As part of our Knowledge Transfer programme Akile Ahmet is interviewing key people in the field of youth work, careers education, and schooling to help us make our findings relevant to their work. The first of her interviews was with Tania de St Croix. Tania is a youth worker and a postdoctoral research fellow at King’s College London. Her PhD explored grassroots youth work and this is affected by policy changes and how youth workers respond and resist some of the policy changes that have been happening. Tania is also a member and spokesperson for ‘In Defence of Youth Work’. In this post Akile describes what happened when she went along on Friday 19 June to talk with Tania and discuss some of the project findings.
So what barriers do you think young people face?
“There is a huge lack of opportunity, if you are not from a privileged group. I think even if you are from a privileged group I think there are still barriers because I think there is a tax on young people’s independence. That idea that oh you should stay at home, if you go to university, you are going to be indebted all that kind of thing, so actually young people who are maybe not in the most privileged groups, even those in the middle-class financially-ok groups still face barriers at the moment”.
We also had a great discussion on the rhetoric of success which is something we raised in the paper: ‘We can Get Everything We Want if We Try Hard’: Young People, Celebrity, Hard Work:
“So in some ways young people think ‘yeah I can do what I want’, and that kind of rhetoric that you’ve got every chance you can be successful if you work hard enough – it’s a really powerful thing and hard to speak against, as young person if you say there’s no opportunities, there’s barriers in my way. It’s almost like it’s not an option to say, because the rhetoric is to be successful you have to think positive, you have to enterprise you have to think forward you have to go and try something new, take risks. That kind of enterprising rhetoric is really constraining and really empowering, because it has a sort of façade of empowerment, but in reality it’s very constraining for young people, because if you are not succeeding then you have got to say yeah I’ve got chances, opportunities, for young people without any welfare safety net, all those issues are much much scarier and worst. A lot of the young people in Hackney are at risk. They are living in areas where there are a lot of gangs and things, drug dealing and drug taking and that’s where they see the successful entrepreneur sometimes”.
I asked Tania about her thoughts on the project:
“It’s research that really reaches out and is really relevant to the young people that I work with and the issues that they talk about. And I hadn’t thought about celebrity as a complex issue that it brings up – social justice and so on”.
One of the most interesting things that Tania found about our project was:
“I am really interested in the stuff around hard work and the celebration of hard work- that really resonates with me about how young people talk about their opportunities and just that difficulty that you are free to achieve as long as you work hard enough and that kind of idea is promoted that is there is no big barrier if you are a woman or if you are Black or this. It’s great to have this positive role models in terms of you should reach for the sky, in some ways it is really an exciting thing to think. I didn’t feel like that when I was young … for the young people that I work with it’s been great seeing a Black president … but what I really like about the research is that it makes apparent the huge inequalities that exist”.
I also asked what surprised Tania the most about our findings. She told me it was the popularity of technologist, philanthropist and multi-billionaire Billionaire Bill Gates:
“It kind of annoyed me because I don’t like the Bill Gates Foundation … most young people would question the idea of multi-billionaires and the inequalities of that but how can someone who is a prime example of that be held up as a great example? It’s good that young people believe in sharing wealth; it’s such a shame because it is such an individual way of ‘Oh it’s alright so long as you give your money to charity’.”
One of the key aims of the Knowledge Transfer funding from Brunel University is to develop resources from the project for teachers, youth workers, careers educators and young people themselves. Once again, Tania had lots of thoughts on this:
- “I would like to see some of it dramatised as a sort of play so it would reach more people. Like going to a play with young people on these issues would have great impact. I think there is something important about going to something as a collective and engaging with something”.
- “I think I can imagine using something like the report cards [on what young people thought celebrities would be like in school], more paper based activities. Again, if money was no object, more glossy resources, because I think people who have a lot of IT in their lives, … I think there are different things that are needed by different professionals”.
- “So for youth work – something that you can go to or something that could come to communities, or resources that are quite tactile … Like a game, something like issues based board games – it could incorporate some of the myths and facts – you could be a celebrity”.
So how should we increase impact from our research?
“What the real challenge is I mean celebrity is an instant interesting thing – how do you keep central to it, rather than reinforcing stereotypes of inequalities? How can we use it to question some of those more complex issues of hard work? So maybe kind of sessions for practitioners or for university youth work courses, or sessions for young people. What I struggle with is how I would use something like report cards without reinforcing the same stereotypical things that the young people were saying in the research, how would you get into some of the deeper issues”.
On reflection after meeting Tania, I am really inspired, both by her input and the projects that she is involved in. The development of a play would be a fantastic output from the research. There is some great potential to use the interview materials, and the YouTube videos already developed could be used further.
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