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Understanding youth civic engagement: Debates, discourses, and lessons from practice

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While civic engagement provides a rich rationale for intervention, the array of discourses urging a focus on youth engagement or action means that the concept can be confusing, cluttered, and lacking consistent operationalization. From the perspective of policy-makers and program managers, it can be challenging to disentangle the competing messages and assumptions about young people that underpin the rhetoric in relation to youth engagement. Using a wide range of international research, the purpose of this paper is to provide clarity regarding the key multiple concepts and issues pertinent to the concept of youth civic engagement. In particular, the paper answers the following questions: what are the definitions, typologies, and discourses in which the concept of youth civic engagement operates, and what are the putative beneficial outcomes of youth engagement identified? We also discuss some of the broader considerations on the positioning of young people in society, which impact the trajectory of civic engagement efforts. As a means for reflecting on their own practices, programs, and approaches, our intent is to provide those involved in both the application and research of youth engagement with a more coherent roadmap of the diversity residing in this field.




Shaw, A., Brady, B., McGrath, B., Brennan, M. A., & Dolan, P. (2014). Understanding youth civic engagement: Debates, discourses, and lessons from practice. Community Development, 45(4), 300–316.

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