Grasping and Working with Inclusion and Exclusion in Urban Youth Work in Denmark.

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Grasping and Working with Inclusion and Exclusion in Urban Youth Work in Denmark.

Vibe Larsen, Ditte Tofteng, Katrine Scott, Lone Brønsted

University College Copenhagen, Denmark

Marginalised youth in Copenhagen, like in many other big cities, face challenges of inclusion and participation in education, the labour market and civil society activities (e.g., sport) (Red Barnet 2020). On a national level, efforts have been made to handle these challenges through a focus on inclusive education, youth work, improved professional training and an increased interprofessional cooperation between welfare professionals. This paper conceptualises young people’s marginalisation as complex processes of inclusion and exclusion in a presentation of findings from two research projects. The research project The Gendered Youth Club [Køn i klub] investigates youth workers’ narratives of forms of inclusion and exclusion that are produced in urban youth work. The research project Youth and Pedagogical work in Urban Arenas [Ungeliv og pædagogisk praksis i urbane arenaer] explores young people's own problem definitions and proposed solutions based on their own experiences of marginalisation. In the paper, we compare findings from the two projects in order to answer the research question: How do young people in marginalised positions and youth workers describe and understand forms of inclusion and exclusion in urban youth work?

The two research projects draw on different theoretical frameworks with a common research interest in urban youth work. The Gendered Youth Club investigates youth workers’ narratives of gender, sexuality, race/ethnicity and class in relation to young people's opportunities in both institutional and societal participation, and analyses how these narratives also shape relations between young people and youth workers. The project is informed by international gender and intersectionality research (Butler 1993, Nayak & Kehily 2006, Wetherell 2008) as well as Danish research about how gender and other socio-cultural categories are regulated and negotiated in every day institutional life (Kofoed 2008, Staunæs 2003).

The project Youth and Pedagogical work in Urban Arenas explores lived experiences of marginalisation among youth in the city by involving young people actively in the research process. Marginalisation is understood within the theoretical framework of wicked problems (Horst, Rittel & Weber 1973, Bladt & Tofteng 2022). Wicked problems are characterised by a complexity of simultaneous problems within social structures, cultural and individual spheres which together shape social exclusions and differentiations. By involving young people in participatory processes, we enhance our knowledge about the complexity of the wicked problems both at an individual level, but also at a more general or societal level (Bruselius-Jensen 2021, Percy-Smith 2006, Percy-Smith, McMahon & Thomas 2019).

Bringing together findings from the two projects provides a double perspective including both youth and youth workers’ attempts to grasp and work with urban marginalisation.

Methodology, Methods, Research Instruments or Sources Used
The projects adopt an explorative approach within qualitative research. The empirical data in the project The Gendered Youth Club consists of interviews with 20 youth workers from 15 youth clubs across Copenhagen. The youth workers have been recruited through the method of snowball sampling that employs research into participants’ social networks to access specific populations using interpersonal relations and connections between people (Brown 2003). The method works through referrals made among people who share or know of others who have knowledge or a position that are of research interest (Biernacki & Waldorf 1981). The interviews are focused on questions about forms of inclusion and exclusion in youth work with a focus on gender and marginalization.  

The empirical data of the research project Youth and Pedagogical work in Urban Arenas consists of interviews with young people conducted by youth workers from four youth clubs across Copenhagen. The emperical data was generated within one workshop with 25 professionals conducting 15 interviews with youngsters at the age of 12- 14 years. The aim of the interviews is for the professionals to learn from the youth by involving them in problem identification and analyses of mechanisms of social exclusion in everyday life (Bruselius- Jensen 2021, Tofteng & Bladt 2021, Wulf- Andersen et al 2021). The method draws on an understanding of the need to bring young people and youth workers’ perspectives and experiences into the research process not only as informants but also as active participants in knowledge production (Bladt 2013, Tofteng & Bladt 2021, Wulf- Andersen et al 2021).  

Conclusions, Expected Outcomes or Findings
The two projects illustrate the complex nature of urban youth work that targets young people at the margins of a welfare society. However, the projects also show that although both youth workers and the young people themselves have great insights into complex forms of inclusion and exclusion, youth workers at times find it difficult to describe everyday examples of exclusionary practices in their work out of fear of contributing to further marginalisation. This difficulty becomes clear through hesitant and fumbling language when youth workers try to point out how gender, sexuality, race/ethnicity, and class become visible in youth work. Lack of a professional vocabulary to talk about and identify gendered, racialised and classed processes of inclusion and exclusion, is an obstacle in youth work that aims to include and involve a diverse group of young people.  

We show that young people can contribute with new insights and innovative ideas that challenge traditional ways of organizing youth work and welfare systems of inclusion and support. This insight underlines the importance of working with youth participatory methods in youth work and it is also in line with other studies that have shown that when young people help to define issues and participate in creating concrete changes, they experience it as meaningful and as significant for both them and others. We find that when young people and youth workers work together to create solutions, the solutions seem to leave a more lasting impression on the young people's everyday lives than when the solutions come from the youth workers alone.

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StatusUdgivet - 2023
BegivenhedECER 2023: The Value of Diversity in Education and Educational Research - University of Glasgow, Glasgow, Storbritannien
Varighed: 22 aug. 202325 aug. 2023
Konferencens nummer: 2023


KonferenceECER 2023
LokationUniversity of Glasgow


  • Børn og unge
  • urbane unge
  • inklusion og fællesskab
  • marginaliseringsprocesser
  • køn
  • køn og pædagogik