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­­­Promoting Youth Involvement and Social Engagement: Opportunities and challenges in the context of intergenerational relations

Priority areas of development: sociology

Goal of research: the investigation of the role of Russian youth as of the initiator of social changes in contemporary society in the context of intergenerational relationships

Methodology: 1) qualitative and quantitative secondary data analysis; 2) collection and analysis of primary data, the main collection method: qualitative intergenerational biographical interview. According to formulated goals, 60 biographical interviews were collected (with youth and their parents/grandparents). All interviews were literally transcribed and coded in computer program of qualitative data analysis Nvivo, and consequently analyzed.

Empirical base of research: Empirical base for secondary analysis: the data base of international project MYPLACE (FP7, 2013-2015) was used for secondary analysis. It was the data of questionnaire survey using random sampling (N=1200 youth in Saint Petersburg (Kupchino) and Vyborg), 60 in-depth interviews with young citizens, living in saint Petersburg and Vyborg. Empirical base for primary analysis: 60 biographical interviews with three generations of citizens, living in Saint Petersburg: young activists (N=28 pers.) and their parents/grandparents (N=32 pers.). Totally, in the sample there are 28 young activists living in Saint Petersburg, aged between 18 and 26 years, approximately equally distributed in 4 different spheres of activism (political, social, creative and living environment activism). In “adults” sample there are 32 persons, the majority is represented by activists’ parents (27 persons) aged between 36 and 69 years, 5 interviews were conducted with grandparents aged between 61 and 79.

Results of research:

1. The study of youth activism was enriched by the analysis of a historical context and the intergenerational relations that allowed to consider a phenomenon of youth civil participation in totality as well as a product of individual, social and historical conditions.

2. The secondary data analysis (2013, collected within the international MYPLACE project) has shown that activism potential of "ordinary" youth is low. However, passivity, ignorance and indifference are not the reasons of such situation. The inability to influence the situation is a traumatic experience. As a result, the majority of young people choose the most effective method to avoid this injury – refusing from participation and interest in politics. All energy and interest are concentrated in the sphere of private life, and also in other spaces: culture, consumption, work.

3. Primary analysis of 28 biographic interviews with young St. Petersburg activists has shown that they consider citizenship as the involved, active, reflexive and responsible attitude to the world, extending beyond individual life or the simple acquired status (that in some cases is observed among "inactive" youth). At the same time, active youth perception of citizenship essentially differs from their parents' views, concentrated on moral, ethical and work concepts of a civic duty. It is important, that children's experience influences parents' representations.

4. The majority of young people actively involving in activist practices rather emotionally endure the events in the country. It is possible to speak about a continuum of youth activists' images of Russia. On different poles of this continuum appear opponent solidarities: one supports the current, political and social trends, and the second takes a critical position. Between these poles there are mobile and ambivalently defined positions in which are combined the contradictory relations indicative of different political camps. The analysis of valuable orientations of youth involved in citizen initiatives showed that one of the basic values for them is self-realization in activities which "make sense" (in doing good, in helping others, in creative projects and production of alternative participation forms, in communication, and even in love of homeland).

5. The analysis of different types of youth activism has shown that the sphere of the St. Petersburg political activism is more fragmented, than it has been shown in the studies conducted earlier. The opposition consists of numerous groups, at the same time this is not about consolidation. In the pro-government camp it is possible to see certain transformations: transition from big flagman movements (as, for example, "NASHI") to numerous smaller movements, which more often set "civil" goals instead of political, and realize their own "improvement" of environment vision.

6. In the Russian field of social activism two strategies of collective action determining the choice of activist practice tactics and methods were revealed: actionist activism aiming to create the informational resonance through participation in public actions and ordinary activism oriented to regular direct help through nonprofit institutions.

7. Features of creative activism in St. Petersburg, first of all, are connected with the existing structure of cultural production in the city: the post-soviet culture of the state institutions did not undergo considerable changes in comparison with the late Soviet period. Big state institutions still accumulate the majority of resources and de/legitimize new cultural phenomena. The emerging independent initiatives don't get support of the state, but are easily controlled by it.

8. Environmental activism has the potential for a solidarization and mobilization of a large number of the citizens who are representatives of different age, social and ethnic groups. Care about the environment and creation of the comfortable urban environment represent the conventional values, and a large number of multidirectional initiatives allow participants to choose those which meet their expectations and values. For these reasons environmental activism is supported institutionally when activist organizations' practices are controlled. However, movement participants are aiming to assert their independence, trying to find balance between their own interests and power interests.

9. Analysis of interviews with the older generations: parents and grandparents has shown that in young activists' families parents were rather "active" and "not indifferent". The need to help others in everyday life is a part of the value system of the majority of adult participants. Participation in socially important projects was rather important part of life for many informants. Almost all parents and grandparents of young activists at least once took part in some activist practices during their life.

10. The evaluation of interaction between older and younger generations has shown that intra-familial interactions and intergenerational communications represent an important resource of social, civil participation, both for youth, and for parents generation, as today the vector of intra-familial transmission can be directed not only from parents – to children, but also on the contrary, from children – to parents. At the same time, parents have rather liberal ideas of education pattern. The main mechanism of intergenerational continuity in parenting communication is represented by shared practices of parents and children, their mutual realization and the organization of common engagement.

Level of implementation, recommendations on implementation or outcomes of the implementation of the results

The results of the study allowed to formulate several recommendations that can be implemented at the level of youth and educational policy of the Russian Federation (at different levels):

  • It is recommended for youth policy to be reoriented from a homogenizing macro-national projects of youth policy to work with young people at the micro level within municipalities, districts, settlements, and to take into account the needs and capabilities of youth in specific locations.
  • It is recommended for civic education to focus on strengthening and development of those trends, which youth already has: the choice, responsibility and activity, rather than to rely on the declarative patriotism and duty.
  • It is recommended to provide maximum support and to develop alternative open educational platform (with public lectures, seminars, discussions, video broadcasting), and youth media, especially in the regions.
  • It is recommended for structures working with young people to maintain youth independence and initiatives; to create conditions for their activities (a space where young people can get together and to be free to implement their projects); to maintain and to develop the "fashion" on civic activism in public debate, and to speak with youth in their language.


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