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Patterns and dialogues in youth work practice: qualitative research into the professional identities and practices of qualified youth workers

Pope, Paula Mary

Patterns and dialogues in youth work practice: qualitative research into the professional identities and practices of qualified youth workers Thumbnail


Authors

Paula Mary Pope



Abstract

This qualitative research study into professional youth work identities and practices offers an insider perspective on the youth work community of practice. The research inquiry adopts a socially constructivist theoretical framework and was contextualised by the political and socio-economic climate in the north-west of England in 2013. Seventeen professionally-qualified youth workers took part in focus groups and interviews that were audio-recorded and transcribed, producing data for both thematic and discursive analyses. The data seeks to shed light on personal, professional and political dimensions of youth work identities; the professional knowledge used by youth workers, evidence of the value of youth work and the discursive construction of youth work accounts.

Noticeably, the youth workers’ descriptions and explanations of their practice portrayed the formative influence of biography and learning in shaping their journey into youth work. They expressed commitment to reflective practice and had passion for youth work, espousing roles as listeners, advocates and informal educators in evolving practice situations. Moreover, some innovative youth work responses to young people’s needs were being recognised in some formal inter-agency contexts. Nevertheless, the data depicted youth workers conjuring up ‘the blitz spirit’ to deal with funding shortfalls that created feelings of being ‘the poor relation’ at times and finding themselves ‘fighting the corner’ against the onset of managerial preoccupations with targeting and outcome measures that side-lined the professional value base. The discursive lens illuminated the dialogical interaction that was positioning speakers in the discourse and constructing social and professional identities. It was evident that these were animated accounts of practice, infused with evocative imagery and capturing vibrant youth work voices that articulated the youth work point of view, an under-represented perspective in wider discourses on work with young people.

Publication Date Jun 1, 2018
Keywords youth work, professional identity, youth work of value

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