This project examines forms of political engagement among youth in contemporary European democracies at a time of disenchantment or fatigue with democracy. It considers youth participation is essential for healthy democratic systems as they are key to innovate in mechanisms of democratic participation.
Our objective is twofold: we seek to understand, on the one hand, the conditions under which young people become politically active and, on the other, the interplay between their mobilization and the responses provided by democratic institutions. Our driving research questions are thus: (1) What conditions, processes, and mechanisms drive the political participation of mobilized youth at a time of overlapping crises such as environmental degradation, labour market disruptions, and the COVID-19 pandemic? and (2) What political contexts or institutional responses and set-ups have allowed for successful democratic innovations to happen? Which solutions can be envisioned to make democratic institutions more inclusive for young people?
The first thread of the project will focus on local governance, and more specifically on the city. Cities have emerged as central spaces to find solutions to the demands of citizens in pluralistic societies, and local politics represent a starting point to reduce the distance between youth and the democratic process. Youth environmental protests and politics, for example, often develop first and primarily at the local level. The second thread of our project will, more broadly, be developed at the level of labour market participation and governance, as youth participation is also deeply shaped by the fast-changing labour markets and the workplace.
We propose a multi-methods design combining a mapping of relevant cases and within-case analysis. First, a dataset of youth protests in Swiss, French, Italian and Spanish urban settings since 2015 will be identified, as well as relevant local democratic innovations that happened within that time frame. Second, drawing on our researchers’ vast networks, a range of semi-structured interviews will explain how and why do protests and participatory institutions connect, why they sometimes do not, as well as which participatory formats are more able to positively engage them and avoid “exit” from young people. In addition to its academic activities and outputs, the project will organise two action-oriented workshops, whose proceedings will also serve as material for the research and for policy papers