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Youth and Civic Participation. Is a Younger Generation Reshaping European Politics?

This workshop took place from 15 to 17 May 2013 in cooperation with Prof. Dr. Peter Thijssen, Dr. Jessy Siongers, Prof. Dr. Jeroen Van Laer and Prof. Dr. Dimokritos Kavadias. Prof. Dr. Constance Flanagan gave a public lecture on 15 May.

It workshop examined how the current young generation makes sense of social trends and issues and how they try to influence politics. Is their civic commitment on the wane or is the political system in which they participate going through changes? The workshop tackled the issue from four angles:

  • What values inspire and motivate youngsters to become actively involved in politics and society? 
  • Do new, non-institutional modes of participation better suit the social environment and mental world of youngsters? 
  • How do context and experience shape the civic commitment of youngsters? 
  • How big is this commitment’s impact and influence?

Researchers in the United States argue that present-day youngsters have become less politically active (‘decline scenario’) or that they try to express their commitment in new forms (‘shift scenario’). The workshop examined a European answer to this perceived dichotomy; it concluded that it doesn’t adequately explain the social and civic commitment of young people. New research frameworks need to be developed.

Constance Flanagan concluded from empirical research that youth develop their ideas about democracy, inequality and collective action in small-scale political arenas such as schools, neighbourhood associations or families where they learn to cooperate, to determine points of view and to negotiate.

The workshop resulted in the book Political Engagement of the Young in Europe: Youth in the crucible (Routlegde, 2016).

Contributors: Mark Elchardus (VUB Brussels), Constance Flanagan (University of Wisconsin), Marc Hooghe (KU Leuven), Dimokritos Kavadias (VUB Brussels), Bert Klandermans (VU University Amsterdam), Jessy Siongers (VUB Brussels), Peter Thijssen (University of Antwerp), Therese O’Toole (University of Bristol), Jeroen Van Laer (University of Antwerp).

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