Feminism Revived and History Recalled


Earlier in the year we welcomed the ‘Why Girls’ Work’ conference organised by the North-West Regional Youth Work Unit and the Work with Girls & Young Women Network held fittingly on International Women’s Day at the Didsbury campus of the Manchester Metropolitan University.  The programme included: the launch of FeministWebs, a web site dedicated to women and girls’ work, and feminism within youth work; national and international perspectives from keynote speakers; workshops on violence against women; supporting healthy relationships; feminism and girls’ work; identifying young women’s needs and lots more!

At the time we commented that the initiative was all the more welcome given discussions at several Critically Chatting meetings, within which fears had been expressed about the demise of feminist youth work.  These concerns mirrored reflections made by Jean Spence back in the mid-90s – see her piece ‘Rethinking Work with Girls & Young Women’ [CONCEPT, Volume3,7: 1997].  We hoped that this renaissance of politicised Girls Work would take wing and that this time round we would be better  able to forge links between workers struggling still to defend in a diversity of ways a youth work practice, which embraces the inextricable relationship of gender, race, sexuality and class; that this time round, whilst always being self-critical in an individual and collective sense, we might build a wider and deeper movement of resistance and solidarity across both young people and youth workers.

In this light it is heartening to report that the web site at http://feministwebs.com is up and running.  Its contents include sections on the rich history of Girls’ Work; setting up a young women’s group; and a fascinating preview of the questions young researchers want to ask of older feminist workers. This desire to learn from the past resonates with our determination to get youth workers to tell stories. We look forward to reading the first interviews and wonder which brave souls will be the first in line.


Continuing on the historical path [and pausing to remember the heated debates about replacing history with herstory] we must remind you that Youth and Policy are hosting the eighth ‘History of Youth and Community Work’ conference at the Ushaw College, Durham, March 6th-8th, 2009.

Like earlier gatherings this will include a mix of plenary sessions,workshops and ‘surprise’ events. Amongst the plenary speakers will be Gabriel Eichsteller on the history of social pedagogy and Catriona Kelly(Oxford University), author of two major books on the Pioneers and growing up in Soviet Russia. There will be a number of workshops on the Albemarle Report published fifty years ago and at least one to mark the fortieth anniversary of the launch of the Community Development Programme.

Attached you will find a booking form and letter of invitation. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with Tony Jeffs (tony.jeffs@durham.ac.uk) if you
would like more details or like to discuss offering a workshop.


Published in: on December 8, 2008 at 8:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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It’s been a busy, often enjoyable, if frustrating few weeks.  Given the  latest crisis of capitalism [weren’t these irritating occurrences supposedly a thing of the past?] the neo-liberals have been in headlong retreat. Their sycophants within the political class and its bureaucracy, symbolised by Gordon Brown, tongue glued to his cheek, have embraced the new  would-be Olympic sport, Ideological Gymnastics.  Daring somersault after another allows him without a hint of embarrassment to chastise the rich and greedy and to introduce regulation into the market. Times are evidently a-changing.

If this is the case, what price the fate of ‘new managerialism’, the servant of neo-liberalism, which has burrowed its way deep into all spheres of our lives, including youth and community work and the voluntary sector? Given its suffocating grip on practice and the sense, promulgated by our bosses, that there is no alternative, is there now a chance to turn back the tide? This question haunted  all three of the events we’ve attended this November.

Bernard Davies opens the debate

Bernard Davies opens the debate

On November 7 in London we hosted jointly with the National Coalition for Independent Action [NCIA] a meeting, ‘We Won’t Roll Over’, which brought together a diversity of people from across the voluntary sector – Social Action for Health, Community Action, Advice Centres,  Black Parents and Teachers Associations and the People in Common group – as well as a youth work contingent. In the morning Bernard Davies, almost now the guardian of the  post-Albemarle liberal and radical tradition, explored as a case study the suffocating impact of neo-liberalism upon Youth Work. Following Bernard’s exposure of the way in which neo-managerialism seeks to standardise and regulate the unpredictable, Andy Benson from the NCIA pursued how this self-same ideology threatened independent action and the capacity of communities to get what they need for themselves. I’ll return to the content of the animated discussion in the summary of this contribution. However it’s important to stress that the final session of the day focused on practical collective activity, ‘what can we do now to start making a difference’ – more news to follow on how this is working out.

Andy Benson responds

Andy Benson responds

The masses cogitate

The masses cogitate

A few days later in Wigan I submitted the relationship between Neo-Liberalism and Youth Work to further scrutiny at a Critically Chatting meeting, which drew support from Derbyshire, Manchester, Liverpool and London! Thence I ran two workshops under the title ‘Neo-Liberalism Implodes: Time for Youth Work to Fight Back’ at the energetic and stimulating Federation of Detached Youth Work Conference. I’ll do a separate post on this event, especially as the Federation’s new web site, stuffed full of videos, photos and comment, offers a direct glimpse of what was going on.

Throughout  these various encounters between workers and volunteers in the youth, community and voluntary sectors a number of questions and concerns consistently emerged:

– overwhelmingly the anecdotal evidence emphasises the apparent stranglehold of new managerialism on practice, the suffocation of critical debate and the acceptance, albeit reluctantly, by many workers of an agenda of social control;

– for those hardy souls still battling, it is difficult struggling against a culture of conformity and even fear, but there are splendid examples of cussed creativity;

– and,  on the optimistic side of Gramsci’s famous couplet, there are promising signs. The political and economic crisis itself throws up turmoil; rumbles of discontent and resistance are rolling around education and welfare as a whole; oppositional groups are on the rise.

It’s all muddy and messy, but just as much as ever we need to remain critical and collective. As a small example it was heartening to see detached workers taking away the NCIA’s flyer to give to the community groups on their patch. The struggle certainly does continue.

Tony Taylor

Published in: on November 21, 2008 at 11:34 am  Leave a Comment  
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Making a Fresh Start

The Critically Chatting Collective is alive and tackling still the status quo. For a sense of our history, ‘where we’re coming from’ and our utopian aspirations, go to the HOME page. Over the last couple of years we’ve hosted a web site at http://www.critically-chatting.0catch.com. Contradictorily, given our commitment to chatting, the site was not interactive. Thus, encouraged by Tim Davies of youthworkonline fame, we’re testing out this blog/site, which opens up this possibility. If things go well and we’re as ever apostles of optimism, we’ll move all the good stuff from our former home to here.

We’re still finding our way, but you being able to comment on the Blog and articles on the Pages seems pretty straightforward. Provided you give your e-mail address, which is not revealed publicly, you can comment as you wish. Although such comments are filtered by the administrator, namely myself. If I did censor anything, I’m obviously under severe manners to explain myself! However, if you do sign up with WordPress, which just involves choosing a user name plus password and we reckon you’re fit in mind and body [!], you can post directly without interference. From our point of view signing up is smart as it gives us a feeling for who might be in sympathy with our outlook.

As of tomorrow we’ll bring news of a busy fortnight, within which we were involved in a  joint meeting with the National Coalition for Independent Action, an effort off our own bat in Wigan and the Federation of Detached Youth Work’s annual conference.

The struggle continues,

Tony Taylor [Coordinator]

Published in: on November 19, 2008 at 7:50 pm  Comments (4)  
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