Rethinking Young People’s Participation: Two Reflexive Case Studies
Vainker, Stephen Robert
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
This research aims to establish a new way of understanding the ‘problem’ of children and young people’s participation. The problem is that the reality of participation has not lived up to its theoretical promise of enabling children and young people to meaningfully shape their environment on their own terms. With a reflexive approach, the research reformulates the relationship between the theory and reality of children and young people’s participation through investigating two case studies of participation projects in museums and galleries in the UK. In the literature review the problem of participation is situated within the policy, organisational and personal contexts; at each level of context, it is argued that there are fundamental, intractable reasons why the promise of participation cannot be realised in practice. In the case studies participation in practice is investigated in an in-depth way from a range of perspectives, focusing on the framing, practice and experience of the projects through discourse analysis of project documentation, observation of the projects in practice, and interviews with the participants. In the case studies the theoretical contradictions of participation emerge in practice; while the organisations attempt to enable the participants to engage with the project on their own terms, the top-down organisation of the project mean that controls over the participants are unintentionally created. The participants engaged with and experienced the projects in different ways and types of participants were identified in terms of how the projects were navigated. It was found that all participants were able to draw a positive experience from the projects even though there were problematic aspects. In response to the intractable problems of participation, in conclusion it is suggested that ‘spaciousness’ may be a more useful concept, focusing on enabling young people to make sense of their ambivalent experience in organisations in their own way.
PhD in Management Studies