The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science

The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science has devoted its entire issue No. 633 form November 2011 to the topic of youth participation.

Some of the articles I found very interesting and I wish to summarize them here a little bit:

Daniel Hart and Robert Atkins: „American Sixteen- and Seventeen-Year-Olds Are Ready to Vote“ To quote from the abstract: „American 16- and 17-year-olds ought to be allowed to vote in state and national elections. This claim rests upon a line of argument that begins with an exegesis of legal and philosophical notions of citizenship that identify core qualities of citizenship: membership, concern for rights, and participation in society. Each of these qualities is present in rudimentary form in childhood and adolescence. Analyses of national survey data demonstrate that by 16 years of age—but not before— American adolescents manifest levels of development in each quality of citizenship that are approximately the same as those apparent in young American adults who are allowed to vote. The lack of relevant differences in capacities for citizenship between 16- and 17-year-olds and those legally enfranchised makes current laws arbitrary, …“

They argue that by the age of 16 most indicators that stand we use to look on to judge that someone is ready to be a citizen like knowledge about politics, the feeling of political efficacy, the skills needed for political action, the interest in politics and tolerance are comparable to adults or even exceeding some adult groups. Therefore this youth should be given the right to vote. The study is based on a survey conducted by the authors.

In Participatory Niches for Emergent Citizenship in Early Adolescence: An International Perspective Judith Torney-Purta and Jo-Ann Amadeo write about different perspectives and argue that rather then lowering the voting age, campaigns to involve children and youth should be focused on every day participatory niches and that those niches should be expanded: „we argue for promoting “emergent participatory citizenship” during the adolescent years. Directing serious attention to enhancing the politically and civically relevant niches that those between ages 10 and 18 occupy in their everyday lives, in our view, has greater potential for positive effects than does a campaign to lower the voting age worldwide.“ (All the quotes in this section are taken from the article)

The Authors conceptualize the terms as you can see her and try to give us an overview of the factors that help to built citizenship.

They want us to use the term emergent participatory citizenship, as a way of discussion what form citizenship can and should take in young people. They also try to explain that the current inactivity of young people, that is often mistaken as apathy towards the community is a sing of: „stand-by citizen” to describe individuals in this region. This is a person who is sufficiently content with current political, economic, and democratic conditions so that he or she feels little obligation to be active in conventional political activities but is ready to be mobilized in case these conditions change“

With regard towards concepts of citizenship there seem to be to broad strands one is the „dutiful citizenship“ for whom voting and obeying the law is important the other „engaged citizenship“ for whom tolerance and respect for minorities and people with different views are additional qualities. But they also have to note, that no region stands out well in preparing their young people for becoming citizen.

Political agency seems to be developed by experiences in the spaces in which young people hung out together, either physically or virtually, and often these spaces are appropriated or claimed and are not designed for this.

In To Be (Come) or Not to Be (Come): Understanding Children’s Citizenship Allison James highlights how childhood is constructed as a deficit oriented social construct in the  social investment state of England versus as a resource and competence lead discourse in a social democratic state like Norway. She uses examples from hospitals especially to show this. Highlighting that Norway uses: „Through the introduction of a variety of projects and policies since the 1980s, she argues that this social democratic society has offered “new visions of childhood, intending to empower a disenfranchised group in society, replacing the notion of ‘the vulnerable and dependent child’ with ‘the competent child’ who is given the right to participate in society to a certain degree” (p. 64).
In Norway, Kjørholt suggests, children are seen as vital to the resurgence of communities and to the “continuity and renewal of discourses about Norway as a
democratic nation” (2002, 75). Children’s participation in their local communities
is considered key, signalling, in this cultural context, that there has been a shift from seeing children as “human becomings” to “human beings”

The Child as Democratic Citizen, Andrew Rehfeld tries to examine the philosophical problems of excluding children from political participation and discusses ways of giving them a say such as fractional votes for children, national constituencies for children, political spending accounts for children, using federalism  to promote and limit influence at the same time.

He notes that Article 12 of the Convention on rights of the Child gives but at the same times limits the voice of children to: „cases in which they have a direct personal
interest. Second, they only have the “opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child”—not, that is, in legislatures.“
And there is a lack in creativity in finding better ways to engage with them and give them representation on their issues, possibly also due to the lack of attention from political philosophers on this issue. One argument for refusing the right to vote, is that people under the age 0f 18 are not considered mature enough, but this argument is refuted because there are adults who have do not have the necessary capacities for making choices and still can vote. („children lack “political maturity,” that bundle of cognitive, emotional, communicative, and agency capability that justifies a claim to citizenship rights within any democratic society.“)

However there is a good case in claiming that the only way of learning to exercise power in a reasonable way is actually having and using them. (agency) As he writes: „Since having power is an extremely good way to train one for its use, this becomes a reason to provide children with political power as a way to cultivate their political maturity.
Giving children some political power from a very early age would also allow them to habituate the practices of citizenship at a younger age and may make it more likely that they engage in and with the polity as adults.“

He then starts to consider various options for giving children more say in decision making. However one idea he dismisses is giving parents a proxy vote for their children. The case against this becomes evident if we compare it with the situation of giving husbands a proxy vote for their wife’s!

Then he considers four porposals to give children more influence:

  • Fractional votes for children – „I think a better solution is a variation of a solution that John Vasconcellos has proposed: to create a continuous voting right by the allocation of fractional shares to children as they grow into their
    political maturity. Imagine that upon turning 12, a child received 1/7 of a vote, with an additional 1/7 added for every year after (at 18 they have a full vote)“
  • National constituencies for children – creating special seats in the US Congress for which only children have the right to vote.
  • Political spending accounts for children – The idea is to give each child a vote over a small amount of tax money (? 10 USD) they would then vote about this after a national campaign. Even a small sum per head would result in a considerable sum on the US level (around 30 Mio USD) that would create substantial interest in special interest groups to make their case for funding.
  • Using federalism to promote and limit influence – a fancy way of saying that on the state or local level provisions should be introduced to give children more say or even a vote in their affairs. (Remember youth councils?)

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