Beyond Relational Youthwork – or at least, what shall we call it?

So to think about going beyond the term relational youthwork, as Various people here  have begun to talk and think about. If the term Incarnational is too ‘christian’ , and the term ‘relational’ is too vague or much of a misnoma, given that every interaction between a young person and youthworker should seek to be nurturing some kind of relationship (Goetschius & Tash 1967: 136-149). Its kind of what we do, well at least it should be. Being relational is probably a natural expression of the embodiment of the values and ‘withness’ that The Incarnation shows us. A being with, that seeks to become with, understand, learn from and live amongst, in terms of values, attitudes or actions. An embodiment of a message of hope, of love and faith.

So what of the alternatives?   Coburn and Wallace in Youthwork in schools and communities (2010) begin a conversation whereby thematically youthwork moves fluidly between the characters of Liberation, of Functionality and being Critical- and positioning Youthwork as a border pedagogy, a space of learning that draws from, and yet critiques the space between the establishments of school, of Family , of health and dare i say it Church.  Maybe this places youthwork in too much of an ‘in between’ space, but it could be helpful in attempting to determining something of the ‘younger brother’ element to the profession and its often critical stance in the wake of the political or social forces that are placed upon it. Yet, its not great for helping to name youthwork as a positive transformational agency in the life of young people – being a ‘border pedagogy’?  is it…

I wonder whether the longevity of youthwork and its position in  young peoples lives, in a transformational way, gives us license to call it ‘Narrative Youthwork’, whereby we help to be part of the story of young peoples lives, being of significance, that we are a new character, whom they can draw support and encouragement from, that we shape their story by creating the space to encourage many options through learning and reflection, and that we encourage their human flourishing in the way that we are with them.  I guess we often ask them how the story will end – ie ‘what would you like to do when you leave school’  or ‘if you did ____, what might happen?’ and so maybe like ‘relational’ , ‘narrative’ is as vague, or all-embracing, or obvious. Yet drawing from ‘story telling’ and Narrative theology  and consider the young people as parts of the Christian narrative….

I guess Artistic youthwork is the same, yet youthwork as a thing of beauty is something that we would all agree with, when we encourage new life, new hope and transformation – does it matter what we call it? ….




One comment

  1. Interesting thoughts James,
    To summarise my thinking

    Christian youth work is not distinctive from other general descriptions of youth work and therefore doesn’t need a specifically Christianized title. Christian youth work finds its distinctiveness in the discourse in which it is embedded and infused. While its practise may differ little or not at all with other youth work, the horizon of its ‘goods’ will be distinctive, at least in parts, from the horizons of mainstream youth work.


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