Friday, 10 July 2009

You'd hope they'd be angry A while ago I noted some concerns about the proportion of young people who betray a profound sense of detachment and seem never to have inhabited a democratic culture. This was just a reflection after a few workshops, firmed-up through discussions with teachers and others; it was certainly not the conclusion of systematic research. It felt as if a lot of the young people we talked to have difficulty with conflicting ideas, and they have little experience of organising, being organised, self-organisation, or organisations. More recently I picked up on some questions about racism among young people. Then this week, two more snippets to add to this particular pile. In a meeting on Monday evening a teacher spoke about students, particularly Ghanaian girls, practising clear self-segregation along ethnic lines within school, 'sometimes in a quite aggressive manner'. It's an interesting example because language has nothing to do with it: all Ghanaians speak English. We need to understand more about the sense of threat to community identity that causes these contractions. And yesterday I spoke to a Dutch researcher who has been interviewing more than thirty young people about their sense of citizenship as reflected in their everyday lives. She said that her work (with a lot of data being processed systematically) confirms my reflections on both these themes. Going to youth clubs and 'being organised' are not cool and levels of participation in other clubs and associations seem to be low. Racial tension in the Netherlands is worrying, often played out by young people struggling for some physical or cultural territory of their own. Sometimes what seem to be clashes of power may really be defiance against lack of it, or the removal of identity. I suspect there's a link between these themes, I just don't know quite what it is. I fear it's quite profound, having to do with the struggle for acceptable identity and a denial of access to a democratic culture - all at an age where self-respect is very much under construction. Is what we think we're seeing exceptional, among other contemporary cultures or historically? Are we fussing over nothing new? Thinking about people aged between say 13 and 19, sometimes I want to ask (it seems to me that they want to ask) 'what's the point of being young these days?' This period in their lives is a transition: to what? One of the teachers I interviewed recently spoke highly of her students but with some concern about the formlessness of the everyday culture they've been left with. She said: 'You'd think they'd be angry. You'd hope they'd be angry.'
Local services and priorities matter I'm never quite sure about Ipsos MORI. The last event of theirs that I managed to get into featured the Home Secretary among the speakers, security was high, and there was some strange interference on my phone when I tried to use it just before the start. Nah, sure there's nothing in that. Nor in the fact that they wouldn't give me a place at the launch of their Local report recently. Still, the next time one of their researchers came to the door (the second in a couple of weeks) and didn't offer any interesting reflections on neighbourhoods I decided I didn't have time for his questions. (And as noted here in passing, they don't always do good stuff). Anyway here's what the MORI folk have done with the existing place survey data, augmented with some other stuff they got their hands on, and there are interesting messages put forward: Local services really matter to a sense of place: satisfaction with local services seems to be strongly related to overall views of the area and other key outcomes. Taking visible action on local priorities is vital. The more people feel that their priorities drive local improvement, the better perceptions are of local public service providers. There are clear signs that the biggest impact on perceptions of influence would not be actions that involve a small number of people very deeply, but rather better communications that reach a much wider group. There is a clear theme around seeking out views and acting as a result of seeking those views. This is particularly pertinent to crime and antisocial behaviour. The areas that are seen as doing best are those also proactively looking for feedback. The feeling that local people treat each other with respect, and, related to this, that parents have good disciplinary control over their children, come out as important to a number of key outcomes. A focus on young people and family/parental support seems likely to yield particular dividends in resident satisfaction.

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