Young People as Active Citizens: Placing Youth Participation Structures in The Republic of Ireland under Critical Scrutiny
Hobbs, Adrienne (2012) Young People as Active Citizens: Placing Youth Participation Structures in The Republic of Ireland under Critical Scrutiny. PhD thesis, National University of Ireland Maynooth.
This thesis is a critical investigation into the effectiveness of the youth participation structures created by the Irish State following the passing of the National Children’s Strategy (2000). As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the State is obliged to extend citizenship rights, including the right to actively participate in the democratic process, to children and young people. Two structures are under review; the thirty-four youth councils, Comhairle na nÓg, and the annual youth parliament, Dáil na nÓg. Objectives include understanding how these participation structures are operationalised; how issues for participation are identified and dealt with; the background and motivations of members and the level of public awareness in, and impact of, these structures on young people and their communities. The original contribution to knowledge is the proposition of a new theoretical framework through which the question of the effectiveness of the youth participation structures which exist (in Ireland) might be approached. The philosophical orientation of the study is a commitment to the evaluative approach offered to Children’s Geographies by classical pragmatism. A ‘hands-on philosophy’ of direct inquiry, classical pragmatism favours a practical, applied approach to the theorizing of societal issues over more absolutist abstractions. The critical inquiry presented is guided by the evaluative procedures derived from the key tenets of classical pragmatism such as the acknowledgment that while the researcher’s place in inquiry is important, it is not a privileged place; ultimately evaluation must be guided by the criteria of ‘what works’ in practice. A mix of qualitative methods comprising of non-participant observations and semi-structured interviews were deployed and analysed using a grounded theory approach; indeed this study wishes to consolidate the status of grounded theory as a key method for Children’s Geographies. The analysis revealed practices of participation which although well-intentioned, were often unfocussed and ineffective. Application of the substantive grounded theory generated in this study would see young people and adults participating collaboratively in order that young people’s voices are better heard in society.
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