Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Saying It Like It Is? Power, Participation and Research Involving Young People

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Abstract:  Developments in the conceptualisation of childhood have prompted a fundamental shift in young people’s position within social research. Central to this has been the growing recognition of children’s agency within the landscapes of power between child participants and adult researchers. Participatory research has rooted itself in this paradigm, gaining status from its principles of social inclusion and reciprocity. While participatory research has benefitted from a growing theoretical analysis, insight can be deepened from reflexive accounts critiquing participation ‘in the field’. This article presents one such account, using the example of an ethnographic study with young people living in a ‘disadvantaged’ housing estate in the UK. It describes how efforts to ‘enable’ young people’s participation were simultaneously embraced, contested, subverted and refused. These, often playful, responses offered rich insight into how the young participants viewed themselves, their neighbourhood, and ‘outsiders’ efforts to give them voice. The article concludes by emphasising the importance of conceptualising participation not simply as a set of methods, but as a philosophical commitment which embraces honesty, inclusivity and, importantly, the humour that can come from this approach to research.

Keywords:  children’s rights; power; participation; resistance; UK; voice; young people



© Emma Davidson. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.