What is Youth Work?

Podcast 006: What is Youth Work Part Two

What is Youth Work?
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What is Youth Work?

In our previous cast “What is Youth Work – 002” we looked at the broadest overview of youth work. We spoke to the most broad understanding of the youth sector and the term youth work that is surrounding the sector. We also looked at the broadest youth work definition that we use at Ultimate Youth Worker. If you are paid or volunteer in your capacity to provide support to young people as your primary concern you are doing youth work.

Recap of previous podcast “What is Youth Work – 002

  • The main reason for a youth work definition = Professional status
  • In Defence of Youth Work = Emancipatory and democratic youth work that is voluntary and starts with their concerns (link to open Letter)
  • National Youth Agency = Non-formal education in various forms (link to NYA)
  • RMIT = Youth work is about Justice and Human Rights (link to RMIT)
  • YACWA = Youth work is about providing formal and informal support to give young people a voice in their community (link to YACWA)
  • YACVIC = Working for and with young people, young people are your primary concern (link to YACVIC)
  • European commission on youth = Opportunity for young people to shape their own future (link to EU Youth).
  • Department of Children and Youth Affairs = Youth work is complimentary to formal education (link to DCYA)
  • Judith Bessant = Engaging with young people as our primary constituency in their social context
  • Infed = A history of youth works development (link to Infed)

Today we want to speak about the youth work definition that is most accepted in Australia.

In Australia we have been debating the core work of youth workers for decades. The earliest clear definition of youth work as a distinct industry came through the Jasper Declaration 1977.

The most current youth work definition used within Australia is from the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition 2013. After a consultation that brought together thoughts from all over Australia a whole day was devoted to defining youth work in Australia at the Australian Youth Affairs Conference 2013. The best part of 100 youth workers argued and debated for the day to craft a definition for our sector. After the conference there were a few more consultations and the definition was set.

A caveat to this – There are many in Australia who do not agree with the definition. Particularly, many from the North believed that the professionalisation debate was overshadowing good youth work. That the Southern and Eastern states had hijacked the youth work definition for their own. Funnily enough it is those states which have Degree programs.

Thought to end on

Youth work in Australia is still a contested site. The question of qualification is still at the forefront of the debate. From volunteer to PhD there are many who call themselves youth workers whether qualified or not. Another contested area is whether people are paid or not. There are thousands of people who volunteer to work with young people across Australia without who the youth sector would be considerably understaffed. Until we clarify as a sector what we mean by the term “Youth Work” we will be at the mercy of other definitions. We need to clarify professional paid youth work from volunteer work and other forms of youth support. This clarification does not need to reduce the amazing contribution of people to the sector, but it does need to focus our attentions.

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Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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BREXIT and youth work

Brexit text with British and Eu flags illustration

Brexit has come

So last week saw Britain vote to leave the European Union. The Brexit referendum saw an unprecedented youth voice get quashed by the roar of the elderly seeking a return to a Great Britain of old and Baby Boomers who are worried that their pensions are being sent oversees. Throughout the campaigns the fear mongering was phenomenal. From concerns about refugees and financial performance to the beliefs of politicians every opportunity has been taken to spread fear in the Empire.  The most concerning issue from this whole ordeal was how easily this happened.

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32CB754C00000578-0-The_polling_data_showed_big_differences_between_how_different_ag-m-11_1459672827371Almost half of the population of the United Kingdom either didn’t vote or were unable to vote in the referendum. Many of those who were unable to vote were young people and refugees. The very people that the Brexit vote will affect the most. Of those who did vote, a significant proportion of of those who wanted to remain in the European Union were young people. This begs questions for youth workers, not just in the United Kingdom but throughout the world… When will we listen to young people? What does this mean for youth support services? What opportunities will avail themselves to young people and what will they lose? These questions among many others have been the focus of discussion by many of recent days.

A few thoughts from an Aussie whose family was banished to this great south land from the cold and dreary shores of England:

  • A country which has built itself on a nationalist framework will always struggle to let it go and play well with others. It was inevitable that Britain would leave the EU. Sadly until the voice of those who remember the height of British nationalism are silenced the generations will be stuck in the past.
  • The push of Neoliberalism will always seek to see splintered economies where some will prosper and most will eek out a meager existence. The mere existence of a Union is an afront to those seeking freedom in trade.
  • Young people have always been pawns to the will of the old. Young people are not listened to and do not have a strong enough platform from which to change this. As youth workers we spend our careers trying to amend this.
  • We live in a society which looks at the here and now. The future is of little consequence. Climate change, Economics, social breakdown and corruption all come from wanting a better now rather than a better future. We have more food than ever before and yet more poverty. We have more medical technology and yet die from preventable disease. Our now is more important too us.
  • Young people will always have to deal with the rubbish left by the old until there is a revolution. When power is held by one group over another there will never be freedom. Power must be distributed equally amongst all. Young people are under the power of those who are older, but that will only last until young people feel slighted enough to rise up. Better to share than be over ruled.

The future is now uncertain for Britain and more widely the European Union. Both sides of the debate believe they know what will happen and both will be certain in a few years. But one thing is certain, Young people believe their voice is not being heard. Brexit just proved it.

 

 

 

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Keeping motivation in youth work

MotivationMotivation is key

Life is tough, and so is youth work. Keeping motivation can be difficult. From the outside most people only see the coffees, conversations and if everything goes well a young person who appears to be well rounded. What they don’t see is the hours of paperwork, the phone calls, the parent meetings, the heartache and tears. When all of this gets mixed together with the trauma our young people experience and the lack of structured support from our organisations we come up against vicarious trauma. When this happens it is really hard to stay motivated.

At first you find that all the tasks in your day begin to seem mundane. You start to think you have heard your clients stories before. You are bored by tasks you used to enjoy. Your clients become just another number. Then all of a sudden you are looking at the job boards thinking of your next position. I have worked with dozens of youth workers in just this position over the years. They come to me for advice on how to address their job search as they just need to move on. The first thing I alway address is the reason for wanting to leave.

Youth Work MotivationI wish I could catch these youth workers six months earlier. Planning for your care is so much easier than trying to cobble together a career when you have lost all motivation. You see motivation is hard to regain, but it is pretty easy to maintain.

Here are a few of our go to motivation maintenance techniques that we believe will help any youth worker stay fully motivated for the work ahead:

  1. Know why you became a youth worker. Your values, philosophy and frameworks of youth work are intrinsic to your motivation. If you do not know why you became a youth worker, or what your motivations were to start then it is hard to focus when times get tough.
  2. Get supervision. We harp on about supervision because we know its worth. We don’t just mean the task supervision that you might get at the moment. We mean supervision that asks you to be critically reflective, to look at you as a person as well as you as a practitioner. You need a place to wrestle with the challenges of the job and how they affect you as a person.
  3. Have a life outside of work. Most of the people I know that have lost motivation or burnt out in youth work have lost their ability to live a full life. Their blinders are on and all they can see or think about is work. Get a hobby, catch up with friends and family, take a holiday… Live life outside of work.
  4. Stay up to date with the sector. Get involved with your peak bodies and networks, read journals and books, study, sign up to blogs and newsletters. Be involved with the sector not just your little patch. It helps breed a wider and deeper perspective.

If you do these four things you will find that when the dark days come… and they will, you will have a strong foundation from which to stand with motivation.

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Youth work and politics

Politics is great

One of my favourite questions for youth work students is how much they love politics. It asks them if one wall is ‘I hate politics with a fiery passion’ and the opposite wall is ‘I love everything about politics’ where do you stand on the continuum? Most students herd themselves down the ‘I hate politics end’, I have even had a few leave the room completely. Every now and then a few likely souls brave the tides and step towards their love. They show their comrades that politics is not to be feared or despaired over but embraced fully.

politics and youth workThe fact of the matter is that all youth work is political. Whether you are supporting an individual young person through an education program or you are advocating for hundreds at a symposium, all youth work is from a political framework, in the political system and funded because of political ideals. As youth workers we must have a strong understanding of the political sphere and the process that helps bring the decisions to the fore. We need to know the players and their political bent. We need to understand how to influence these decision makers and help them hear the voice of our young people.

Our profession is motivated to provide a world that listens to and embraces young people as equal citizens. This is a very political statement. It puts a flag in the ground that we will not give up. Sometimes it puts us politically against those in power. Sometimes our vision aligns. Either way our employment and our future is intrinsically linked to politics. Whether your a liberal leaning lefty or a right as rain conservative if you are a youth worker your work is politically challenging. You are more like a lobbyist than you think.

Whats your take on political youth work?

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Youth work and your family

Family comes first

Over the past few weeks I have been reflecting on the pressures youth workers face because of the job. We have high rates of psychological distress, we deal daily with vicarious trauma, our jobs are often at the mercy of government whim and to top it of we work long crazy hours. This takes a massive toll on us as youth workers, unfortunately it also has ripple effects around us.

youth work family lifeI have seen a number of memes lately that have really got on my nerves. Mainly because they hit the bullseye. As youth workers and indeed human services workers in general we can become so focussed on the people we serve that we forget about the ones we love. Our partners, spouses and children forget what we look like as we spend every night out at meetings, running centres and programs. Our kids in particular feel the burden.

I have met many young people over my career who had parents who were youth workers. most turned out pretty ok. A number of them however had fallen off the rails. This detour through trouble often came because they felt abandoned by their parent for other young people. Often hearing about how the more troubled kids need their parents attention at the moment.

As a youth worker I have not been immune to this either. Studying, working weird and wonderful hours and being out at nights and weekends has been a part of my life for well over a decade. The final semester of my Masters degree I was working 80+ hours a week and was lucky if I saw my wife and children on a week night or more than a couple of hours on the weekend. As a family we knew this was only going to be for a season, yet the strain was clear.

A few weeks ago my family grew by two. Beautiful identical twin girls. This has made me slow down and reevaluate. Some things have taken a hiatus, some have been cut fully. One thing has been a clear reminder to me in this time, My family is the most important people in my life. When it comes to balance my family wins every time. If we put others young people before the needs of our own children what message does that convey to them. I know there will be times where for the short term we have to put our work first, but if our own children continue to lose out then they will become the clients of other youth workers down the track.

It is a cycle I intend to break. Being a professional means having thing work at home and at work. Will you join me? Put family time first n your calendar. Your family comes first.a

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Recruit great youth workers

7 tips for recruiting Ultimate Youth Workers

Recruit great youth workersRecruit great youth workersRecruiting Ultimate Youth Workers…

Recruiting is one of the most important jobs a youth service manager will ever have. Managers are responsible for two major tasks: results and retention. You can never get great results if you have mediocre people and you will never retain people if they don’t believe in what you are doing. So the answer is simple… recruiting the right people in the first place solves 90% of your issues.

First things First

You do not need someone so badly that you have to hire bad candidates. The absolute worst thing you could do is hire the wrong person because you feel the need to fill a spot. This will inevitably hurt your team and your ability to get the results you so desperately need to show. We all have stories of when the wrong person had a role and they tore a team apart. There is no time ever that you need to have a full complement of staff over recruiting the right person. No matter what anyone says you can take your time to get the best.


Tip 1 – Write a great position description: A great position description isn’t a fluffy document. Many HR departments have templates that have so much information and window dressing that you actually have no idea what you want a person to do, or even worse… you want them to do everything. Be clear and concise. The position description should include the duties you want the candidate to fulfill, the behaviours you want them to exhibit and the knowledge the must hold to do the role to which they are applying. If you feel like you are adding more than this it is simply window dressing. If you have the opportunity to have input into writing the position description make sure it is imperative that you make it fit your role perfectly.

Tip 2 – Initial cut down: You should ask for a resume, a cover letter and a response to your key selection criteria. Start with the cover letter. You are looking for an opportunity to weed out all those who wont fit your role. Many recruiter will spend less than 10 seconds scanning the cover letter. But, what should you look for??? Well here are a few ideas:

  • Is the document well formatted? Are there paragraphs? How are they justified (left or fully is the only way to go). Is it more than three or four paragraphs in length? Is it grammatically correct?
  • Are the candidates contact details on the document?
  • Has the candidate let you know where they heard about the role?
  • Have they addressed it to you or just used a ‘to whom it may concern’?

If a person makes it through the first round move on to their resume. Are the candidates contact details on the document? Do they have the qualifications and experience to fulfill the role? Is the document well formatted? Have they told you what they did in their roles or just put what they should have done from previous position descriptions? If they make it through these checks then you move on to the key selection criteria.

The key selection criteria should address your criteria within the position description. Have they answered your points with a clear PAR story. In a PAR story, they will describe:

  • Problem that existed
  • Actions they took to address the problem
  • Results they achieved solving the problem

If they make it this far they are OK. But, OK is not enough to fill your position. Its time for you to proceed to the next step.

Tip 3 – Phone screen interview: If you have other staff members on your team this is a good opportunity to get them to show some leadership, if not you can do it yourself. A phone screen interview is a short 30 minute interview that starts with the question ‘tell me about yourself?’ and ends with a behavioural interview question. You don’t tell the candidate your decision here (provide a good no letter if they didn’t make it). This is the most cost-effective and timely way of eliminating candidates who don’t stack up.

Recruiting to interview

Tip 4 – Interview those who are left: A day of interviews and testing and it’s what we use at Ultimate Youth Worker when we hire staff. But if your organisation can’t afford a day of interviewing then here are a few ideas for you:

  • Behavioural interviewing is a must. You need to see how a person will react to situations which will happen regularly in the role they are applying for.
  • If you aren’t getting your young people to help it’s not worth interviewing. The young people add a different dynamic that shows a lot about how the candidate works with young people.
  • An hour is not enough. Even the worst people can put on a good show for an hour. Try an hour of panel interviews, testing such as DISC profiling or a big 5 and finish with a half hour interview with the team. If you do this as a minimum you will be leaps ahead of your competition.

Tip 5 – It’s always better to have a bench: If you have a job opening and you already have a person who will fit the role you save yourself a lot of effort at the start. Most Government funding requirements expect transparent recruiting into roles, however if you have a person who will fit your role there is no rule that says you can’t get them to apply. Students who have done placements with you, former staff that you would have back in a heartbeat and casuals who are looking to expand their careers are all great people to have on your bench. If a role comes up that you think would fit a bench warmer then get them to apply. 

Tip 6 – References are not as useful as people think: If a person has put down a referee it is highly unlikely that person will have anything negative to say about your candidate. It is important to make sure they have all the credentials and qualifications they say they do. The best use of reference check is to qualify all the information the candidate has provided to you.

Tip 7 – If they aren’t excited they aren’t the right person: We don’t mean they have to be extroverts (we love introverts) but they do need to show enthusiasm. Enthusiasm for the organisation, the mission and the role. If the candidate doesn’t have a smile on their face and a spring in their step they are most likely the wrong person for your role. You should take excitement for the role over just about every other metric you use in hiring. Everything else you can teach or have it taught to the person who gets the job. Passion is something which can’t be given.


If you use these seven tips we guarantee you will get great candidates. These tips work for 90% of candidates 90% of the time. The rest comes down to your hard work and tenacity. If you want to take your organisation to the next level then you need to have the best staff. Recruiting Ultimate Youth Workers means setting the bar high and never settling except for the best.

 Once you’ve got the right person, don’t forget to keep them!

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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National Youth Week 2016

National Youth WeekNational Youth Week

Every year adults around the country set apart a week to celebrate the exciting time of life called youth! The arrogance of adults! That we would think young people deserve a week of focus and then pack it up for another year. That governments would put the measly scraps of funding towards running youth week is a telling symbol of their lack of care or respect for young people. The fact that the Federal Government still does not have a Minister for Youth is a clear indication of how inept government is at taking seriously the voice of young people.

The more adults try to placate young people the more we miss the amazing things they have to teach us. When we hear people say that “young people are becoming…” we need to remind them that young people are already fully human with all the rights that come with being so. What it felt like to not be listened too. What it felt like to be ignored except to be reprimanded. The older we get the more we forget our own youth.

[Tweet “The arrogance of age must submit to be taught by youth. Edmund Burke”]

As a society we pay young people less, simply because they are young.  We believe that young peoples opinions are lesser because they have less experience. We believe that one day young people will make great citizens, but not quite yet. As a society we must submit to be taught by our young people. They are not only the hope for the future, they are our hope now. If we continue with our arrogance of age the future looks bleak.

There has been some discussion in Australia over the last little while about lowering the voting age to 16. This would be a good start in showing young people how much we can learn from them. It would also go a lot further than a poorly funded week of placation.

What do you think? Leave us a comment below.

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Returning to our social justice roots

Social JusticeReturning to our social justice roots is imperative

As a young man I attended a youth centre in the suburbs of Melbourne that changed my life. The staff there had a mission to see me become the best I could be. They invested in my life through camps, day trips, courses and counsel. They supported me in my down times and rejoiced in my highs. At the time I thought I was the only person they worked with like that. In hindsight I know that is how they worked with us all.

What made these staff so amazing was a belief in what they were doing and a values base which was the foundation of all their work. The motto of the organisation was ‘somewhere to belong’. The staff had a realisation that many people in society are excluded and as such they have a feeling that they do not belong to community. The staff provided a listening ear, a cup of coffee and support amongst much much more for those considered the least in society. This comes from a clear focus on social justice.

Social justiceAs youth workers we need to come back to our roots, social justice. Having a recognition that a hurting generation are being oppressed by systems that are designed to hold them back. A generation being harmed by individuals who claim to be looking out for their best interests. A generation with more potential than we can imagine being told to wait their turn by those who are lost in their own miseries.

It is our social justice roots which allow us to recognise the hurting. It is our social justice roots which call us to step into the gap between those who are hurting and the world. It is our social justice roots which cause us to rally against the systems and individuals who by their actions or inaction cause our young people isolation and harm.

If you call yourself a youth worker then your roots are firmly planted in the values of social justice. Remember this and draw near to it. Your work will grow from strength to strength as you draw near to the values of the profession. We need values oriented practice more than ever before. As governments world wide are pushing to destroy a social just society it is people like us who will remind them of the needs of our young people. It will be those of us with a social justice mindset that change the world.

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Sociology

What do youth workers need to know about sociology?

Sociology for youth workers

SociologyAs youth workers we draw on many different frameworks to help us make sense of the world our young people live in. One of the most used frameworks in our kit bag is sociology. Through the sociological lens we can analyse social phenomena at different levels and from different perspectives. From concrete interpretations to sweeping generalisations of society and social behaviour, youth workers can study everything from specific events (the micro level of analysis of small social patterns) to the way groups work together (The meso level of analysis of groups and organisations) to the “big picture” (the macro level of analysis of large social patterns).

Below is a bite sized view of the top three perspectives in sociology which all youth workers should have an understanding of:

Symbolic interaction perspective

Max WeberThe symbolic interaction perspective, also called symbolic interactionism, is a major framework of sociological theory. This perspective relies on the symbolic meaning that people develop and rely upon in the process of social interaction. Although symbolic interactionism traces its origins to Max Weber’s assertion that individuals act according to their interpretation of the meaning of their world, the American philosopher George Herbert Mead introduced this perspective to American sociology in the 1920s.

Symbolic interaction theory analyses society by addressing the subjective meanings that people impose on objects, events, and behaviours. Subjective meanings are given primacy because it is believed that people behave based on what they believe and not just on what is objectively true. Thus, society is thought to be socially constructed through human interpretation. People interpret one another’s behaviour and it is these interpretations that form the social bond.

Critics of this theory claim that symbolic interactionism neglects the macro level of social interpretation—the “big picture.” In other words, symbolic interactionalists may miss the larger issues of society by focusing too closely on the “trees” rather than the “forest”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFQIIM8IRZU

Functionalist perspective

Emile DurkheimThe functionalist perspective can be traced back to Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons and has its roots in anthropology. This perspective focuses on social systems as a whole, how they operate, how they change, and the social consequences they produce.

Functionalism interprets each part of society in terms of how it contributes to the stability of the whole society. Society is more than the sum of its parts; rather, each part of society is functional for the stability of the whole society. The different parts are primarily the institutions of society, each of which is organized to fill different needs and each of which has particular consequences for the form and shape of society. The parts all depend on each other.

In trying to explain an aspect of a social system, functionalism asks several basic questions:

  • —How is this aspect related to other aspects of the system?
  • —What is its place in the overall operation of the social system?
  • —What kinds of consequences result from this?
  • —How do these consequences contribute or interfere with the operation of the cultural values and the realization of the cultural values on which the system is based?

Functionalism emphasizes the consensus and order that exist in society, focusing on social stability and shared public values. From this perspective, disorganisation in the system, such as deviant behaviour, leads to change because societal components must adjust to achieve stability. When one part of the system is not working or is dysfunctional, it affects all other parts and creates social problems, which leads to social change.

The functionalist perspective achieved its greatest popularity among American sociologists in the 1940s and 1950s. While European functionalists originally focused on explaining the inner workings of social order, American functionalists focused on discovering the functions of human behavior. Among these American functionalist sociologists is Robert K. Merton, who divided human functions into two types: manifest functions, which are intentional and obvious, and latent functions, which are unintentional and not obvious.

Functionalism has been critiqued by many sociologists for its neglect of the often negative implications of social order. Some critics, like Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci, claim that the perspective justifies the status quo, and the process of cultural hegemony which maintains it.

Functionalism does not encourage people to take an active role in changing their social environment, even when such change may benefit them. Instead, functionalism sees active social change as undesirable because the various parts of society will compensate in a seemingly natural way for any problems that may arise.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jOZqVnQmdY

Conflict Theory

Karl MarxConflict perspective is one of the major theoretical approaches to sociological thought. It originated with one of the fathers of sociology Karl Marx and his critique of capitalism and has since developed along a number of lines. In general, the conflict perspective assumes that social life is shaped by groups and individuals who struggle or compete with one another over various resources and rewards, resulting in particular distributions of power, wealth, and prestige in societies and social systems. These shape the patterns of everyday life as well as things such as racial, ethnic, and class inequality and relations among nations and regions of the world.

Conflict theory originated in the work of Karl Marx, who focused on the causes and consequences of class conflict between the bourgeoisie (the owners of the means of production and the capitalists) and the proletariat (the working class and the poor). Focusing on the economic, social, and political implications of the rise of capitalism in Europe, Marx theorized that this system, premised on the existence of a powerful minority class (the bourgeoisie) and an oppressed majority class (the proletariat), created class conflict because the interests of the two were at odds, and resources were unjustly distributed among them.

Within this system an unequal social order was maintained through ideological coercion which created consensus–and acceptance of the values, expectations, and conditions as determined by the bourgeoisie. Marx theorized that the work of producing consensus was done in the “superstructure” of society, which is composed of social institutions, political structures, and culture, and what it produced consensus for was the “base,” the economic relations of production.

Many social theorists have built on Marx’s conflict theory to bolster it, grow it, and refine it over the years. Explaining why Marx’s theory of revolution did not manifest in his lifetime, Italian scholar and activist Antonio Gramsci argued that the power of ideology was stronger than Marx had realized, and that more work needed to be done to overcome cultural hegemony, or rule through common sense.

Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, critical theorists who were part of The Frankfurt School, focused their work on how the rise of mass culture (mass produced art, music, and media) contributed to the maintenance of cultural hegemony. More recently, C. Wright Mills drew on conflict theory to describe the rise of a tiny “power elite” composed of military, economic, and political figures who have ruled America from the mid-twentieth century.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_c2p0Y7mgU

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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The sociological imagination and youth work

The sociological imaginationsociological imagination

As one of the main sociologists in history C. Wright Mills has contributed much to the study of humanity. Perhaps though nothing as important as the ‘sociological imagination’. The ability for people to see an issues from another’s point of view. Literally to imagine yourself in their shoes. The sociological imagination asks us to think about the world through the experience of individuals other than yourself. A core process that most people in society have never engaged in.

Currently governments around the world are spruiking the individualised perspective of society. That we are all responsible for our own destiny and the free market will even things out for us all. The big society supposedly looking out for the good of all. However the focus of these ideas is often either individual or societal focused. Rarely do we someone with an understanding of the individual and of society. This leads to things falling apart as we are seeing in the UK, Europe union and many other nations.

Enter youth work. We are trained to understand individual young people and the society they live in. We seek understanding of the societal issues which cause concern for our young people and we understand their individual concerns and wants. Youth workers have a great sociological imagination! For us it is beyond stupidity to focus on a person without looking at the context of their life. We look at the structures of inequality and the individuals strengths. We provide advocacy at a macro level and develop relationship with our young people at the micro level. Youth workers are awesome.

If you find your work focusing on one area more than the other I implore you to refocus your sociological imagination. If you are focusing too much on the individual begin to look at the societal. If you look at the societal side begin to look at individuals.

It is the only way we can understand fully.

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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