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Communities for Social Change

Practicing Equality and Social Justice in Youth and Community Work


Annette Coburn and Sinéad Gormally

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!

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Chapter 5: Understanding Power and Empowerment


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This chapter explores the theoretical concepts of power and empowerment and questions how these relate to youth and community work. It analyses the resistance of power through community activism and the restrictors of power through gatekeeping. It argues that as community workers, we are engaging in constructed interactions that should not replicate nor promote power imbalances, but rather should be reflected upon and critiqued, in order to enhance positive social action. Youth work is concerned with ‘tipping the balances of power in young people’s favour’ (Davies, 2005, p. 10) and developing power relationships that are enshrined in personal and social rights and are influenced by economically and politically dominant groups (Baker et al., 2004). Viewing power positively offers fluidity and promotes facilitation of an environment that enables or encourages power sharing as a critical part of a process that is complex, relational and situational. It suggests power can be a process which encourages a negotiated dialogue and a problem posing approach to learning (Freire, 1996). Foregrounding the kind of youth work and community development values and practices discussed in Chapter 2, the inherent power imbalances that are present in all practitioner relationships ← 93 | 94 → may also be reduced and as such, these values and practices create real opportunities for shifting power relations and developing progressive collaborative working practices.

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