Presenting the Trouble with Youth Voice

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A conference took place in Nottingham University based around ‘Youth work, informal learning and the arts: exploring the research and practice agenda’. I wrote a paper entitled ‘The Trouble with Youth Voice’ for this BERA (British Education Research Association) conference after having my proposal accepted. My paper highlights some of the issues or challenges there might be, as have been illuminated through our on-going reflection, as part of the young evaluators group for Circuit, the group known as Circulate.

Though the paper required a lot more time and effort than I had anticipated, I found it an extremely worthwhile process. It really built off my experience writing and presenting with four other Tate Collective Liverpool members at an iJade conference last year. I had a lot of questions after my presentation and I feel as though this indicates some sort of success for the paper. It was definitely preferable to the polite quietness that often follows the question: ‘are there any questions?’ and gave me the chance to develop upon what I had mentioned. Presenting at the conference provided me with a tangible achievement that validated the worth of what I’m doing. Receiving immediate responses and knowing that people have listened to what I have to say was very gratifying. I had equal billing with established professionals and felt as though I was part of a wide discussion about youth work, rather than just feeding into it by virtue of being young.

Here is an extract from the paper:

A small group of us were asked to come up with some form of extra interpretation for the Transmitting Andy Warhol exhibition. If there was to be any point in another form of interpretation it was clear that it had to be significantly different to what was already going to be there. Our ideas were based on opening up the interpretation to other people- we commissioned a spoken word piece from a local poet, a playlist from a local DJ and a video from a local blogger. Alongside this we created a hashtag, WarholChallenge, which was aimed at generating the public’s own interpretation of Warhol. As it was based on social media websites like Twitter and Instagram, we thought that this would be an effective way of utilising the voices of a great range of young people.

What was our resulting voice from the project? Consultation with the wider Tate Collective Liverpool was minimal due to a lack of time and no clear way of getting people’s opinions. We gave local creative talents a platform- though as far as I know none of them were at an age where you could class them as a young person. Our hashtag WarholChallenge was in the public domain, so I wouldn’t be able to justify calling what was generated through that  as youth voice because there’s no way of knowing the ages of people who participated in the hashtag. That was closer to a public voice. You could argue that our youth voice wasn’t used, it was more our insight into youth culture that we used. That brings up its own questions: at what level is youth voice important? At what point do our roles become about marketing to young people rather than being representatives of them? And what’s the difference between young people commissioning someone and staff members commissioning someone?


By Steven Hyland, member of Circulate and Tate Collective Liverpool