Political Participation on Both Sides of the Pond

In 2015/16 we ran our conference funding for Early Career Researchers scheme for the second time. In this series of posts, some of the winners report from the conferences they attended with our support.

By Jakob Hartl

The Sociological Review Foundation allowed me to attend two conferences in the USA and Canada in June 2016. Although more or less the same paper was accepted at both conferences, two completely different experiences followed and added to an exciting and inspiring time in North America.

From 8th to 11th June, the How Class Works 2016 conference took place at State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook. This biennial conference is organised by the Working Class Studies Association and was since its beginnings in 2002 closely associated with Prof Michael Zweig (around whom the whole university was built, as one speaker lauding Zweig, who is retiring, said). A scientific community coming from various academic disciplines gathering around the term “working class” is in the US inherently political and activist. But while I often experience this claim of being critical and politically engaged as a mere attitude, this conference brought together early career and established researchers and professors with Black Lives Matter activists, former Black Panther and Young Lords partisans, unionists, and educators. Thus the papers presented in most sessions were scrutinised in this double perspective, investigating and discussing both the academic contribution and the political implications of the findings and ideas presented.

My paper tried to show how voter turnout of 20 years was conditional on their position in a social field of youth, the coordinates of which are future (un-)certainties. Combining a Bourdieu-oriented approach to class analysis with a reading of Standing’s Precariat through a Bourdieu-lens, I used correspondence analysis on data of the first four waves of the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England and showed how voting behaviour in the 2010 general election appears to be determined already seven years earlier, i.e. at age 14. Given the large number of parallel sessions and being appointed to the very last session on Saturday afternoon, I expected a very small and rather tired audience. Instead I presented in front of approximately 20 people, who were very interested and got engaged in the topic (although there was – understandably – more interest in the US focussed papers). However, this experience added to the overall atmosphere of collegiality and solidarity I experienced throughout the conference and which differed substantially from the often somewhat competitive academic conferences in the social sciences.

A week later, I presented the same paper at McGill University in Montreal. The conference Youth Political Participation – The Diverse Roads to Democracy was organised by the Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship and generously funded by a number of (non-)governmental organisations and agencies. Thus again a mixed audience of scholars and practitioners attended the paper sessions and round table discussions about how to increase youth political participation. It may be worth noting, that Canada had an increase of 18%-points among young voters in the last election (with Trudeau’s Liberals gaining almost 70% of their votes). But the present representatives of Elections Canada and others were eager to learn more, turning the sessions partly into exercises of policy advice by asking for instructions which could be derived from the research presented. Nevertheless, here too the academic level was high and the convenors of the conference added a special value for the presenters: the chair of the session provided each presenter with an extensive oral and written (!) feedback on the paper and the presentation.

I boarded the plane to London on the evening of the 23rd, the latest news being that Farage had admitted defeat – and woke up in post-Brexit London. The turnout among 18 to 24 years old voters was 36%. For the first time I felt unhappy about the relevance of my research.

Originally posted 15th July 2016. 

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