Student voice in an age of extinction? The political engagement of young people within and beyond school
Young people are inheriting a troubled, climate-altered world. They are also inheriting a culture of ‘polarised emotionality’ regarding the status of the ‘truth’ of scientific evidence of anthropogenic climate change. On the one hand, there is vehement denial of the reality and urgency of climate change, and on the other, the passionate words and actions of young climate justice activists, exemplified in the mass mobilisations associated with School Strikes for Climate (SS4C) in 2018 and 2019.
A large volume of research has been conducted on youth protest movements and their transformations over time, and young people’s re-invention of conventional modes of participation. There has been extensive media coverage of the student climate marches, as well as academic research on the changing modes of youth social movements, the role of emotion in youth social movements, and new media in youth social movements – mainly focusing on post-compulsory school ages.
Further work is needed on the intersections of compulsory schooling and youth climate justice activism, examining the role and responses of schools in the Australian School Strike for Climate (SS4C) movement. One of the national goals for Australian schooling is that young people who leave school should ‘be active and informed citizens with an understanding and appreciation of Australia’s system of government and civic life’. This project analyses the connections and contradictions between official accounts that value young people’s ‘active citizenship’, and what happened in and beyond Australian schools during the 2018-2020 SS4C. This project explores how young people’s new patterns of political participation articulate with or diverge from media representations of young people, and from accounts of their school leaders and teachers. This project thus explores the institutional conditions surrounding the 2018-2020 student-led climate strikes.
This project concentrates on Australian young people’s (aged between 8-18) involvement in the transnational SS4C movement, to examine expressions and interpretations of young people’s political engagement in and beyond school, and the analysis of the governance of young people and their agency as they move between school and public spaces. The central question asked is: What are the discursive, affective and material conditions that have enabled and constrained the 2019-2020 School Strikes for the Climate (SS4C) movement in Australia?
In addressing this question, the project explores three inter-related research questions:
- How is young people’s climate activism represented in Australian media between August 2018 – August 2020? (Media coverage analysis)
- How do school leaders and teachers account for and interpret young people’s participation in the SS4C movement? (Interviews with school leaders and teachers)
- How do young people enact and give an account of their own participation in the SS4C movement? (Ethnographic participation in actions; interviews with young people)
Dr Mayes is continuing work on the outcomes from this fellowship in the Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Research Award project Striking Voices: Australian school-aged student climate justice activism (2022-2025).