RESOURCES: Review - A record of the changing face of youth work

By Howard Williamson

| 26 February 2003

Cynics may say that the best bit of this book is the photograph, right at the start, of the maverick crew who started Youth & Policy all those years ago. After all, being a retrospective, it is all old stuff.

On the other hand, it was that crew who bravely established a serious journal of critical analysis of the broad youth field: something that, until that point, had been conspicuous by its absence.

And in the intervening years, as youth policy has become more developed and more contested, how much it has been needed. I have been a subscriber from day one and, while I would not profess to read every single page, the journal has been a sustaining source of learning, understanding, dissent, frustration and irritation. I hope it has had much the same effect on others.

The collection of old articles brought together in this volume is, inevitably, the editor's personal choice. Few of us would have wanted to be placed in that position and, had we been so, would no doubt have made a quite different selection. But this compilation does its job as well as any in positioning the idea of informal education (not a narrow conception of youth work) within the repertoire of the debate around youth policy, academe and cultural studies.

There is something here for everyone who proclaims an interest in the contemporary condition of young people, even if some of it is almost 20 years old. Some is located in the professional and training field (competencies and managerialism), some more directly in the cultures of young people (drugs and music). Some touch the powerful theoretical drivers of the practice (feminism, anti-racism), and some address dominant political concerns and policy responses (disaffection and mentoring).

The editor maintains that, through this eclectic debate, the position of informal education has been strengthened, although there is caution about proclaiming a new dawn for youth work. It has brought about a new confidence.

This collection offers a refresher, a sample of the contributions that have helped us to articulate our strengths and position more forcefully.

We may not credit Youth & Policy for this, probably because the impact has been indirect, but I have little doubt that that is the case. This is the reason for buying the book: so that we have our own personal memento in 20 years' time of one of the key anchors that sustained youth work, in theory and practice, when its reputation was at its lowest ebb and its future looked exceedingly dire.

20 years of Youth & Policy: a retrospective edited by PC Nolan Published by The National Youth Agency 2002 Price 12.95, 297 pages ISBN 0 86155 283 0

blog comments powered by Disqus