Youth work as emancipatory practice

Annette Coburn, Sinead Gormally

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


This paper considers the value base of equality and social justice in youth work (Buchroth, and Parkin, 2010; Jeffs and Smith, 2010; Tett, 2010). It examines the extent to which contemporary practices in educational youth work address or compound the kind of age based discrimination that 46 young people are routinely subjected to in ‘British’ society. Drawing on empirical evidence, our analysis of power relationships shows how young people learn about equality in youth work. Yet, findings identify a series of contradictions in youth work. On one hand, it seeks to socialise young people into existing structures that perpetuate inequalities, yet, it also claims to liberate young people from age-based and other forms of discrimination. These contradictions are sustained through a disjuncture between a risk averse culture of compliance that is ineffective in developing equality work (Coburn, 2011) and a more radical and ethical value base for youth work (Banks, 2010; Sercombe, 2010), that has emancipatory praxis at its core (Batsleer, 2008; Cooper, 2012; Crooks, 1992; Cressey, 2008; Skott-Myre, 2008). The paper explores this duality of praxis and draws conclusions on possibilities and problems in conceptualising youth work within exiting frames of reference. The paper proposes new roles for youth workers in recreating the kind of dissenting vocation that Martin (2001) identified as critical to social and democratic education and which underpins our assertion of youth work as emancipatory practice.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes
EventContemporary Youth Contemporary Risk: Journal of Youth Studies Conference - Copenhagen, Denmark
Duration: 30 Mar 20151 Apr 2015


ConferenceContemporary Youth Contemporary Risk


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