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Youth (-work) and social participation. Elements for a practical theory

Participation is in. This much becomes obvious when you take a closer look at youth work. But not only in youth work is participation on everybody’s lips. In other sectors also of our ever incipient society we seem to rely more and more on everybody’s input. Apart from politicians and other actors in civil society, consumers, citizens, the elderly and youngsters,… are tackled on their social responsibility and stimulated to participate in society. The current policy discourse talks in this respect about an active welfare state and social activation. By that a future perspective is traced out for our society in which everyone participates in the construction and preservation of our welfare according to devoutness and capability. Against the background of this current policy discourse participation often gets an ambivalent meaning. After all, participating can be done in many ways. It can be done by doing what is expected of you. For youngsters it means at the very least studying hard and in anticipation, using leisure sensibly.

Participation can also be understood differently, notably helping to steer and to form future society or parts of it. Here we focus on the last meaning of participation: helping to steer and to form. Youth work supports, facilitates and stimulates for a longer time such a social involvement of young people. Yet in a rapidly changing environment as we know it today, youth work can thereto less fall back on traditional and general frames. Youth workers and policy makers experience a need for new and adapted handles. Formulating a practical theory and designing models concerning youth work and participation were the main issues of a Delphi-research, which is reported on here.