Snouts in the trough……

We’ve just received the National Coalition for Independent Action May newsletter.


It’s a splendid mix of information, analysis and gossip. The opening thoughts on ‘snouts in the trough’  muse whether this is the moment  to put into question  the whole democratic charade.  More from ourselves on the redundancy of representative democracy soon. I enjoyed in particular being reminded of a slogan from Paris 1968 :

Empowerment? – no thanks I’ll take care of that”

Published in: on May 25, 2009 at 3:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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There has been a positive response to the limited circulation of the draft Open Letter, ‘In Defence of Youth Work’. As it is we have added a couple of clauses, courtesy of Bernard Davies, to the definition of ‘an emancipatory and democratic youth work’. Our long-lost comrade from the 70’s and 80’s, Roy Ratcliffe, took time out from his work in the Palestinian Solidarity movement to chastise us in the friendliest way for not being bold enough in our declaration. Hopefully in the coming debate we will engage with his criticisms. For now we are going to proceed with a sort of official launch of the Letter at Youth and Policy’s History  conference in Durham. March 6-8. Dependent on the feeling and signatories generated, we will thence circulate the missive as widely as possible. If the initiative gathers sufficient momentum we are keen to organise three low-cost regional one day gatherings, if possible in the same week, to explore together where we are up to and where we might go.



There was a positive response to the Open Letter from many of those attending the Y&P Durham conference. Hence we have set up a separate Blog to support the initiative, which is already sprouting regional meetings.

Go to

Published in: on February 24, 2009 at 1:05 pm  Comments (15)  
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Quote of the Month:

‘The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions, without becoming disillusioned.’ Antonio Gramsci [1891-1937]

As promised you will find below the contents of our first effort at a regular monthly collection of news, views, articles and links. We hope you will find the collection stimulating and as ever look forward to any criticisms and contributions you might want to make.


In the Spring of 1981 the Inner London Education journal, ‘Schooling and Culture’, put out an edition with the very title, Youth, Community: Crisis’. Within its pages the Wigan branch of the then Community and Youth Service Association advertised a conference, ‘Youth Work and the Crisis’, to held in the Abraham Moss Centre, Manchester.  The calling notice stated:

‘Clearly we are experiencing a time of acute political and economic problems which bite deeply into the lives of young people. Paradoxically, given its supposed concern for young people, the Youth Service has yet to unify in any ways as an effective opposition to the attacks upon its existence. The tradition of the Service does not feature many examples of resistance and it appears that we are yet again to be relegated to the margins of history. But this need not be!’

It went on to argue that the conference desired to be ‘a forum for dialogue and a platform for action’ and reached out for alliances with academics and researchers at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, those responsible for the series of Critical Texts in Social Work and the London-Edinburgh Weekend Return Group, who had written the classic, ‘In and Against the State’. Within Youth Work the conference organisers applauded the endeavours of the National Youth Bureau’s Youth Work Unit with its Enfranchisement project, the National Association of Youth Clubs Political Education Working Party. Last but not least they praised Bernard Davies for sounding an urgent warning through his pamphlet,’The State We’re In’.

Eighteen years later the word crisis is again on everyone’s lips. Yet, of course, the situation is not at all exactly the same. The crisis of 1981 was taking place in the early years of the Thatcherite neo-liberal project when the labour movement had yet to be devastated and the social movements were still buoyant, not yet dispersed and assimilated. And talking of a Youth Service still made some sense. Today’s recession is taking place as the neo-liberal strategy is collapsing around the ears of its still arrogant New Labour advocates, but the forces of opposition to its alleged imperative are significantly weakened. And talking of a Youth Service, even of a distinctive form of Youth Work, does not connect with much of what is happening on the ground.


Yet, in many respects, the task facing us is the same. In order to respond critically and effectively to the changing circumstances  we need collective debate and cooperative activity in defence of  a democratic and emancipatory Youth Work.

Back in November we commented upon the apparent rejection by the magazine, Young People Now, of my brief polemic , which wondered whether the demise of neo-liberalism and hopefully its partner, new managerialism, opened up the possibility of a fresh argument about the character of present-day Youth Work. In particular we were interested in whether there might be sufficient critical momentum to bring together practitioners, academics and commentators in an effort once more ‘to educate, agitate and organise’.  To be honest  we are not sure what people are thinking or feeling. In recent years we have seen powerful critiques of the mess we’re in produced by such as Bernard Davies, Graeme Tiffany and most recently Tony Jeffs and Mark Smith in a piece ‘Valuing Youth Work’ to be found in the centenary edition of Youth & Policy. Despite the resistance of  some individuals and groups, their insightful analyses have not been accompanied by the emergence of a broad front of opposition to the last decade’s attack on the liberal heart of Youth Work. Nevertheless in the closing paragraphs of their article Tony and Mark urge us ‘to join with others to engineer substantial change’. Thus it is in the spirit of this call that we have penned an Open Letter which we hope might attract signatories and act as a catalyst to the creation of an alliance, which does not in any way substitute itself for the trade unions or any other professional groupings, but which seeks to transcend the boundaries that often divide us.

As things stand the following process is envisaged:

  1. A draft Open Letter is being circulated for comments and support in early February. Dependent on the response we will consider whether it is worth pursuing the initiative or whether it has fallen by the wayside. Read it here – in-defence-of-youth-work-word-version1

  2. If there is sufficient support  we will check out with interested individuals and  groups the viability of putting the Open Letter into the wider public domain. It might be that we  do so  at the Youth & Policy History Conference, March 6-8 in Durham.

We urge you to read, circulate and respond to this overture, whether for or against. We hope that it might be the basis for a principled, yet pluralist coming together of hearts and minds in the defence of Youth Work.




Whilst we were musing about whether this blog is of any consequence, the conversation turned to the more general issue of who in reality has the time, energy and inclination to surf the Net on a regular basis. Indeed the majority of folk still up to their necks in the muck of practice suggest that they struggle to find the space to sit seriously at the computer. At the end of the day they are too weary to be bothered. This is all very impressionistic, but we wonder too if this is lent some credence by the relative paucity of follow-up comments on the Youth Work blogs and sites. To the jaundiced eye it might appear that only a handful of regulars contribute in this way. Perhaps there is a danger that those enthralled by the possibilities of this amazing medium overlook the uncomfortable fact that many people do not share or don’t have time to share this enthusiasm. We’re not being bloody-minded or awkward about this. We would love to think that this is not the case. Ironically some of us feel we were having a similar discussion years ago about how many workers were in truth reading the bulletins, pamphlets and articles of the period. It would be fascinating to hear Tim Davies’s thoughts on this dilemma, given his committed attempt to encourage social networking in the Youth Work milieu. Tim, forgive this blatant attempt to get you to write something for us. Certainly the question is pertinent.

Indeed it is and at the very last minute we’ve belatedly come across a challenging piece posted by Tim on the Young People Now site, which remains deeply devoted to the possibilities of social networking and asks some searching questions of  both the Youth & Policy Editorial Group, its authors and readers. In the interests of furthering the discussion we reproduce it with Tim’s permission – to be found originally at


Reflection, resources and musings aloud on supporting, enabling and empowering young people

100 Issues of Youth and Policy – four proposals for creating a better dialogue

I’ve just been reading the 100th issue of Youth and Policy Journal. It’s not happy reading. I’ve not made it through all the articles yet, but the tone of those I’ve read appears despondent and hyper-critical of most youth policy developments of the last 10, if not 25 or 30 years.

Times may be tough, and youth policy and practice may be far from where it should be as we move in 2009. But I can’t help feeling that the voices I hear predominating in Youth & Policy do little to provide any form of constructive vision on how to move forward; how to stay true to the values of emancipatory, empowering Youth Work in a diverse, dynamic and globalised information-age society.

But, I don’t wish this blog post to fall into the trap it seems many of the articles of Youth and Policy hit: critique without any hint of a constructive way forward – and so, want to offer the editors of Youth & Policy four suggestions to help make the future of Youth and Policy one that contributes to positive and proactive developments in Youth Work, rather than a lament for the past.

1) Engage young people in the peer review and editorial process

It is clear that the majority of contributors to Youth and Policy want a better lot for young people. Defining a better lot for young people should take place in partnership with young people themselves. Projects like the Young Researcher Network have already shown that there are meaningful ways of engaging young people as researchers. And there would be a lot to gain from Youth & Policy exploring ways of engaging young people as part of the editorial and review team. Not only would it provide key grounding for the explorations in the journal – but it would provide opportunities for young people to learn about, explore and engage with the live debates at the heart of youth work today.

Creating non-tokenistic and genuine models for a diverse range of young people to get involved in the editorial and peer review process of Youth & Policy would not necessarily be easy… but I can’t think for a better challenge for a journal that regularly sharing writing on youth participation to engage with.

2) Make the back issues available online and move towards an Open Access Journal model

Right now the 100 issue history of Youth and Policy is locked away in volumes gathering dust on shelves. To follow Bernard Davies’ survey of ‘twenty-five years of Youth & Policy’ you either need access to your own personal collection of back issues, or plenty of time to spend in the library.

Opening up the back issues of Youth & Policy free online would lower the barriers to entry that limit new academics and reflective-practitioners from contributing to the debate over the present, past and future of youth work; and it would increase the resources available with which to explain the intellectual and practical underpinnings of youth work to policy makers.

In the long run, it would make sense for a journal which talks so much about empowerment and education, to ensure that it’s content is available to all those who wish to access it – without financial barriers. A future with Youth & Policy as an Open Access Journal would be a better one indeed.

3) Record short summary PodCast interviews with each journal contributor

Even if Youth & Policy was available in full text freely online – it would still not be accessible to all the people who could gain from engaging in the dialogue and debate it can catalyse. That’s why I would love to see a Youth & Policy blog, with short recorded PodCast interviews with each of the article authors – allowing their insights and critiques to reach ever wider audiences. P

erhaps the PodCast audio-interview model could provide a good opportunity for young people to be in dialogue with Youth & Policy authors – as co-interviewees on each PodCast…

4) Build an online community around the journal

I’ve discovered over the last year that there is real demand for online youth work communities and we are most definitely in need of an online space for more dialogue around the present, past and future of youth work. A space where readers can respond to Youth & Policy articles without necessarily penning a full article in response, and where the practitioner and academic communities can find a space for the sort of constructive dialogue and sharing of learning that is necessary to the praxis as well as theory of a constantly developing work of youth work.

Perhaps some of these suggestions have been tried in the past? Perhaps they are simply beyond the means of a small journal? But perhaps, if anyone from the Youth & Policy team is reading, perhaps they might be explored as ways of making sure the dialogue in Youth and Policy really can be a dialogue making a better future for Youth Work and, more importantly, for young people.


It would be brilliant to get responses to Tim’s proposals from folk involved with Youth & Policy, which means I had better get my thinking hat on as I contributed an article on ‘Young People, Participation and Politics’ to the 100th edition of despondency!?

Perfectly proper criticisms aside,  it would be churlish at this moment not to send a message of deep appreciation to the Youth and Policy Editorial Group, who against the odds have kept this critical journal alive for quarter of a century. I don’t think most people have an inkling of how much graft goes into all that behind the scenes editing and proof-reading, all of it undertaken for love and no money.




British jobs for British workers

At the height of the tragedy in Gaza we wondered how youth workers might be handling discussions about the complications and contradictions of the Palestinian/Israeli situation with young people. With this in mind we are going to pursue this question of how youth workers might pick up on the social and political dilemmas of the day. Thus each month we will flag up an issue we think young people might well be raising and offer alternative readings to those dominating the media.


A piece in the SUN newspaper captures the slippery slope created by this dispute over the consequences of contracting, the free market, the European Union, all set in the context of the economic recession and political crisis. In the midst of a populist article, which muddles willy-nilly appropriate and inappropriate commentary, the author slides to the following contention:

All minorities, even those with no link to this country, take priority over the established population.
Inner cities are colonised by entire communities who live, pray, dress and speak as if they still lived in tribal villages.
Shockingly, there are 300 schools where English is not the first language.

Thus does racism rear its ugly head, even as within the strikers themselves there is much confusion as to what constitutes racism. In particular nationalism and racism are conflated. Some of the British strikers accuse the company, TOTAL of racism. Some Left groups suggest that the strikes should be called off as the slogans play into the hands of the BNP.  We have a scenario in which the right-wing press implacably opposed to strike action support the first militant wildcat strikes for many years. For this section of the media the imperative to back a nationalist agenda overrides the unofficial and ‘illegal’ nature of the action. New Labour is in turmoil as Brown squirms, while Mandelson is forced to defend the right of European workers to work across the Union.

Within the ranks of the strikers the debate bursts into life- see Clearly the dangers of chauvinism, nationalism and racism are apparent, but also actively opposed. Thus one contributor argues:

We want to be careful with the nationalism, lads, so that things don’t turn nasty. I’ve got nothin against the Italian workers as such, they’re just doing a job, putting food on the table for their families. They’re not W*** (Without Papers- as they are EU citizens and are legally allowed to work here)- besides this is racist. Many of us have worked abroad- Germany, Spain, Middle East- did we think or care about jobs in those countries? Getting at the workers is just going to give us a bad reputation, and turn the public against us.The problem is with the tenders, Total management and probably the govt. for allowing foreign companies to undercut. The govt. shouldn’t allow this to happen. They haven’t thought about the social price to the area, only the price of the contract.These jobs should go to British workers, cos we can do the work and we need it. Just leave the racism and aggro at home- it doesn’t do anyone any favours.

whilst another worries:

If this is true what I read , then I believe the dispute will gradually lose support.  Demonstrations where foreign workers, holed up in former floating prisons, are howled at will only attract the *** fascists and the bullying idiots who plague our communities.  The corporate media that have stirred up the nationalist elements will then turn on you, showing the demonstrators in the worst light possible.  Game over.  The last thing the bosses and the government want is for British workers to unite with workers from overseas.  They think they can keep fooling us into fighting each other over jobs.  It will send a shiver up their spineless backs when we don’t.

“It scares me when I hear there are going to be demonstrations outside other sites where there are workers from Poland, Spain etc, this only helps the media to present the struggle as being anti-foreign worker.It also worries me that there are reports of people abusing the Italian and Portuguese workers in their floating prison.”

I know it’s difficult to predict, but I can’t believe that young people are not picking up on these events and voicing contrary, and contradictory sentiments about the situation. If you’ve time it would be informative to hear of  youth workers’ experiences when in dialogue with young men and women about this issue.




Bowing to overwhelming demand(!) we are adding to the Contemporary Critical Thoughts page the notes of my contribution ‘The Crisis of Democracy’, given to the 2007 Federation of Detached Youth Work Conference, which focused on Youth Work & Citizenship. Certainly the debate about what we mean by democracy does not go away. In the latest edition of CONCEPT, a favourite journal of ours, William Al-Sharif explores the need to widen the scope of community education for democratic criticism, the need ‘to engage the unengaged’, whilst Maurice Mullard ponders the health of democracy. From my perspective both authors, despite many thought-provoking points, accept too readily that democracy equals representative democracy. In contrast, following Castoriadis (see preface to my piece) I argue that we do not live in a democracy, but in a ‘liberal oligarchy’, where the few continue to maintain their power over the many.

Go to the Contemporary page to read more . . . . . . .and if you’ve got a bob or two spare, subscribe to CONCEPT, the Journal of Contemporary Community Education Practice Theory through NIACE, on-line at



On the Contemporary page you will see a new piece put together by Tania de St. Croix on detached workers’ experiences of information-gathering, surveillance and tracking of young people. She has brought together deftly and sharply the range of responses from people attending the workshop she facilitated at the Federation for Detached Youth Work conference in November. It’s already generated a good response from its appearance on the Federation’s site and we hope posting it here reaches out to an even wider audience.


Here you will find an eclectic choice of links to articles that have tickled our fancy and our intellect.

1. The rise of pushy helicopter parents is holding children back, argues Carl Honore in the pages of the New Humanist. This light piece explores the way in which children’s lives are evermore micro-managed. Its concern is with parenting, but touches on a collective obsession with supervising children’s and young people’s lives. And, isn’t it the case that youth workers are thoroughly integrated into this contemporary version of society’s desire to mould young people into shape and at what cost to an emancipatory youth work practice?

cut the strings | New Humanist.

2.   “These should be good times for the “alter-globalisation” movement. The unprecedented combination of crises in the global economy, environment, and governance makes its argument for a just and equal world – “another world” – seem more relevant than ever. Yet the 100,000 activists expected to assemble at the eighth World Social Forum (WSF) in Belém, Brazil, from 27 January- 1 February 2009 are at a crossroads.  The ideas they have been proposing for much of the last decade have in many ways been vindicated by the global financial breakdowns, food riots and elite failures of 2007-09; but even as it celebrates the demise of forces it has unrelentingly challenged the movement itself is divided over its political and organisational direction.” Its triumph is qualified as it searches for a way to turn global breakdown into political opportunity, says Geoffrey Pleyers.

World Social Forum 2009: a generation’s challenge | open Democracy News Analysis.

3. I’ve been fascinated by the life and works of Edward Carpenter ever since a part-time worker on a training course in the late 1970’s brought him to my attention. She did so during a session on Sexuality, Youth Work and Young People. This review of Sheila Rowbotham’s biography of Carpenter will help you surely to see why he is such an inspiring, if maddening character.

Colm Tóibín: The revolutionary Edward Carpenter

‘On or about December 1910,’ Virginia Woolf noted, ‘human character changed.’ It was hard in or about March 1977 in Barcelona not to feel that human character had changed again, or had changed back, or might change more. Franco was less than 18 months dead, and many of the sights and images in the city were puzzling. One day, as I stood watching a newly formed Communist group march by, I saw in the middle of the marchers a barman whom I had grown to love for his winning smile and general meekness. His fist was raised; he was roaring out some radical slogan. He was not simply looking for better wages for barmen, but wanted, it seemed, something new for all mankind. [ read more . . . ]

via London Review of Books.


Whilst ducking and diving in the stream of the Internet I found some folk, who are possibly swimming in the same direction as ourselves, namely, The Critical Thinking Community, who under the auspices of The Foundation and Center for Critical Thinking ‘aim to improve education in colleges, universities and primary through secondary schools. We present publications, conferences, workshops and professional development programs, emphasizing instructional strategies, Socratic questioning, critical reading and writing, higher order thinking, assessment, research, quality enhancement, and competency standards.’

I need be wary as my caveat is based on my political prejudice. There are some excellent resources on the site, but the underpinning belief of the community is that the world can be changed by changing the ideas in our heads without sufficient weight being given to how we might change our circumstances. Nonetheless this classic difference between a liberal and revolutionary humanism can be explored as we go along. We’ll certainly be chatting to the Foundation and sharing their thoughts. For the moment a quote from one of their inspirations, John Stuart Mill in his essay, ‘On Liberty’


‘If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind…the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error’ (p. 53).

see –


Informal Education

We bring you advance notice of a one-day conference entitled ‘Informal Education within an Informal Setting’, organised jointly under the banner of Durham University, UK Youth and Youth & Policy. This is to be held on May 29th at the welcoming Hinsley Hall in Leeds. The title of the conference exudes irony and contradiction, which should make for a fruitful gathering. Clearly though the conference wishes to go beyond being merely a talking shop. The organisers want to explore the possible formation of Federation of Informal Educators. All power to their collective elbows.

For more information contact Tracey Hodgson at

Anti-Sexist Work

After the event we are fascinated to know what transpired at a seminar organised by the North West Regional Girls Network and the Youth Federation in late January. The day sought to tackle the classical questions: How is sexism affecting the young people we work with? What is effective anti-sexist work and how do we support and promote it? Youth Workers of any gender were invited.

Hard on the heels of the emergence of Feministwebs this is a welcome development. All the more so as in the recent centenary edition of Youth & Policy, Bernard Davies documents how, even in the pages of this forward-looking journal, feminist analysis had become muted over the years. He reflected on the disappearance of the debate around anti-sexist work with young men. In this context I’m sure he will be delighted to hear of the setting-up of a regional network of anti-sexist male workers. We would be pleased to hear about how things went.


In the forthcoming March Blog we hope to feature the promised article on ‘Politics and Youth Work’, partly stimulated by a comment from Mike Amos-Simpson prior to Christmas; an indication of responses to the Open Letter; at last a couple of articles on a new page, Critical Thoughts from the Past  –  we were always tantalising our readers with this promise on the old site at http://www, ; and loads of feedback from your good selves?


Graeme Tiffany informs us that:

India’s Icfai University Press will publish his paper on ‘Detached Youth Work & Democratic Education’ as a chapter in a forthcoming book: Holistic. Transformative and Democratic Education: The Future of Education. This will go to  thousands of professionals and students in the sub-continent. And they picked it up via the Critically Chatting web site!

Easy now, says Graeme!

Well, wellingtons firmly stuck in the mud, we won’t get carried away, but we are pleased for Graeme and a bit chuffed that our tentacles are spreading!

[Blog put together by TT on behalf of the Collective, 3/2/2009]