Researching youth: An educational methodology
Young people are the primary constituency of most educational institutions. Questions of socialisation, the transition into economic participation and the duties of citizenship are important concerns. As such, young people are at the heart of much educational research, whether directly as participants or more indirectly as the subjects of educational questions. The study of youth, as it is variously explored in the field of youth studies, can concern young people’s transitions to adulthood, cultures, subjectivities and the representation of youth, often understood in ‘the intersection of a changing social structure and the life course’ (Woodman et al., 2020, p. 1). The category and concerns of youth intersect with education in consequential ways. Yet it is less common that educational research engages with youth, as distinct from young people as educational subjects in the terms given to us by educational policy, institutions and systems.
Young people’s active citizenship, for instance, is needed to tackle climate change and to support social cohesion amid political polarisation. As an educational question, the relation of education to climate change is often approached in terms of the content of citizenship curricula; or the teaching of the science of climate change positions young people narrowly as educational subjects (Rousell & Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles, 2020). However, doing so risks leaving significant questions about the role of educators, and their responsibility in relation to the politics of youth, youth futures and democracy is insufficiently addressed. A similar point could be made about transitions to economic participation whereby educational research questions are often framed in terms of the preparation of young people for the economy, leaving unaddressed important dimensions of educators’ practice in relation to the effect of a changing economy on young people’s experiences, expectations and everyday social relations. We could also think of lifestyle, identity, equity and wellbeing as points of intersection between youth and education research.
There is an opportunity to ask productive questions of and about education by being more inclusive of the terms of ‘youth’. And it is this sense of opportunity that prompted the British Educational Research Association Youth and Informal Education special interest group to work with the British Sociological Association’s (BSA) Youth Study Group and the Political Studies Association’s (PSA) Young People’s Politics Specialist Group to create a cross-disciplinary dialogue on methodologies and methods of research with young people. Held across eight webinars, the discussion explored a range of topics, including: the possibilities and practical approaches of research that is more inclusive of young people; more involving of their participation; more predicated on their terms; and that worked from their territories rather than only educational spaces.
‘There is an opportunity to ask productive questions of and about education by being more inclusive of the terms of “youth”.’
Recordings of all these webinars are available on the BERA website to watch, and there is further discussion taking place in blog posts published by BSA and PSA. With an educational focus in mind, we wanted to briefly highlight three key takeaways from the series.
- Co-production and co-authorship were common trends within the research presented in the series, demonstrating the resourcefulness and responsiveness of researchers working with young people, involving young people from start to finish. However, these collaborative research processes came with extra considerations of maintaining motivations and expectations for young people’s involvement. There was a reminder that young people’s involvement might be fluid and researchers need to be flexible to enable young people to participate in the research according to their own priorities and preferences (Bowman, 2022).
- Place-based methods were one aspect of undertaking youth research that was recognised as paying particular attention to the spaces that young people inhabit on an everyday basis, affording a sense of belonging and relationship formation. Examples included walking interviews (Cohen & Viola, 2022) and muddy methods research at festival sites (Buck-Matthews, 2018), which enabled a focus on the research site privileging young people’s territories and acknowledging the researcher as outsider.
- Embodiment represented both online and offline encounters, that often worked well together, enabled wider geographical and often trans-national reach within youth research (Dyer, 2020). Viewing research with young people as embodied offered opportunities for experimentation and playfulness in both data production and presentation, often demonstrating creativity, which was another strong theme to emerge from the series.
Exploring an educational methodology for youth research keeps fresh and responsive an ever-evolving field where there is value in further maintaining these conversations.
This blog post is part of a series of three posts about researching youth, published by BERA, BSA and PSA. Click here to read the blog post published by BSA and click here to read the blog post published by PSA.
Bowman, B. (2022). Remix this method: A creative approach to young people’s everyday lives as political arenas. Journal of Youth Studies, 25(1), 17–33. https://doi.org/10.1080/13676261.2020.1844168
Buck-Matthews, E. (2018). Re-framing music festivals: Exploring space, solidarity, spirituality and self with young people [Doctoral dissertation, Coventry University]. https://pureportal.coventry.ac.uk/en/studentTheses/re-framing-music-festivals-exploring-space-solidarity-spiritualit
Cohen, E., & Viola, J. (2022). The role of pedagogy and the curriculum in university students’ sense of belonging. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 19(4). https://ro.uow.edu.au/jutlp/vol19/iss4/06
Dyer, H. T. (2020). Designing the social: Unpacking social media design and identity. Springer.
Rousell, D., & Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles, A. (2020). A systematic review of climate change education: Giving children and young people a ‘voice’ and a ‘hand’ in redressing climate change. Children’s Geographies, 18(2), 191–208. https://doi.org/10.1080/14733285.2019.1614532
Woodman, D., Shildrick, T., & MacDonald, R. (2020). Inequality, continuity and change: Andy Furlong’s legacy for youth studies. Journal of Youth Studies, 23(1), 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1080/13676261.2020.1712339