The Significance of Ethnography in Youth Participation Research: Active Citizenship in the UK after the Brexit Vote
In comparison to questionnaires, statistical analyses, interviews and experiments,
ethnography tends to be a neglected method in youth participation research and in understanding political
socialization and citizen action. This, we suggest, is very unfortunate. Where the concerns and experiences
of researchers do not match those of young people, it is usually the young people’s perspectives which remain
outside the frameworks and conclusions. Drawing on original data and insights from two ethnographies
of youth active citizenship initiatives in the UK – My Life My Say and Momentum – collected during
a politically tumultuous 8-month period in 2017, this article argues that ethnography has several advantages
over other methods when it comes to understanding the depth and significance of youth civic participation
and its links to peer groups and emotions. We contend that critical and reflexive ethnographies allow scholars
and researchers to ask and probe young people’s perceptions, opinions, actions and behaviours through
the use of open-ended questions in settings where civic action is already taking place, thus triangulating
findings in natural settings and building a sense of how communities of practice and activism function.
In terms of ethics, voice and power, this ethnographic research approach gives young people more control
over their own narratives about participation and affiliation in specific political or civic settings than surveys
tend to do.