Communities for Social Change

Practicing Equality and Social Justice in Youth and Community Work

by Annette Coburn (Author) Sinéad Gormally (Author)
©2017 Textbook X, 178 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 483


Communities for Social Change: Practicing Equality and Social Justice in Youth and Community Work examines core ideas of social justice and equality that underpin community and youth work. It informs understanding of a range of community concepts and practices that are used to identify practical skills and characteristics that can help to promote equality by challenging injustice. Working with people in different types of community can bring the kind of social change that makes a real and lasting difference. Although justice is a contested notion, Annette Coburn and Sinéad Gormally assert that it is closely interlinked with human rights and equality. A critical examination of contemporary literature draws on educational, sociological, and psychological perspectives, to set community practices within a context for learning that is conversational, critical and informal. Social justice is about identifying and seeking to address structural disadvantage, discrimination, and inequality. The authors assert that by refocusing on process, participation, and collective rights, it is possible to create and sustain social justice. Transformative research paradigms help to produce findings that inspire and underpin political social action, and an analysis of practice-based examples supports the promotion of increased critical consciousness. This makes Communities for Social Change a must-read for anyone studying or teaching community youth work or who is working in communities or with individuals who experience oppression or inequality. If you are committed to teaching and learning about theory and practice that promotes social change for equality and social justice, you will not be disappointed!

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance praise for Communities for Social Change
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Neo-liberal Impacts on Young People and Community Work
  • The Nature and Purpose of Community and Youth Work (CYW)
  • The Context for Equality Work
  • Chapter Breakdown
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Chapter 2: Striving for Unifying Principles and Values
  • Introduction
  • Community and Youth Work Practice … Where Are We Now?
  • ‘Hidden Knowns’
  • We Hide Our Explicit Interest in Social Justice and Equality
  • We Hide Our Known Expertise in Building Rapport and Trust
  • We Hide Our Known Expertise in Being Reflexive Practitioners
  • We Hide Our Purposeful Engagement in Power Analysis
  • We Hide Our Capacities for Building Community Resilience
  • We Hide Our Commitment to Critical Praxis
  • Next Steps: Making the ‘Hidden Knowns’ Visible
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Chapter 3: Social Justice and Equality
  • Introduction
  • Setting the Scene in Human Rights
  • Social Justice
  • 1. Structural Injustice
  • 2. Universal Human Rights
  • 3. Fairness/Equality Distribution of Resources
  • 4. Legalism/Rule of Law
  • 5. Empowerment
  • 6. Shared Values
  • 7. Cultural Relativism
  • 8. Triple Bottom Line
  • Equality
  • Contradictions and Cohesion
  • Theory Into Practice
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Chapter 4: Community
  • Introduction
  • Back to the Future?
  • Social and Cultural Capitals
  • Community as Physical Space
  • Community as Virtual Environment
  • Community as Social Practice
  • Considering Community as a Bricolage
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Chapter 5: Understanding Power and Empowerment
  • Introduction
  • Power
  • Empowerment
  • ‘Conscious of the Balance—Activism Over Tokenism’
  • Shifting the Balance of Power—Youth Work
  • Shifting the Balance of Power—Community Development
  • Shifting the Balance of Power—Research
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Chapter 6: Critical Reflexivity
  • Introduction
  • Value Base—Epistemology
  • Reflection and Reflective Practice
  • Critical Reflection
  • Reflexivity
  • The Professional Practice Process
  • Positionality
  • Personal Bias
  • Organisational/Project Level Analysis
  • Disciplinary Positionality and Bias
  • Macro Level Analysis
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Chapter 7: An Alternative Social Vision
  • Current Context
  • An Alternative Vision
  • Challenging Hegemony and Political Ideologies
  • The Society We Want—Why Do We Do This Work?
  • Rejecting Deficit Pathologising
  • Real Beneficiaries
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Chapter 8: Positive Psychology and Resilience in Communities
  • Introduction
  • The Context for Youth and Community Work
  • The Trouble with Risk and Resilience
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Chapter 9: A Critical Border Pedagogy for Praxis
  • Introduction
  • Starting Where People are with Critical Pedagogy
  • Creating Educational Borderlands that Can Assist in Learning About Equality
  • Border Pedagogy as a Threshold Concept for Community and Youth Work
  • Future Challenges
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index

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For Andy, David and Steven, and for Paddy and Ruairí – the people who give us reasons to smile every day and remind us why change is needed for the world to become a better place.

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This chapter introduces the social structures, purpose and core ideas that underpin community work for equality and social justice. It considers core concepts and practices that inform why and how community and youth work (CYW) practitioners, and community members, are able to promote and develop social change. First, it contextualises our main concerns about working in a neo-liberal society that has shifted focus towards changing behaviours and the over-regulation of caring professions. In doing so, neoliberal ideology promotes compliance in taking forward punitive policies that stigmatize and individualise communities and young people (Giroux, 2009). This leads to discussion of the nature and purpose of CYW by offering a clear outline on what this means in the context of working with young people and communities. While drawing largely on research from the United Kingdom, the ideas and practice examples discussed will resonate with anyone involved in community and youth work as practitioner or participant, both inside and outside of the United Kingdom and Europe.

In critiquing routinised perspectives on resilience as an individual coping mechanism, we assert that community and youth workers should consider building and utilising community resilience that, as a more collective and social endeavour, can be used to resist and to challenge dominant discourses ← 1 | 2 → and positively impact on the lived experiences of people who experience inequality and injustice. The chapter also outlines a distinctive and clear epistemological stance that relates to CYW practices. The possibility for readers to utilise their own experiences and research insights, in addition to those presented here, can help to facilitate praxis among a wider international Community of Practice (Lave and Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998; Wenger and Traynor, 2015). This seeks to increase capacity for achieving a good life (Sen, 1985) by strengthening a critical and higher purpose of emancipatory practice that is constructed around CYW practices, and strives for social justice and equality.

Neo-liberal Impacts on Young People and Community Work

Historically, the Chicago School of Sociology was prominent in researching the development of subcultures where, ‘material deprivation, physical decay and the tough cultural environment of the inner city influenced children in such areas towards delinquency’ (O’Donnell, 1997, p. 350). Yet, while raising concerns about poverty, this also constructed a pathologising and generalising discourse of young people as delinquent and of communities in need of reform, something we need to be aware of and critique.

The pervasiveness of age as a regulating factor, particularly in young people’s lives, is a recurring theme in sustaining this pathology. While our analysis in this chapter draws largely on examples from literature in youth work or youth studies, we believe that similar concerns can also be identified in the experiences of older people and children, or indeed any other age category. As a social construct, the idea of age, as a means of determining status, developing services, or in defining identity, is something of a conundrum – having some utility as a way of organising society but it is not always relevant in a community context or in real-life settings where people’s experiences of discrimination and injustice are based on entirely different constructs, such as ability, gender, race or religion. So, in considering discourse on youth and young people we are clear that the following critique may also be applied to conditions and discourses that are experienced across an extended age range and in different social groups.

Mizen (2004) has shown that the political restructuring of the state, since the late 1970s has, in the United Kingdom, compounded the problem ← 2 | 3 → of exclusion. Using age as a means of social division is integral to the neo-liberal market-driven economies that have replaced the UK’s Keynesian welfare state. In this way, young people’s aspirations have become limited through a policy environment where ‘age provides the means through which traditional sources of inequality between the young can be reproduced’ (Mizen, 2004, p. 22). This is especially cogent in the United Kingdom, and elsewhere in the Western world, where a persistent policy discourse takes a negative and pathologising view of young people and where, ‘the trickle of stories about youth work is in inverse proportion to the flood of stories about youth’ (Batsleer, 2010, p. 154). This discourse is further exemplified in research and literature about gangs, which is critiqued as gang-talk (Hallsworth and Young, 2008), a discourse which perpetuates a range of myths about gangs and maintains a pathologising view of young people who choose to hang around the streets but are not ‘in-gangs’ (see Gormally and Deuchar, 2012; Gormally, 2015).

In the United States and further afield, Giroux (2005; 2009) argues that the conditions in which young people live are often masked by influences, such as the media and patriarchal or colonial inheritances, that impact on families, young people and the arrangements for education. Argued as evident in the, ‘widespread adoption of … values, policies and symbolic practices that legitimate forms of organised violence … [as a] … culture of cruelty’ (Giroux, 2012, p. 14), this creates and sustains policies that, ‘humiliate and punish … [and] … deal with problems that would be better addressed through social reforms rather than punishment’ (p. 15). Giroux further asserts neoliberal culture as one where it is easy for people to:

One example of this kind of culture of cruelty has evolved in Britain through the ways in which the poorest communities, across all ages, have been negatively impacted by changes in social welfare (Beatty and Fothergill, 2013). Placing ‘conditionality and responsibility at the heart of welfare policy’ (Beatty et al, 2015, p. IV), and at the heart of reform, the main focus was to increase the severity and length of sanctions in order to change behaviour, and where, according to Beatty and Fothergill (2013), the poorest areas in Britain were hit the hardest. Beatty et al (2015) linked the impact of benefit sanctions to ← 3 | 4 → food poverty, survival crime, family/relationship tensions, mental and physical health problems, fuel poverty, debt and disengagement from the welfare system. They also found that in adding to the problems homeless people face, benefit sanctions may actually increase the risk of homelessness, while Griggs and Evans (2010) also reported for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation a link between higher sanction rates and ‘personal barriers’.

In reviewing the Welfare Reform Act (2010), Oakley (2014) identified, ‘that only 23% of claimants who said their benefit had been stopped or reduced said they had been told about hardship payments’ (p. 9). Although finding that the system was not ‘broken’, as had often been claimed in political rhetoric (Blair, 1995; Cameron, 2005 as cited in Thorp and Kennedy, 2010), the Oakley review identified room for improvement as many claimants did not fully understand the requirements put upon them and the details of the sanctioning process:

Another example of how a culture of cruelty persists among adults is exemplified in research about the ‘narrative journey of discovery and recovery from a fat, middle-aged, and single woman’ (Beierling, 2014, p. 256). This narrative explores the persistence of negative and oppressive experiences among women whose experiences of popular culture meant that their physical size, in comparison with thin women, brought ‘ridicule, scorn, and disgust … [where rude comments] … were hurtful, and each built upon the other, casting my own self-worth deeper into the shadows’ (p. 261). Beierling concluded that ‘weight prejudice really does exist’ (p. 261). This prejudice is driven by dominant discourses, often grounded in profit-seeking powerful cultural industries, that create normalised images of what a woman should look like in order to ‘fit in’ and which silence the voices of those who do not conform to the dominant social conditions that are apparent in popular culture.

These examples reveal powerful negative discourses in policy reform and popular culture. Yet, while such discourses persist, alternative positions can be taken, and the need for dissent (Martin, 2001) is revealed as an important means of challenging the status quo, in order for new discourses, and ways of being, to emerge. Making experiences of popular culture visible (both positive ← 4 | 5 → and negative aspects) and encouraging the articulation of positive experiences and silenced voices, creates possibilities for problem posing education.

Problem posing is crucial to the creation of powerful learning environments (De Corte et al., 2003; Konings et al., 2005) by involving learners in grappling with real problems that are challenging and complex and in the process of creating new knowledge and unforeseen ideas. Offering spaces for people to learn with and from each other through informal social educational environments is important in community development.

Taking popular culture and lived experience as the starting point for conversation and dialogue, creates possibilities for powerful learning about difference and power relations in ways that are authentic, challenging and complex, and where opportunities to refine or shift discourse become, not only possible, but also probable. Such environments offer and create alternative discourses that are affirming and positive, rather than being primarily negative and oppressive. They are a catalyst for liberating and hopeful pedagogy that is concerned with critical conversation and powerful engagement.

According to Steinberg and others (Darder, Baltodano and Torres, 2009; Giroux, 2009; Kincheloe, 2008) an analysis of the pedagogical power of popular culture, requires a rethinking of education both inside and outside of schooling, and across cultures and communities. For example, Steinberg (2011) has examined developments in popular culture and the corporate construction of childhood to suggest that these have combined with technological advances to open up young people’s access to the adult world, whereby:


X, 178
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (September)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. X, 178 pp.

Biographical notes

Annette Coburn (Author) Sinéad Gormally (Author)

Dr. Annette Coburn is a lecturer in community education at the University of the West of Scotland. Dr. Sinéad Gormally is a senior lecturer in community development and adult education at the University of Glasgow. Working collaboratively, Annette and Sinéad’s teaching interests are framed by commitment to social and democratic purposes that promote equality and enhance understanding of what makes a good life possible. Their research interests are varied and focused on creating praxis between theoretical and practical underpinnings of community and youth work in striving for a more socially just society.


Title: Communities for Social Change
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190 pages