By John Rountree, University of Houston-Downtown, USA
This thematic collection showcases scholarship from the Journal of Deliberative Democracy on youth deliberation in the community.
While much of the literature has focused on youth deliberation as pedagogy in the classroom or within intra-university forums, there is increasing focus on sites of deliberation outside formal spaces of education to enrich the civic capacities of young people. Youth in deliberative democracy are often viewed through a deficit model, focusing on what they “lack” to be full contributing citizens. Yet, young people also have unique perspectives and capacities that can enhance deliberative processes. Deliberation scholarship has started to conceptualize and analyze young people’s inclusion in community deliberations, and this thematic collection puts a spotlight on this emerging research agenda.
Nicholas Longo’s article (2013) argues for “deliberative pedagogy in the community,” which combines “deliberative dialogue, community engagement, and democratic education” to create an engaged learning environment outside of the traditional classroom (p. 2). Deliberative pedagogy in the community recognizes youth as participants in collaborative problem solving within real world contexts. In another article, Roger Mourad (2022) conceives of deliberation in higher education in terms of “critical spaces” where scholars and students address contemporary problems with the purpose of creating social change beyond the walls of the university. While the initial stages of such deliberation start within the university, critical spaces progress to directly engage university community members with various publics outside the university.
Examining youth deliberation in the community also necessitates moving beyond deliberative pedagogy as an all-encompassing framework for youth deliberation. Too much of an educational focus for youth deliberation risks perpetuating negative stereotypes about youth as citizens-in-training rather than as competent, active participants in democracy. In an essay on children in deliberative democracy, Kei Nishiyama (2017) warns that the “future citizens” model of youth participation devalues young people’s capabilities and fails to recognize their existing contributions to democracy. He argues that children should be viewed as deliberators, not as “future citizens.”
Indeed, in a case study included in this collection, Deanna Grant-Smith and Peter B. Edwards (2011) show that negative stereotypes about youth competency are real concerns that can impact the perceived efficacy of youth in deliberative processes. In a water planning advisory committee, they reveal that although two youth members were formally included in the deliberations, they faced challenges to having their contributions taken seriously by adult committee members. However, as Celina Su (2012) shows in another essay, youth can actively work to counter these negative perceptions of incompetency over time. Su evaluates how well New York City’s participatory budgeting process heightened participation by traditionally marginalized stakeholders, including youth. Youth ideas and constructive feedback in the first year of deliberations helped counter negative perceptions of youth as participants, and the subsequent year saw expanded rights for youth to submit budget proposals and vote in the budgeting process.
Young people, acting as full and capable participants in deliberation, may still require a different approach from deliberation organizers than adults. Working with several youth citizens’ juries discussing digital rights, Stephen Coleman, Krukae Pothong, and Sarah Weston (2018) develop a model for dramatizing deliberation to better engage and include young people. Dramatic vignettes provide a spark for reflection and discussion, for example, by having the internet portrayed as an embodied person in a theatrical scenario. Together, these essays call on deliberation scholars to critically evaluate the roles, opportunities, and challenges for youth as participants in community deliberation.
Thank you to Kei Nishiyama for providing feedback on articles to include in this collection.
Editors: John Rountree (Guest Editor)
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Stephen Coleman, Krukae Pothong and Sarah Weston
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Deanna Grant-Smith and Peter B. Edwards
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