Success stories and failures in increasement of youth’s political participation and engagement

Jarmo Rinne (Kaakkois-Suomen ammattikorkeakoulu)

Citizens’ participation and engagement in the political process count as a conditio sine qua nonof any democratic system. Disengagement and alienation from politics together with the declining interest in political participation are a constant cause of worry in democracies. Especially worrying is, that many young people seem to be opting out from the political sphere. Young peoples’ political involvement and participation have been decreasing and diluting for long despite the various efforts to increase youth political activity. Among different forms aiming to improve the youth political engagement and participation, are municipal youth councils, student councils, youth teams in different organizations, special groups appointed by ministries, and young peoples’ self-organized groups. In spite of several and diverse channels and means intended to mobilize the youth, a significant number of young people do not involve in politics, whereas a small amount of youth is politically active in many ways.

Digging bit deeper. Looking at participation and engagement through theoretical lenses.

Jarmo Rinne & Tiina Rättilä (Kaakkois-Suomen ammattikorkeakoulu)

Public participation and an opportunity to have a say in public matters are widely regarded as vital parts of democratic governance. Having a right and an opportunity to be involved in the decision-making processes are seen as a way of empowerment for citizens and as vital part of democratic governance. This view implies that citizens’ involvement will influence the political processes.

However, participation and engagement may succeed or fail. In spite of good causes and intentions many attempts to make a difference are not influencing the decisions at all. Why is that? In our presentation, we will take a closer look at the problematic, and sometimes contingent, nature of participation, involvement and engagement. Drawing on the insights of classical political theories, especially on Machiavelli’s thoughts concerning the elements that successful activities require and Hannah Arendt’s theorizing on the human action and features of Vita Activa. According to Machiavelli an actor should take into account and utilize three distinguishable, yet closely intertwined, element to make one’s action succeed. These elements are:

1. virtú
2. Occasione
3. Fortuna

Our exploration on Arendt focus on her thoughts of the human action and how the truly authentic and genuine action creates something new. The creation through action, in Arendt’s thoughts, resembles God’s doing.

We will illuminate our abstract academic excursion with empirical examples. Through our theoretical lenses, we will analyze the young peoples’ global action network against climate crisis. This network was launched by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who has given a face and has become a representative figure the young peoples’ network exerting political influence to stop the climate change. 

Power-relations among youths in societal change processes – the case of Tredu

Niina Meriläinen (Tampereen yliopisto)

Could youths from non-political backgrounds and with less-central positions act as experts in legislative and policy-making processes? The empirical one-year long multidisciplinary research conducted at Tredu, highlights how youths from non-political studies, need to be inspired, empowered and encouraged to be active in political and societal change process and for e.g. by incorporating youths’ expertise in the policy and legislative processes. The democratic development of societies cannot rest only on the participation on central youths. The dispersion in the empirical research data confirm the research on power-relations between actors in societal and political issue arenas which has been studied for e.g. by Meriläinen (2014; 2015; 2019). The results show that there is knowledge on various issue, also on legislation, among the students at Tredu. However, the students regard themselves non-experts with little connection to societal and political change processes. The students have not been consulted or met by policy makers at all. Thus, their possible expertise has not been regarded as salient in democratic processes. The gap between the youth and official policy makers is wide. Better participatory practices must be developed to narrow the gap between central and less-central youth actors.

Marginalised young people negotiating identity categories in ‘empowering’ contexts

Anna Suni (Helsingin yliopisto) & Reetta Mietola (Helsingin yliopisto)

This paper discusses two ethnographic case studies: (1) a civics course organized by a multicultural foundation for students in upper secondary school, and (2) a series of workshops organised by our research team for local (multicultural) young people in one district in Helsinki. The research is part of ALL-YOUTH Want to Rule Their World –research project (SRC 2018-2023). 

In this paper, our focus is on the dynamics between the identity production present in the practices that aim to “empower” the participating young people, and the ways that the young people respond to these categorisations. Our paper asks, how are identities and belonging negotiated with and by the young people in these contexts.

Our paper suggests that while the young people find these practices and the topics discussed inviting and relevant, and regard the opportunity to engage with other young people like them as important, they however constantly challenge the categorisations provided for them and do not find these as something to identify with. The young people rather seem to treat these categorisations as ‘strategic’: as something that can be used to make your voice heard, and as something that can even be ‘played’ with.

Rejecting Sex Pistols: 1970s punk subculture as dissident life politics in Finland    

Juho Hänninen & Mikko Salasuo (Nuorisotutkimusverkosto)

In the European context Finland modernized late. In the decades following the Second World War, the country’s economic structure was agrarian-heavy and over half of the population lived in the countryside. The Finnish mentalities reflected the late modernization. Youth policy was guided by an exaggerating ethos of nationalism and socializing youth into ‘respectable’ citizens following agrarian values. To the European periphery, youth culture spread slowly. For decades media and policy belittled youth culture and it was framed as a mere momentary disruption in the socialization process.

The late 1970s punk subculture – and its provocative music and style – was a thorn in the side of the largely agrarian Finland. When in the British context punk was a site of class resistance, in Finland punk opened the door to a symbolic battlefield between the traditional and modern. Especially the prominent punk style was interpreted as a political act. The style was politicized, regardless of punks’ own interpretations of it. What the older generations saw as strange and threatening, was for the younger generation a means to break away from the burden of agrarian past.

Present-day scholars have portrayed Finnish youth policy’s former socialization ethos even as ‘naïve’. The 1980s saw a surge of youth and subcultures that lead to re-evaluation of youth culture in politics, media and the society at large. The agency of the youth was acknowledged, and the old socialization ethos was replaced by a “youth cultural” way of thinking about young people. Sometimes even unwillingly, the 1970s punks had become pioneers of life politics in Finland.

In this article we examine how the 1970s punks experienced the societal reaction to their subculture, and their role as – willing or unwilling – actors of ‘life politics’. We also ask what kind of meanings punks assigned to their ‘dissident’ music and style. This is done by analyzing media accounts of 1970s punk and oral history data collected in 2016."