However, of late the notion has come under considerable
threat as more individualized and professionalized appreciations of
the work have come to dominate the agenda. For example, the most
visible understandings of young people's participation are not linked
to notions of self-government, but rather as consumers. Within the
priorities set out in Transforming
Youth Work (DfEE 2001) talk of participation in political and
communal life is narrowed to the involvement of young people within
the Connexions Service and providing feedback on other systems
Being friendly and informal, and acting with integrity
Youth work has come to be characterized by a
belief that workers should not only be approachable and friendly; but
also that they should have faith in people; and be trying, themselves,
to live good lives. In other words, the person or character of the
worker is of fundamental importance. As Basil Henriques put it (1933:
60): ‘However much self-government in the club may be emphasized,
the success of the club depends upon the personality and ingenuity of
the leader’. The head of the club, he continued, must ‘get to know
and to understand really well every individual member. He must have it
felt that he is their friend and servant’ (ibid.: 61). Or as Josephine
Macalister Brew (1957:
112-113) put it, ‘young
people want to know where they are and they need the friendship of
those who have confidence and faith’.
from this that the settings workers help to build should be convivial,
the relationships they form honest and characterized by ‘give and
take’; and the programmes they are involved in, flexible. 'A youth
leader must try not to be too concerned about results’, Brew wrote,
‘and at all costs not to be over-anxious' (ibid.: 183).
Only by the slow and tactful method of
inserting yourself unassumingly into the life of the club, not by
talking to your club members, but by hanging about and learning from
their conversation and occasionally, very occasionally, giving it
that twist which leads it to your goal, is it possible to open up a
new avenue of thought to them (Brew 1943: 16).
In short, youth work is driven by conversation
and an evolving idea of what might make for the well-being and growth.
Being concerned with the education and, more broadly, the
welfare of young people
Historically, youth work did not
develop simply ‘keep people off the streets’, or to provide
amusement. A lot of the early clubs grew out of Sunday
schools and ragged
schools – and much provision has retained an educative
orientation. Training courses and programmes, classes,
discussions, libraries and various opportunities to expand and deepen
experience have been an essential element of the work since its
beginnings. This interest in learning – often of the most
informal kind – was augmented by a concern for the general welfare
of young people. We can find many examples of clubs providing a range
of services including health care, wash and bathrooms, clothing
stores, and income support. With developments and changes in state
support mechanisms, and the identification of other needs, the pattern
of welfare provision has shifted – but has remained a significant
element of youth work.
It is through these five elements that we can
begin to make sense of the dominant discourses of youth work in the
twentieth century and can view youth work as a form of informal
education (Smith 1988). However, what is of particular
significance for us now, is that the scale of change with regard to
these dimensions is such that we face a defining moment in the history
of youth work in Britain.
The threat posed by the New
Here I want to focus on three key elements of the
new Labour agenda: ‘joined up thinking’, surveillance and
individualization – and the way I which these are impacting upon
informal education in the UK. (These, and other, elements are
discussed in more detail in Jeffs
and Smith 2001b). Two of the main vehicles for this agenda
are the Connexions
Service in England and the new
community schools in Scotland
State surveillance and control
There has been a long concern with behaviour
deemed anti-social or deviant within youth work. As Tony Jeffs has
pointed out, this function has granted ‘an enduring raison d’etre
for intervention on the grounds that managing anti-social
behaviour simultaneously serves the interests of both young people and
the “community”’ (2001: 155). Recent English Government papers
such as Transforming Youth Work have continued in this
tradition: ‘We want to develop young people who add value to their
social surroundings rather than subtracting through anti - social
behaviour’ (DfEE 2001: 13). However, a very strong concern with
surveillance and control runs through the broad strategy for youth
that has appeared across the UK - whether this be concerned with
schooling, behaviour in public places, or entry into employment.
of the more obvious examples of increased surveillance include
encouraging the use of sophisticated close circuit television systems
in shopping malls, attempts at curfews, and the use of welfare workers
such as personal advisers within the Connexions Service in England to
monitor and record the activities of individuals. Within England there
is to be a comprehensive database maintained by the Connexions
Service. It has the potential of combining different data streams via
elements like the YouthCard, monitoring by personal advisers and
others, and even medical records. More covert forms of surveillance
have gone almost unnoticed - such as the use of course work for
qualification and the monitoring of individual 'progress' within
schooling. These are what Staples (2000) has termed the ‘mundane’
practices of surveillance.
‘Joined-up thinking’ is part of the New
Labour mantra and been Government concern with the duplication of, and
lack of coordination between, agencies and services has been a
significant element in the setting up of the new community schools in
Scotland (Smith 1999) and the Connexions Service in England. As Watts
(2001) has commented with regard to the Connexions Service in England:
The core of the analysis was the belief that a
key cause of the ineffectiveness of current provision was the
proliferation of specialist agencies, each dealing with a
disconnected part of the young person's life…Accordingly, there
was a widely-held view that the agencies needed to be brought more
closely together, and that - as part of this process - there was a
strong case for each young person to be linked to a key worker who
could form a relationship of trust with them, see their problems as
a whole, and 'broker' the support of the relevant specialist
Significantly, we lack hard evidence that ‘joined-up
services’ work in this context. It may well be that many
partnerships between agencies have not been well planned and ‘suffer
from bureaucratic and funding straightjackets which seem to prevent
suitable and sensitive partnerships and “joined-up” solutions’ (Coles
2000: 17), but there is some evidence that the Connexions strategy in
England, for example, will exacerbate this. It has its own
bureaucratic and funding straightjackets (as many agencies within the
pilot areas have found).
What is more, the notion of ‘joined-up’
services proceeds from a dubious assumption – that young people
benefit from dealing with services that share information with one
another (see Jeffs and Smith 2001b). While it may make sense to avoid
duplication, there is a downside. 'Joined-up services' can work to
limit the freedom of young people to ‘shop around’. for services.
The ‘key worker’ or personal
advisor allocated to them may not be competent or appropriate.
There is also an issue for those agencies that work on the basis of a
‘fresh start’. They may well not welcome such information. Sadly,
they may not be able to avoid making use of it. In addition, when
combined with the compilation of comprehensive files on young people,
an emphasis on coordinating the efforts of agencies can lead to an
depersonalised approach that emphasizes the management of cases rather
than working with the young people’s accounts of situations and
experiences. (see Jeffs and Smith 2001b).
Within government policies there has been a
growing focus upon targeting interventions at named individuals - we
can see this in some of the activities of youth workers within the new
community schools, of learning
mentors within the Safer Cities Initiative in England and
of personal advisers within the Connexions Service. Essentially a form
of case management is seen as the dominant way of working. People are
identified who are in need of intervention so that they may take up
education, training or work. Individual action programmes are devised
and implemented. Programmes are then assessed on whether these named
individuals return to learning or enter work - rather than on any
contribution made to the quality of civic life, personal flourishing
or social relationships that arise out of the process.
The emphasis on surveillance and control, case
management, and on individualized ways of working run counter to the
key characteristics of youth work that we discussed earlier. There is
a shift from voluntary participation to more coercive forms; from
association to individualized activity; from education to case
management (and not even casework); and from informal to bureaucratic
Unfortunately, in many respects we have brought
this upon ourselves - and I want to turn now to a key aspect - the
loss of faith in association.
The loss of faith in association
In the early 1990s Konrad Elsdon (1995) and his colleagues
undertook a survey of local voluntary organizations in Britain. Two
things were striking about their work. First, the sheer scale of
involvement. Around 12 million women and men were involved in running
1.3 million bodies - and what is especially interesting here is that
these were what we might describe as associations - 'small
democracies' (1995: 39). Second, Elsdon and his colleagues
demonstrated empirically the educative potential of voluntary
groups. They comment on:
... the great range of learning, change and satisfaction over and
above those which are deliberate, inherent in the organization's
objectives, and expected by their members. The one which was given
priority almost universally, and reported as being of greater
importance than the content objective of the organization, is quite
simply growth in confidence, and its ramifications and secondary
effects of self-discovery, freedom in forging relationships and
undertaking tasks, belief in oneself and in one's potential as a
human being and an agent, and ability to learn and change both in
the context of the organization's objectives and in others.
(2000) has argued that there has been a significant decline in
associational activity in the United States since the 1960s. Alongside
this has come a growing social distance between neighbours, friends
and the extended family. The result, he contends, is a significant
decline in social
capital - social networks and the associated norms of
For the first two-thirds of the twentieth century a powerful tide
bore Americans into ever-deeper social engagement in the life of
their communities, but a few decades ago - silently without warning
- that tide reversed and we were overtaken by a treacherous rip
current. Without at first noticing, we have been pulled apart from
one another and from our communities over the last third of the
century. (Putnam 2000: 27)
In Britain we do not have a comparable study,
but a similar pattern does appear to be in operation. As Michael Young
(2001: 28) has suggested, there is likely to have been a similar
withdrawal from civic and associational life.
If we turn to youth work this pattern is very
clear. There has been a significant decline in the membership of youth
organizations by those over the age of 11 since the mid 1970s – and
this far exceeds what might be predicted by demographic change. We can
identify a range of factors at work here including the rise of the
home as a centre for entertainment (through the growth in
technological possibility, declining family size and the impact of
things like central heating); increased participation in education
(meaning that large numbers of young people have the opportunity to
meet each other); pressures on young people to complete course work;
and the growth of commercial leisure opportunities (Smith 1991). The
youth club, like the public house, has declined in significance as a
place where people meet and spend time.
One response by youth workers and youth
services to this movement was to move to alternative ways of working
– in particular detached youth work, issue-based projects and, in
Scotland, youth cafes. With numbers attending youth clubs and centres
in decline there was a domino effect. It was hard to make the case for
dedicated buildings, a struggle to generate sufficient numbers of
participants for groups and special activities, and often demoralizing
for workers who had nobody to talk to but themselves for much of the
What was more it was increasingly difficult to find people ready
to volunteer to work in local groups. The traditional youth club
seemed doomed to extinction. The final blow was delivered by a
combination of an increasing interest in issue-based work by
practitioners (it seemed to offer a clearer and more ‘professional’
framework for action) and a growing emphasis upon concrete outcomes
linked to particular welfare concerns by policymakers. We had
witnessed a shift from more convivial and participative forms of
1974; 1977) to more bureaucratic and supposedly professional forms. By
the time Council of Europe researchers arrived in the early 1990s,
they could only find a few people around youth work who were familiar
with the notion of associational life (Vanandruel et. al. 1995:
Informal education and the
social capital and civic participation agenda
One of the striking features of the lack of attention to
association is loss of benefits communities and individuals. In recent
years these have been charted, most effectively, by Robert Putnam
(2000). His central organizing idea is the notion of social
physical capital refers to physical objects and human capital refers
to the properties of individuals, social capital refers to
connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of
reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. In that sense
social capital is closely related to what some have called “civic
virtue.” The difference is that “social capital” calls
attention to the fact that civic virtue is most powerful when
embedded in a sense network of reciprocal social relations. A
society of many virtuous but isolated individuals is not necessarily
rich in social capital. (Putnam
He then marshals an impressive amount of
material to demonstrate that:
Child development is powerfully shaped by
social capital. Trust, networks, and norms of reciprocity within a
child’s family, school, peer group, and larger community have far
reaching effects on their opportunities and choices, and hence on
their behaviour and development (ibid.: 296-306)
In high social-capital areas public spaces are
cleaner, people are friendlier, and the streets are safer.
Traditional neighbourhood “risk factors” such as high poverty
and residential mobility are not as significant as most people
assume. Places have higher crime rates in large part because people
don’t participate in community organizations, don’t supervise
younger people, and aren’t linked through networks of friends.
A growing body of research suggests that where
trust and social networks flourish, individuals, firms,
neighbourhoods, and even nations prosper economically. Social
capital can help to mitigate the insidious effects of socioeconomic
disadvantage. (ibid.: 319-325)
There appears to be a strong relationship
between the possession of social capital and better health. ‘As a
rough rule of thumb, if you belong to no groups but decide to join
one, you cut your risk of dying over the next year in half.
If you smoke and belong to no groups, it’s a toss-up statistically
whether you should stop smoking or start joining’ (ibid.: 331).
Regular club attendance, volunteering, entertaining, or church
attendance is the happiness equivalent of getting a college degree
or more than doubling your income. Civic connections rival marriage
and affluence as predictors of life happiness (ibid.: 333).
The World Bank (1999) has also brought together a range of
statistics to make the case for the social and economic benefits of
social capital. For example they argue that there is evidence that
schools are more effective when parents and local citizens are
actively involved. 'Teachers are more committed, students achieve
higher test scores, and better use is made of school facilities in
those communities where parents and citizens take an active interest
in children’s educational well-being'.
They also indicate some
negative impacts, for example, when disgruntled local elites joined
together to close health clinics in Uttar Pradesh. Child mortality
rates soared as a result (The
World Bank). Gauthier and Furstenberg (2001) found that in those
countries where the state invested most in cultural and sporting
facilities young people responded by investing more of their own time
in such activities. The research literature strongly indicates a
positive outcomes from engaging with education, in the broadest sense;
structured leisure activities; good social contacts with friends; and
participation in the arts, cultural activities and sport.
the score relating to each of these the enhanced the overall
performance in terms of education and lowered the likelihood of
involvement even in low-level delinquency (Larson and Verma 1999).
There is really nothing unique in this outcome - for similar
engagement amongst older people also produces improved health and
well-being (Rowe and Kahn 1998; Putnam 2000).
discussion of social capital provides informal educators with a
powerful rationale for their activities – after all the classic
working environment for the informal educator is the group, club or
organization. These settings are central to the generation of social
capital within communties.
That is to say they are primary means for . cultivating social
networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness. His evidence
and analysis also provide a stunning case against those who want to
target work towards those who present the most significant problems
and tie informal educators’ activities to the achievement of
specific outcomes in individuals. Several points need underlining
First, from the
material marshalled by Putnam we can see that the simple act of
joining and being regularly involved in organized groups has a very
significant impact on individual health and well-being. Working so
that people may join groups – whether they are organized around
enthusiasms and interests, social activity, or economic and political
aims – can make a considerable contribution in itself.
the development of associational
life can also make a significant difference to the experience of
being in different communities. Here we might highlight the case of
schooling. Educational achievement is likely to rise significantly,
and the quality of day-to-day interaction is likely to be enhanced by
a much greater emphasis on the cultivation of extra-curricula activity
involving groups and teams.
education’s longstanding concern with association and the quality of
life in associations can make a direct and important contribution to
the development of social networks (and the relationships of trust and
tolerance that is usually involved) and the strengthening of
democracy. Informal educators interest in dialogue
and conversation, and the cultivation of environments in which
people can work together, take them to the heart of what is required
to strengthen and develop social capital.
Their ethical position also
demands they attend to the downsides of networks – in particular,
the extent to which they are oppressive and narrowing. A focus on
tolerance and the acceptance, if not the celebration, of difference is
required. There is a place for both bridging and bonding social
Third, there is very
strong argument here against those who wish to concentrate the bulk of
resources on groups and individuals who present the strongest social
problems (currently the received thinking among many policymakers -
see, for example, the Connexions
strategy in England). If we follow Putnam’s analysis through
then we can see that, for example, crime can be reduced, educational
achievement enhanced and better health fostered through the
strengthening of social capital. Significantly this entails working
across communities – and in particular sustaining the commitment and
capacities already involved in community organizations and enthusiast
groups, and encouraging those on the cusp of being actively involved.
The majority of the people we are talking about here cannot be
classified as suffering from multiple disadvantage, will not be
engaged in criminal activity, and will be (or have been) engaged with
education systems and/or the world of work. In other words, open and
generic work needs to be afforded a far higher priority – and
so-called ‘issue-based’ work needs to be more closely interrogated
as to the benefits it brings.
Robert Putnam has done
us a great service, and while aspects of his argument will no doubt be
disputed over the coming years, his central message is surely true. Interaction
enables people to build communities, to commit themselves to each
other, and to knit the social fabric.
Conclusion – reclaiming
Macaliser Brew (1943), in her classic statement of youth work,
argued that the 'club' was a means by which people could freely
identify with one another and gain the skills, disposition and
knowledge necessary for citizenship:
The club at its best creates a society of
personalities with a community sense, which is the essence of good
citizenship... We are not concerned with the making of 'good club
members' or 'well-organized youth groups', but with a much wider
issue, the making of good citizens. This can only be done in a
society where each member is important, where each one is given a
chance to contribute something to the life of the group - the leader
no more and no less than the member. It is for this reason that
self-government is so important in club work. (Brew 1943: 12)
The use of clubs
in this way was not new and had been articulated most notably within
the Boys' Club tradition by Russell and Rigby (1908) and Henriques
(1933), and by Pethick (1898) and Brew within the girls and mixed club
movement. Brew was prepared to embrace looser organizational forms
such as the 'in and out' clubs and to engage with ways of organizing
which were more of young people's, rather than leaders', making. It is
to this tradition that we need to appeal today. Here I want to briefly
highlight three areas for exploration.
Working with ‘spontaneous’ youth groups.
The Albemarle Report is usually associated with the promotion of open
youth centres (‘places of association’). However, there was also a
recognition in the Report of the significance of spontaneous groups,
‘which may spring up and passionately absorb the energies of their
members… and then fade away as the members grow out of them’ (ibid.:
54). Writers like Peter Kuenstler (1955a; 1955b) had charted the
potential, and significance, of informal groups of friends and
enthusiasts for youth work in the 1950s – and it is something that
we need to return to now.
Such groups may come into being for a
one-off activity, or for a more sustained period of time. Often they
do not have a formal structure, but they have other ‘club-like’
qualities. We need to see more time given to the encouragement of such
groups – both for the overt benefits they bring in the form of
mutual activity, and for the way they can build social capital and add
to individual feelings of well-being. Two significant elements here
would be the development of funds with a simple application systems to
which young people can apply if they want to organize an activity or
event; and the availability of informal educators both to encourage
activity, provide help with the practicalities of organization and to
encourage reflection on the experience.
Organizing around enthusiasms. As Bishop
and Hoggett demonstrated some 15 years ago, there is considerable
potential in exploring and enhancing mutual aid in leisure. Some
groups organized around particular interests such as hobbies, sports,
arts and crafts will be spontaneous and short lived, but many become
full associations. As such they provide a means by which people can
share information and specialist products; undertake collective
projects (such as exhibitions); and develop friendships and
commitments (Bishop and Hoggett 1986: 33).
They are also both a
training ground for democratic engagement, and the means by which most
of us connect with political systems. For those concerned with young
people there are two obvious areas of direct development. The first is
the cultivation of interest in different areas – whether it be bird
watching, painting or snow-boarding. The second is working with groups
of young people to organize around their enthusiasms.
Working for associational space. A
further, crucial, dimension of practice must be working to open up
associational spaces for young people in existing organizations and
groups. This might involve, for example, working with interest and
enthusiast groups so that young people are more readily attracted to
them, and can find room to develop and express their interests. It
will certainly entail exploring and exploiting the potential for
organizing around enthusiasms and interests in schools. Associational
life in UK schools has taken a considerable battering since the early
Key elements here have included a declining readiness on the
part of teachers to be involved in extra-curricula activities; the
grinding requirements of the national curriculum and coursework; the
corporatization of schools (with the adoption of business models and
frameworks); and specific measures to curtail the involvement of young
people in the governance of schools. With the spread of learning
mentors within schools, and a renewal of interest, in Scotland at
least, in community schooling there are at least some avenues for
activity. Research such as that of Putnam (2000) may well provide some
motivation on the part of heads.
However, real progress will not be
made until policymakers can be unhooked from the crude Taylorism that
has dominated educational policy for the last decade, and until
teachers are given space, and gain the ability, to respond to the
needs of those they are working with (Palmer 1998; Horne 2001). Last,
but not least, it is important to audit existing youth provision for
associational activity and potential. There remains an underlying
disposition to treat people as consumers rather than creators (Smith
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