those discourses that alienate young people from political participation. This article draws on the findings of a study on young people’s experiences of equality in youth work to consider how an empowering manifesto might be realised. In this setting, youth work enabled young people to take decisions that challenged ingrained inequality and power imbalance. However, while they perceived youth work as positive, they were also routinely subject to surveillance and control. The tensions this created were often contrary to empowering practices. This led me to examine how paradoxes in youth work might be useful in constructing a powerful learning environment to enable young people and youth workers to engage in critical and empowering practice.