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Searching for Meaning: Learning from Youth Workers' Lives, Formation and Profession in Austere Times - a Critical Narrative Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis

BRIGHT, ALEXANDER,ROBERT,GRAHAM (2021) Searching for Meaning: Learning from Youth Workers' Lives, Formation and Profession in Austere Times - a Critical Narrative Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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This thesis is concerned with the life histories and motivations of youth workers and what these mean for professional youth work in the UK. The research is based on a novel methodological approach, combining narrative and Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. It involved conducting a series of three interviews with 16 qualified and student youth workers to trace the importance of life histories in shaping and maintaining their vocational motivations. ‘Borders’ – the significance of intersecting structural barriers - and ‘reparative impulse’ emerged as significant themes. Given these life histories and motivations, the thesis contends that youth work can be regarded as an ‘ontological praxis’ which interactively draws on practitioners’ selfhoods and living histories in developing relational learning and critical meaning with young people. Discussions regarding the ‘use of self’ lead into analysis of participants’ accounts of their experiences of professional formation, noting that many qualifying youth work courses do not consistently and systematically address the ‘use of self’ in their curricula.
The thesis proceeds to consider the influence of neoliberal policy frameworks upon youth workers’ practices and their professional and personal subjectivities. However, despite the clear devastation wrought by neoliberal austerity, and its corrosive impact upon the telos (core purpose) of youth work, participants appeared to continue to maintain a passionate and psychically-entrenched commitment to practice. Moreover, many expressed continuing optimism regarding possibilities for its future. In advancing a more criticalist hermeneutic, I join with participants in the Freirean tradition underpinning youth work practice of ‘naming the(ir) world’. However, in doing so, I contend that ‘Freirean naming’ is, of itself, insufficient. I therefore integrate Foucauldian perspectives on governmentality to develop a novel dialectic synthesis that highlights the deeply embedded inculcation of neoliberal rationalities and technologies in participants’ personal-professional subjectivities. I argue that these mechanisms, including ‘technologies of vocation’ and ‘technologies of hope’, when ‘unnamed’ risk becoming manipulatively affective devices of ‘cruel optimism’ which continuously contort and manipulate respondents’ subjectivities and motivations towards youth work practice. Such technologies cause youth workers to act on themselves and young people in ways that unwittingly contribute to the very neoliberal machinations of oppression which much of the Profession abhors - machinations which ironically have, in many instances, been responsible for contributing to the original catalysation of respondents’ sense of vocation to youth work practice.
Implications for professional education and practice are also discussed. These include a call for professional qualifying courses to enable explorations of youth workers’ living histories and enacted identities in fostering critically reflexive insights which promote ethical practice with young people.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:youth work; youth workers; vocation; life histories; professional education; neoliberalism; Freire; critical pedagogy; border pedagogy; Foucault; governmentality.
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Sociology, Department of
Thesis Date:2021
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:03 Aug 2021 12:47

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