Chapter 4 Summary of audit of education-based citizenship initiatives

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A report for NYARS

Ben Manning and Roberta Ryan

of Elton Consulting

March 2004

THE NATIONAL YOUTH AFFAIRS RESEARCH SCHEME (NYARS) was established in 1985 as a cooperative funding arrangement between the Australian, State and Territory Governments to facilitate nationally-based research into current social, political and economic factors affecting young people. The Scheme operates under the auspices of the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA).

Reports from NYARS studies released since the early 1990s are available free-of-charge on the web site of the Australian Government Department responsible for youth affairs. At the time this report was published, the web site address was:

Copyright © 2004, National Youth Affairs Research Scheme

ISBN 0 9752498 2 7

This paper was prepared by the National Youth Affairs Research Scheme (NYARS) and is intended to promote background research and other information as a basis for discussion. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the NYARS Steering Committee; the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA); or individual Australian Government, State or Territory Youth Ministers or Departments responsible for Youth Affairs.

Published by Australian Government Department of Family and Community Services on behalf of NYARS

Printed by National Capital Printing, Canberra


Executive summary

Chapter 1 Introduction

Chapter 2 Methodology

2.1 Key stakeholder consultations

2.2 Literature review

2.3 Civics audit

2.4 Reference group

2.5 National survey

2.6 Qualitative research

Chapter 3 Literature review

3.1 Defining citizenship

3.2 Conceptualising young people as citizens

3.3 Independence and autonomy

3.4 Youth political engagement

3.5 Social change and citizenship

3.6 Cosmopolitanism

3.7 Summary and research directions

Chapter 4 Summary of audit of education-based citizenship initiatives

4.1 Key findings

Chapter 5 Survey results

5.1 Indigenous and non-Indigenous samples

5.2 Discussion of survey results

5.3 Conclusion

Chapter 6 Qualitative findings

6.1 Introduction

6.2 Findings

6.3 Interpretations of survey data

6.4 Conclusion

Chapter 7 Conclusion and recommendations

7.1 Citizenship and young people

7.2 Young people’s perception of citizenship

7.3 Young people as citizens: experiences and perceptions

7.4 Recommendations

7.5 Further research


A Detailed audit of schools-based civics and citizenship education initiatives

B Survey

C Survey demographics

D Focus group demographics

E Focus group first definitions of citizenship

F Focus group final definitions of citizenship

G References

Executive summary


This report was commissioned by the National Youth Affairs Research Scheme to:

1. critically analyse the concept(s) of citizenship and its implications for young people;

2. ascertain young people’s perceptions of citizenship and determining factors; and

3. identify what strategies could be utilised to advance empowering concept(s) of citizenship amongst young people.

The research was carried out by Elton Consulting between November of 2002 and December of 2003 using a multi-method approach incorporating qualitative and quantitative methods.


The study involved four main phases of research:

• a review of the Australian and international literature;

• a national audit of schools-based citizenship education;

• a national survey of young people; and

• focus groups in three States.

An extensive review of the literature on “youth” and “citizenship” was undertaken from both Australian and international sources. This review was later summarised and used both to inform the project methodology and for distribution to the project Reference Group and key stake­holders. The summary document provides the rationale for the issues identified for inquiry in the study and the methodology for investigation of those issues.

An audit of schools-based civics and citizenship education was carried out using a combination of methods which included a literature review of previous research, a review of key documents in jurisdiction, and interviews with key stakeholders in each State and Territory. The findings were written up in the form of a report on the activities of the Australian Government in civics education, a report on the information from each State and Territory, and a matrix based on key curriculum documents.

A quantitative survey was developed to explore the perceptions and experiences of young people relating to citizenship. The literature review indicated that quantitative studies in this field may produce results of questionable validity because the researchers and the young participants are “speaking a different language”. For these reasons, the survey avoids using the term “citizenship”.

The survey was piloted with a number of young people including all of the members of the Reference Group as well as other young people in different age groups, of different social backgrounds and levels of education. This helped refine the survey, and its final version was available in a web-based format as well as traditional paper-based format. A total of 755 surveys were analysed using SPSS software.

Qualitative research, involving phone interviews and focus groups, was used to validate and interrogate the survey data as well as to explore the themes of the research in greater detail. Focus groups were carried out in a range of locations in Western Australia, New South Wales and Tasmania with a total of 92 young people ranging in age from 13 to 25. Additionally, interviews were carried out with Indigenous young people in Cape York. Each focus group lasted for two to four hours, with an average time of two hours, and was composed of a facilitator and up to ten participants. Focus groups were structured around a deliberative process and were also used to examine or interpret some of the survey data.

Literature review findings

Theoretical perspectives on young people as citizens

The terms “youth” and “citizenship” are both highly contested and can be understood in a variety of ways. Despite the vast literature on citizenship, there exists no single agreed definition of the term. Some definitions tend to be narrow and focus on a conferred legal status with associated rights and responsibilities. Other attempts to define the concept are broader and describe citizenship as a practice which includes participation at many levels of political, economic and civil society.

Citizenship clearly has strong links with democracy. The role of the citizen in ancient Athens was very much to participate directly in the decision-making processes that assisted in the governance of the state. The role of the “citizen” became the key status in that society, indicating a genuine ability to influence the affairs of the state for the privileged elite who held it. The modern conception of citizenship is one in which the superior status of citizenship is common to all, and the idea of universal citizenship is central to our contemporary understanding of democratic government.

Trying to apply theories of citizenship to young people is problematic. One of the key notions of contemporary citizenship theory is the idea that all citizens are equal. The definition of youth as a category which includes people aged 12 to 25, presents difficulties in the consideration of citizenship as there are substantial differences in the citizenship status of young people within the category at both a formal and substantive level. The most obvious distinction is between those aged under 18 and those who have reached the age of “legal majority”. Many writers have pointed out that young Australians do not have equal civil or political rights. Judith Bessant, for instance, critiques Victorian law by comparing it to the Articles in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Australia has been a signatory since 1990, and concludes that “young Australians do not enjoy or have access to full citizenship rights” (Bessant 1996, p. 30). In many ways the position of citizens aged under 18, in relation to political and civil rights, is more like that of a subject.

The problem of inequality and youth citizenship does not lie just with the restricted rights and the concept of legal adulthood. Although full citizenship rights are granted automatically upon reaching the age of 18, there is a distinction to be drawn between the formal granting of rights and the ability to exercise them (Hall et al. 1999, p. 503; Jenkins 1990, p. 135). The lack of economic independence for many young people is a significant issue that impacts their level of autonomy, and therefore their experiences of citizenship. Essentially, the lack of equality in terms of social rights stems from the limited independence and autonomy held by young people. In this way the literature on youth as a social category and the literature on youth and citizenship begin to coincide.

Furthermore, there is an issue that emerges with widespread social change. Whereas once young people would usually have gained significant economic independence, and possibly have begun their own families, by the time of gaining their legal majority, the time of achieving independence no longer coincides with the time of achieving autonomy in the routine way of the post­war political economy on which many of the assumptions of citizenship are based.

Understanding the citizenship status of young people presents significant problems for the existing and emerging theoretical literature. This highlights the importance of researching the perceptions that young people hold about their own citizenship status, and citizenship as a concept.

The young people taking part in this study are living at a time of widespread and rapid social change. Much of the existing and influential literature on citizenship is based on a worldview which may not necessarily be shared by young people today. One of the most influential theories of citizenship, that of social citizenship as articulated by T.H. Marshall, formed the philosophical basis of the post-war welfare state. Marshall argued that there are three sets of rights which enable people to participate equally in political life, and therefore are requirements of citizenship. The first of these is civil rights, the second is political, and the third is social rights. Marshall argued that civil and political rights are not substantive rights if some people lack the resources to be able to exercise those rights. This view of citizenship appears to be absent from the dominant neo-liberal emphasis of public discourse which has shifted from “universal entitlement” to “mutual obligation”.

Traditional political and social understandings of citizenship in western liberal democracies are founded on a notion of citizenship born out of the rise of the nation-state and the birth of the modern political arrangement. As the sovereignty and monopoly on regulatory powers of the nation-state is challenged by global forces, a territorially-bounded nation-state and its relationship to a territorially-bounded populace also becomes problematic. An emerging literature on citizenship argues that a new conceptualisation of cosmopolitan citizenship is required. Some commentators see democratic potential in the trends toward globalisation and advocate acceptance of it. They argue that an ability to imagine community beyond the nation is required in order to comprehend these tendencies and instigate a positive transition towards global civil society. Such a perspective on self-identity and belonging could, as is the cosmopolitan hope, open citizens to the idea and a consideration of the feasibility of citizenship beyond borders: to the idea of global citizenship.

Citizenship and the political engagement of young people

The substantial literature on youth and citizenship looks at the political engagement of young people in Australia and other liberal democracies. Among this literature is an argument that a democratic crisis is looming as young people are becoming increasingly disengaged from politics and therefore failing to be active citizens. In Anglophonic countries where voting is optional, the number of young people voting has reached record lows in recent years and this has been taken to be a baseline indicator of disengagement. Many authors argue that young people, having lived in a period of relative peace and prosperity, are lethargic or lazy citizens who fail to accept the responsibility of citizenship to participate. On a broader level, an argument that a lack of citizenship education, or “civics deficit”, renders young people unable to be engaged with political processes has been influential in Australia.

More recently there has been a turn away from the assumption that an unwillingness to vote for a political party, or to join a party, equates with a lack of interest in politics per se. Many writers are beginning to argue that the deficit lies not in democracy or civics, but rather in the quantitative methodological approaches that dominate social sciences and on which such conclusions have been based.

Henn, Weinstein and Wring (2002) point out that researchers and subjects are sometimes talking a different language. They point to qualitative research that shows that young people tend to think of “politics” merely as what goes on in parliament rather than “things that effect my life” and to discount their own political involvement and activities. Whereas when they are encouraged to talk about politics in their own terms, a wider definition of politics emerges and there is evidence of a much higher level of interest and activity (Henn et al. 2002, p. 169). Recent qualitative research in other countries has found that in fact young people are highly interested and concerned with political issues, and keen to participate, but that their concerns are not echoed by major parties or that they feel that their input is discouraged and discounted.

Research directions

Based on this literature review, the research questions were redefined to explore how young people perceive citizenship in several senses:

• What does the word “citizenship” mean to young people? Methodological

debates have identified the need for qualitative research that engages with young people through meaningful discourse, to ensure validity of findings.

• How do young people relate to the concepts of citizenship as intended by

researchers – are perceptions of citizenship limited to political citizenship or other notions of citizenship?

• What is the level of historical/theoretical knowledge of citizenship among young


• What are young people’s experiences of citizenship and how do they relate to

perceptions of citizenship?

• Theory testing: How do post-war theories of citizenship (such as Marshall) and

contemporary theories of citizenship (such as cosmopolitanism) relate to young people’s actual perceptions and lived experiences of citizenship? With the decline of the welfare state, do notions of citizenship make sense in a neoliberal context? How does the emergence of globalisation impact on perceptions of citizenship? Is there a need to reconceptualise citizenship or review the current policy context?

Civics audit findings

At key periods there have been major reviews of civics education, because of a perceived “civics deficit”, which have led to major changes in the content and teaching of civics education. Civics seems to have gone into decline in the 1950s and 1960s around Australia and was not revised until the 1990s. The present interest in civics education can be traced to the inquiries of the Senate Standing Committee at the end of the 1980s, and the report of the Civics Expert Group in 1994.

Following the report of the Civics Expert Group, and the commitment of the new Federal Coalition Government, agreement was struck between the States and Territories and the Australian Governments to encourage and facilitate a greater degree of civics education in schools. In order to encourage the uniformity of approach and content the Australian Government has committed significant funding to the Discovering Democracy program, which provides resource materials and teacher support for civic and citizenship education.

There is a great deal of change under way in most States and Territories as a new emphasis has been placed on civics and citizenship education around Australia. In summary, it seems that all of the States and Territories have recently made attempts to reform or reintroduce civics and citizenship education. While citizenship education is being integrated across curricula, NSW is the only State in which civics is a compulsory and examined part of the curriculum. At this point, it is very difficult to draw conclusions about its effectiveness in most places as the initiatives have not yet been completely implemented.

In that so many of these changes are very new, and have often not been fully implemented, it is difficult to tell to what extent these reforms will be “successful” in assisting students in the transition to citizenship. It should also be noted that due to the novelty of these changes, in most cases, the respondents that will be surveyed and interviewed as part of this research project will not have experienced the civics and citizenship education that is documented in this audit.

Quantitative findings

Defining citizenship

The survey asked respondents how they conceived of citizenship in an abstract sense. The greatest level of support was for the two statements which defined citizenship as a set of rights and duties concerned with participating in society. There was also a great deal of support for the statement which defined citizenship as being about membership of a community, and participating in decisions which affect you. There was also a great deal of support for the idea that citizenship is an ongoing process, the maintenance or achievement of which is something towards which we constantly work. The lowest levels of support were for the statements that defined citizenship as being about discrimination and exclusivity, and for the idea that citizenship is only about rights, and not about duties. The conception of citizenship as a birth right is much more prominent among Indigenous respondents.

Politics, participation and citizenship

In the first question of the survey respondents were asked what issues they thought were important to young people. The top five issues were education, relationships, employment, money and youth suicide. The survey inquired into respondents’ perceptions of where power lies. The survey went on to ask how reciprocal that relationship is perceived to be. That is, to what extent are those groups perceived to exert power over young people seen to be responsive to the views of the young people themselves? The power relationships were found to be universally perceived as unequal, with every group seen to have much more power over young people, than young people have over those groups. Those that were seen to have the most power over young people were those with whom young people could be said to have a more direct personal relationship. The two most frequently reported were the family and educational institutions such as schools. Government and business groups are seen as the most remote and those over which young people exercise the least influence.

Eighty-nine per cent of respondents said that young people do want to participate in influencing politics and government. The methods of participation which were seen to be the most effective were voting in elections, youth and student representative organisations and through community groups. Writing to politicians or newspapers, signing petitions and calling talkback radio were seen to be the least effective.

Theoretically, citizenship and democracy are inextricably linked. Yet, when asked to what extent they agreed with the statement that “Australia is a democratic country”, less than 55% of respondents in the general sample, and less than 44% of the Indigenous sample either agreed or strongly agreed. Furthermore, support for the statement declines with age.

Education and sources of information

The vast majority of respondents agreed that students should be taught about Australia’s legal and political system at school (92%) and that students should be taught about citizenship (85%). However, only 52% of the total sample of respondents said that they had been taught about citizenship at school.

Respondents were also asked who they thought were trustworthy sources of political information. The most trusted source was teachers (75%) followed by family (73%). The media (36%) and politicians (34%) were seen as the least trustworthy sources respectively, with friends in the middle at 54%.

Rights and duties

Citizenship is often defined as a set of rights and duties. A majority of respondents in this survey agreed with this definition. The highest level of support is given to those rights which are civil or social, rather than political. The right to a good education and to good quality health care are in the top three with almost unanimous support. The lowest level of support, though still high, is given to the right to protest (88%) and to go on strike (83%). A common feature of all the questions asked about social and civil rights is the correlation between age and the responses given.

The respondents were asked if Australian society is fair. In all age groups only a minority of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that society is fair. Respondents aged 12 to 14 were the most likely to agree that it is fair (40%). This perception of fairness seems to decline with increased age. Respondents aged 18 to 21 were the least likely to report that Australia is a fair society.

Spatial dimensions of citizenship

A number of questions were asked to ascertain how respondents perceive the spatial boundaries of citizenship. Forty-three per cent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that citizenship “is about nationalism – about sharing a common culture and identity with people in your community”. However, 67% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that citizenship is international, that “we are all members of a global society . . . and citizenship is about our relationship with all of the people in the world”. The data suggests that a cosmopolitan (internationalist) view of citizenship correlates with increases in age. While a minority of under-14s support a cosmopolitan view of citizenship (49%), a substantial majority of over-21s (75%) see citizenship as international.

The survey also investigated the relation­ship between subjective feelings of duty or obligation towards others as citizens, and political boundaries or spatial proximity. The results presented in Table 33 (see Chapter 5) indicate that although there is a perception of cosmopolitan duty of citizenship, in that a majority feel some level of obligation to uphold the rights of others in other countries, there is a strong correlation between the spatial proximity of others and the perceived duty to uphold their rights.

Respondents were asked to what extent young people in Australia are affected by decisions made by governments at different levels ranging from local government to the international political arena, as well as the domestic and international business arena. The highest level of perceived impact is from the State/Territory Governments, followed by the Australian Government. Nineteen per cent of respondents felt that young people are affected “a great deal” by the international political arena. This was greater than the perceived power/impact of the Australian business community, but substantially lower than the perceived impact of domestic government.

Qualitative findings

The findings from the focus groups revealed a clear lack of a shared definition of the term citizenship, and that the participants did hold some expected perceptions about what citizenship means. There is no shared coherent understanding of citizenship among the sample. Not only do the perceptions that different participants hold sometimes contradict one another, but also individuals frequently hold conflicting views.

When participants were asked at the beginning of the focus groups to list the things they think of when they hear the word “citizenship” and what “citizenship” means to them, they usually communicated ideas which can be categorised as follows:

• national identity;

• rights and duties;

• participation;

• formal status; and

• belonging and community.

National identity

Most groups mentioned national identity. For some this was just about “being an Australian”, for others it was to do with national pride. Many people mentioned pride in the sporting achievements of famous individual Australians or national teams. Some of these people felt a sense of collective shame, while others did not associate the actions of other Australians with their own sense of pride or shame at all. The matter of state-based identity was also explored. The sense of a state-based identity was strongest among the Tasmanian participants. Many of them commented that they think of themselves as Tasmanians first and Australians second. Many of the West Australians also felt a strong sense of state-based identity. None of the NSW participants commented on feeling a sense of state-based identity.

Rights and obligations

Every group mentioned rights and obligations (or duties or responsibilities) as being one of the most prominent aspects of citizenship. When asked to name these rights and obligations, the first responses were usually the right to vote, the right to free speech and the right to protest. The next set of rights raised by participants were usually either specific social rights, notably health care and education, or in fact simply “welfare”. This was usually followed by more civil and political rights, particularly the right to a fair trial. The single most frequent and readily mentioned obligations were “to obey the law” and to vote, followed by variations on the obligation to “respect others”. Others were the obligation to treat people with respect and to uphold the rights of others.


While many of the participants could list various methods of political participation that exist and are open to young people, there was little confidence in most of these being effective. Many participants were highly pessimistic about the ability of any citizens, and young people in particular, to really effect change through participation. There was particular discussion around several methods of participation. These included voting, street protesting, youth advisory groups or representation and writing letters. None were seen as particularly effective on a national level, but there was a generally agreed belief that participation on a local level can be effective. Most participants saw voting as important in theory, yet ineffective in practice because of the two party system. The participants were divided on the issue of youth participation. Some felt that official youth representation and consultation is an effective means of youth participation, while others saw it as tokenistic and ineffective.

Social citizenship

While most participants agreed with Marshall’s idea that social rights, or resources, are needed to enable people to act on civil and political rights, many of them baulked at the idea that people could be considered non-citizens, even if they are deprived of the rights of citizenship. Even though all of the focus groups mentioned social welfare as a right of citizenship, many participants also claimed that variations on “not to rort the system” is a responsibility of citizenship. There was distinct correlation between lower socio-economic background and propensity to believe that there are a large number of citizens who are “cheating the system” or “bludging”.

Although there was a pronounced difficulty for many participants to accept the proposition that some people in the community might be considered non­citizens, almost every focus group felt more comfortable in asserting that there are classes of citizens. There is a strong perception that there are different classes of citizens, based primarily on their capacity to participate, and the limitations of that capacity whether it derives from social disadvantage, disability or age. Most groups were content to say that there are first and second class citizens.

Democracy and citizenship

One of the clearest findings from the qualitative phase of research is that while some of the participants see the link between democracy and citizenship that forms the basis of much of the citizenship literature and theory, this was by no means universal. The participants tended to hold very different understandings of the word “citizenship”. The failure to share a mutually understood definition of citizenship is a very significant issue. Many of the participants found it very difficult to distinguish in their thinking between citizenship as a nationality or the legal right to live in a country (and the related ideas of immigration, multiculturalism and asylum), and the meaning of citizenship as a political status of people living within a democracy. A great many participants define citizenship as “membership of any group and/or groups” which carries implications for interpreting people’s statements.


The participants were introduced to the idea of cosmopolitan citizenship. Few participants supported the idea. This was mainly for two distinct reasons: for some the traditional idea of citizenship being related to the nation-state, and what they saw as impractical ideas of international democratic government having yet to emerge, citizenship remains spatially bounded by the nation-state; for others, their concept of citizenship was too closely tied to ideas of national identity to allow for notions of a cosmopolitan citizenship.

Interpretations of survey data

The participants were asked for their comments or interpretations of some of the data, which were very revealing. One point discussed was the question of why so few survey respondents agreed with the state­ment that “Australia is a democratic country”. Some of the younger participants said that they did not know what “democracy” means, but it sounded positive so they would agree with the statement. Others said that they thought that democracy means “fair” and that they would therefore disagree with the statement. Others, particularly those aged over 20, said that their understanding of the complexity of democracy had developed as they had grown older and while they would have been likely to agree with the statement when they were younger, they would be more ambivalent now that they were older. As with “citizenship”, once again there is a problem arising from a failure to share a widespread definition of “democracy”.

The focus group participants were asked to comment on why so few survey respondents had agreed that citizenship is about exclusion and discrimination. Most participants commented that although they recognise that citizenship is about exclusion in one sense, it sounds negative so they don’t like to say that. It was also agreed by most participants that an important part of citizenship is exclusion, and they support that exclusion. Many participants also said that they would have chosen the international or cosmopolitan definition of citizenship in the survey rather than the nationalist definition even though it directly contradicts their real perceptions, because they thought it sounded better.

This finding is very important. It indicates that some of the survey data from this study as well as others may be unreliable, and underscores the importance of qualitative research in this field.

Conclusion and recommendations

The study found that even within the literature there is no single agreed definition of citizenship. While there are a range of established definitions, the study found that it is difficult to apply many of them to young people because they often entail criteria which actively exclude some or all of the people aged 12 to 25. This research has found that young people themselves hold varied, sometimes contradictory, and often overlapping perceptions of what citizenship is. Importantly, although this lack of consensus reflects the lack of a single definition of citizenship in the literature, a great many young people understand citizenship to mean things that are quite contradictory to the literature, and seem to contradict the philosophical basis of the established definitions of citizenship.

Apart from the participants who were still at school, most of the older participants expressed concern that they had not been sufficiently educated to be considered competent citizens. The survey responses indicate that education is seen as the single best way for young people to feel that they are meaningfully involved in society. For those participants who were still at school, the level of knowledge varied greatly. There does seem to be a correlation between the study of history and the perceptions of citizenship. For instance, many people referred to their studies of the Nazi Germany as a lens through which to view the rights of citizenship, and others drew on their knowledge of ancient history.

These research findings suggest that many young people feel that they have an obligation to participate in political activities, but that they also tend to feel that they have little power to do so.

Based on the findings of this study, recommendations have been developed to guide the broad directions of strategies to advance empowering concepts of citizenship in each of the following areas:

1. Education

The concept of democratic citizenship, as intended in political or philosophical literature, is in itself extremely em­powering. The most obvious conclusion from this research is that there is a very poor understanding of citizenship in this sense. The failure to perceive democratic citizenship as a political status and identity that is vastly different from, indeed antithetical to, the status of a slave or a subject is the single greatest impediment to young people holding an empowering concept of citizenship. The survey explicitly asked what the respondents thought would be helpful to support young people to be meaningfully involved in society. The most common was education.

As was revealed in the audit of education-based initiatives, programs of citizenship and civics education are being introduced into Australian schools. However, the vast majority of young people who participated in this study will miss out on this education as they have already left school, or will have left school before the programs are implemented for their age group. It follows that other programs of education, beyond formal school education, are needed for young people to develop empowering conceptions of citizenship. Many participants made reference to the “Edmund Barton” ads that were screened during the Centenary of Federation and commented that similar campaigns on the meaning and history of citizenship would be informative.

2. Youth unemployment

Many of the participants felt that young people who do not have paid employment are considered by older people, particularly baby boomers, to be “second-class citizens” who do not contribute to society. They felt that they were not respected as worthwhile members of society, with equal rights and equal status. The second dimension to this issue that many young people argue, is that without employment they do not have the economic resources to be active participants in society. They feel that they are marginalised, powerless and lower- grade citizens than employed people. It was also clear from the qualitative research that the most economically disadvantaged participants were also the least interested in the topic. It is difficult to make practical recommendations to address this issue. These are very difficult issues to tackle in isolation from broader economic and cultural change.

3. Formal participation

The third most common response to the survey question on what the respondents thought would be helpful to support young people to be meaningfully involved in society, was for programs that encourage youth participation in government and in schools to be more widespread and more genuinely participatory. The quantitative data revealed a strong correlation between involvement in formal participation practices such as youth advisory councils and a belief that these were effective ways for young people to have influence. Very few of the participants in the qualitative research recalled ever having been consulted about anything else before and seemed to value the process. Some of those participants in the qualitative research who had been involved in youth participation or consultation claimed to have felt empowered by their involvement. Others who had a negative experience were very unlikely to participate again in a different program, and were also likely to discourage others from participating. It would seem that it is very important that if such programs are to be implemented, that they are devised with extensive youth consultation and tokenism is carefully avoided.

Implications for further research

Methodological issues

There is a clear methodological issue arising from the use of youth as a social category for investigation. Many of the participants expressed surprise at the range of the category and argued that there was little in common between the perceptions of people at each end of the category. Future research should be more tightly targeted to specific age groups.

Some of the recent international research reviewed at the beginning of the research indicated that there may be methodological issues arising from the fact that the discourse of citizenship theory, the way that the terminology is used, is either not used in everyday language, or is used in such a way that words actually have different meanings. In international research, this had led to quantitative findings which were invalidated by subsequent qualitative research. This was echoed in this study. These findings are methodologically very important from the point of view of interpreting the results of previous research and in planning future research. A recommendation for future researchers, would be to emphasise the qualitative research even more, and to conduct the qualitative research before the quantitative work.

The perceptions and experiences of Indigenous young people

The wide scope and limited resources of this project prevented sufficient inquiry into the perceptions held by, and experiences of, Indigenous young people and young people living in remote areas. The limited research conducted with Indigenous young people revealed that their perceptions were significantly different from the non-Indigenous samples, demonstrating a need for rigorous research focusing on the views of young Indigenous people.

Comparative study

As this research was carried out into the perceptions of young people, it is impossible to know to what degree those perceptions are limited to young people, and to what degree those perceptions are held generally across the population. A valuable contribution to knowledge and policy could be made testing these findings against similar research undertaken with other demographic groups. It would also be very useful to conduct comparative research in other countries in order to see to what degree the perceptions of Australian young people are similar to or different from other populations, and the correlating factors.

1. Introduction

In recent times, the Australian Government and the State and Territory Governments, as well as many local governments, have increasingly incorporated into youth-related policy and initiatives the ideals of youth citizenship. Typically, this is based on notions of some form of active participation in community life. Often, these ideals are not specifically identified in terms of “citizenship”. In this context, citizenship is conceived as participation and the rights, skills and opportunities to do so.

On another level, there has been a move towards the reinstatement of civics and citizenship education in schools. Following several decades of diminished interest in civics, the Australian Government has resourced the States and Territories with materials and training, and most of the States and Territories have recently re­emphasised the importance of civics and citizenship education in curricula. This is done in the belief that people must be equipped with a certain level of knowledge to be able to participate as active citizens.

The word “citizenship” has been used to emphasise the public discourse on citizenship in the context of migration. For instance, there have been drives to convince permanent residents to take up citizenship, debates over immigration and high profile news items such as the detention of Australian citizens at Guantanamo Bay. In this context, citizenship is portrayed as a formal status associated with the right to live in this country. There have also been high profile international affairs such as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and high profile “anti-globalisation” protests which have provoked discussion of a loss of national sovereignty, or on the other hand, a move towards supranational citizenship. Meanwhile, other social changes have implications for conceptualising citizenship. Throughout the post-war era, citizenship has been strongly connected to state welfare and the discourse of universal entitlement. As neoliberalism has become dominant, there has been a relatively recent shift of emphasis from universal entitlement based on citizenship, to the idea of mutual obligation and conditional contracting with individuals.

All of these things raise the question of what we understand citizenship to be. Given these changes in emphases in policy and philosophy, given widespread significant and rapid social change, and given that there are different ideas of citizenship associated with the topics discussed above, it is timely to investigate how young people in Australia perceive citizenship, and any correlating factors.

How do young people understand the term “citizenship”? Is it merely the right to live in a country, or does it involve active democratic participation in decision-making? Does citizenship hold the same meaning for them as it does for policy makers? Beyond that, regardless of how they understand the term, how do young people perceive citizenship as a concept, and how do they see their place in the world? Are there barriers that prevent young people from feeling that they can participate effectively?

This publication reports on research which used quantitative and qualitative methods to investigate the way that young people in Australia perceive citizenship. It inquired into the way that young people see citizenship as an idea, and how they use the term. It inquired into their understanding of citizenship and democratic theory, their perceptions of Australia as a democratic state and their level of interest in and support of Australian political practices and institutions. This research also introduced participants to some influential theory on citizenship to see not only how they relate to that theory conceptually, but how it sits with their own lived experience.

This research also inquired into how young people in Australia perceive their place in the world as political actors and how they perceive ability to influence the decisions that effect them, their perceptions of power and influence, of democracy and participation, of rights and responsibilities, of community and the correlating and determining factors thereof.

The young people who participated in this study came from a range of backgrounds in every State and Territory. The findings show that young people hold a range of complex views on citizenship. Views that are often contradictory and often overlapping, and often views which do not accord with established conceptions of what citizenship means.
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