Democracy, community and young people's participation: a comparison between a 'Hart Ladder' and a social capital perspective
Faculty of Computing, Health and Science
School of Psychology and Social Science / Social Justice Research Centre
Practices to promote young people’s participation in communities are contested, even though the principle of ‘youth participation’ has support across the political spectrum. One contributory factor rests with imprecision in conceptualisation of ‘youth participation’, and denial of its essentially political nature. Many critiques of practice in ‘youth participation’ derive, either directly or indirectly, from Hart’s ‘Ladder of participation’. This article contrasts the assumptions and values implicit in Hart’s ‘ladder’ with those implicit in an Australian ‘social capital’ based framework used to measure participation as an indicator of community strength. The comparison highlights the strengths and limitations of each approach. From discussion of these two approaches the following conclusions are drawn. First, Hart’s ladder does not provide an adequate basis for development of youth participation practice. This observation has profound implications for goals and methods of youth work practice to promote participation. Second, the discourse on young people’s participation would benefit from a more explicit link with concepts democracy. This was present in Arnstein’s original ‘ladder of citizen participation’, but is absent from Hart’s adaptation. This article concludes that the connection needs to be re-established.