The quagmire of creating genres in youthwork

Driving back from dropping my kids off at the local church youth group, and listening slightly obliviously to BBC tees, the country hour. Now im not into country music really at all. But as I was listening it got me thinking and wondering about whether the descriptive genre could be utilised within youthwork. And if so, what would they be, and how might they be defined.

In 2008, The Scottish government published a document, ‘Moving Forward’ in it the then government started to consider the role of the ‘use’ of youthwork to fulfil the needs of the government. Also, within it, proponents of youth work were keen to spread the use of youthwork into other agencies, such as schools (curriculum for excellence), police, probation and social health.

In some way, there’s possibly two ‘genres’ there. Youthworkers using youthwork skills to fulfil set aims and agendas, and non-youthworkers using youthwork approaches to fulfil the needs in their professions, reducing youthwork to ‘having a conversation’ without an understanding of the social & power environment of that conversation.

What other genres could there be?

In Cockburn and Wallace (2010) they describe then Scottish youthwork to have three main threads or streams, Liberal (open club type/ value orientated), functional ( with a change intention) and Critical (using the space to challenge status quo’s in society that doesnt favour a young person)- they go onto consider that most youthwork contains more than one strand/theme.

What about activity based youthwork – such as in outward bound activity centres? or Arts/ Drama/Sports focussed youthwork? – might they be considered a different Genre?

Then theres non purpose building – building focussed youthwork – ie that occurs in a faith building, or a school.

Or the youthwork that occurs in the remit of a specific charitable aim, such as youth clubs within mental health charities, Barnados, or equivalents. are they similar but yet different again?

And then Detached, or Outreach type youthwork that occurs not in a building – and depending on its aims or values could be considered another Genre.

Many words have prefixed ‘youthwork’ over the past 20 odd years, some more helpful that others; Rural, Urban, Detached, Faith-based, Christian, Muslim, Voluntary, Jewish, Symbiotic (Passmore 2013), Sacrilized (Nash 2012), Street-based, Centre/community -Based, – have any of them become so clear that those within the profession know what they are? well detached maybe.

And does it depend who is using them? – hence a good amount of confusion.

Whilst there is blurry space around the edges, and in a period of time where clear defined genres for film & music may be hard to find (except repeated ballads on X factor, or Michael Baye movies) , does it matter anyway, and what might be the deciding factors in trying to create genres in youthwork anyway.

After all, to say that a genre of youthwork practice is one thing, might only set it apart, but infer that a practice of youthwork isnt doing that thing. So to say for example that a practice of youthwork is ‘values led’ would infer than ‘non’ values led would have no values, where this might clearly not be the case.

In the past the prefixes have focussed on the setting (centre-based) – the belief of the worker or sacred building( Christian, Muslim) , the approach (detached) , its alignment to a faith perspective (Symbiotic/Sacrilized- which enable a contrast between youthwork done by people of the Christian faith and the much easier to recognise ‘youth ministry’) or whether people are paid or work for the voluntary sector (as opposed to state- thus ‘Voluntary’)

To start off with here’s a few;

Liberating youthwork –  regardless of where it is based upon helping young people be free from constraints, to become freed from aspect of personal, community, educational, social life that act as a hindrance. Based on values of liberation (of the oppressed & liberation theology, and acts accordingly. )

Political youthwork- goes one step further than the above- but challenges at a higher level, in politics &  governance

Mandated youth work with young people – where a youthworker is using youthwork to fulfil mandates of funders/programmes., or have preset programmes.

Youthwork approached ______________ (policing/probation/pastor/church) – where youthwork is a tool in the box within a predefined space in a different profession/vocation.

Might there be others?  or might the top two be considered ‘youthwork’ and the bottom two not anyway…

Heading to Jeffs and Smith (2010) , the aspects that characterise youthwork include; young people, welfare & association, education, voluntary participation and being friendly and acting with virtue & integrity. Most could be complied with every setting – with the exception of voluntary participation. 

So if all of these factors are included then would it be better to not confuse things by using youthwork in situations where all five of those factors arent in play. work with young people yes – youthwork no. But what about young people in a school lunchtime, or in a voluntary space but in a Prison? – would that be youthwork.. i fear im treading into a mire….

I guess going back to the original thought, a movie, book or music is very easy to define as a substance, and then have derivatives from in terms of genre. Is youthwork itself as definable- being as its is a way of working with people in accordance to a number of young person centred values, philosophies and ideals. Might youthwork itself a genre of liberating practice in communities anyway? as a thought to ponder and reflect on.

So, youthwork can be creative, liberating, political and contextual and with the young person, – shall we stick to these. Anything else isnt youthwork at all, its working to or for young people.












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