Critical voice Articles


Habitus as Topic and Tool in Youth Work 

by Dr Dean Farquhar


  There is a vast body of literature offering youth workers guidance on how they ought to structure their practice. However, this guidance tends to coalesce around contested normative principles that can be differentially applied. Whilst this elaboration of principles usefully establishes the boundaries of a practitioners’ ethos, its precise relevance to the realm of practice is more ambiguous than is often implied. This paper contends that deploying habitus as a pedagogical tool can help youth workers come to a more sophisticated understanding of the interplay between normative concerns and the exigencies of practice. The paper begins by setting out the limits to youth work principles in guiding youth work practice. It then introduces the concept of habitus and explains its merits as a pedagogical tool in youth work.  


The Limits to Youth Work Principles


  Attempts to define the constitutive principles of youth work are often tied to a wider project of delineating youth work as a distinctive social process that makes a particular contribution to the lives of young people (Harland et al., 2005). This has meant that the principles of youth work have tended to have a dual function as forms of guidance for practitioners and weapons they may call upon to legitimate their practice. In fulfilling this dual function, the principles of youth work have become the means through which some have sought to distinguish ‘authentic’ youth work practice (see Jeffs & Smith, 2008). Supposed breaches of youth work principles can therefore leave practitioners vulnerable to charges that their practice is inauthentic or simply does not qualify as youth work. However, how youth work principles should be applied is not universally agreed. The elaboration of such principles may usefully establish the boundaries of a practitioners’ ethos, but how that ethos should guide youth work interventions remains an open question to be addressed through practice.

  Cooper (2018) provides a useful account of some of the practical limits to youth work principles. They identify consensus around the following principles:

Warning against tendencies to rigidly define the voluntary and youth mandated engagement principles of youth work, Cooper points to the limitations of these principles in practice and urges workers to: 

Read the full article here

Taking Boys Seriously: Young men, masculinities and boys as relational learners 

by Andy Hamilton

Boys from working class backgrounds consistently experience inequality of educational outcomes (Harland and McCready, 2012; Leitch et al., 2017; Purdy et al., 2021). This intersectionality of gender and class calls for critical reflection on the types of interventions and ways of working with boys that enable them to flourish as they learn. Ulster University in partnership with the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS), Controlled Schools’ Support Council (CSSC) and YouthAction Northern Ireland (YANI) are examining collaborative and assets-based approaches to addressing this systemic issue. This article draws on findings from an ongoing longitudinal study that originated in 2006 - Taking Boys Seriously (TBS). The research works alongside educators, boys and young men to inform policy, pedagogy and practice developments that address the gender attainment gap. The current phase of the research (2018-2023) is funded by Ulster University’s Widening Access and Participation department and includes an emphasis on supporting young men from working class communities to access and succeed in higher education.

Read the full article here

Rethinking Impact… 


by Debs Erwin & Gail Neill 


While we have undoubtedly missed out on a lot this last 18 months, the online world that has developed because of Covid restrictions has opened some new opportunities that previously might not have been possible (due to cost, time, or location). Personally, I (Gail) have been able to dip into and experience conferences, talks, and events on a global scale.  Hearing new and innovative research, engaging with those whose material I’d only ever read and discussing areas of interest with a board range of practitioners and academics has been incredibly motivating during what would otherwise have been a very isolating and demotivating time. 


A couple of weeks I bumped into local freelance youth consultant, Debs Erwin, as we attended the online Rethinking Impact conference hosted by Tania de St Croix and Louise Doherty.  The research they presented, and the subsequent workshops and discussion sparked so many ideas that Debs and I caught up afterwards to continue to unpack what we’d heard. While we highly recommend that you engage directly with the material, we also wanted to share our own reflections on the day and some of the challenges and opportunities this raises for local youth work.  Read our reflection here