Young People in a Global Society

free essayThe position that young people occupy in society and the role they play in its development is one of the most controversial and pressing issues in how societies are structured. This has been highlighted in recent years with the resurgence of the ‘Student Movement’, the ‘Arab Spring’ and the ‘Occupy Movement’ (all encompassing, networked, horizontally organised movements hoping to effect political change) and is a trend that doesn’t look like going away anytime soon.

First and foremost; who or what is youth? How does one begin to define so disparate a term as ‘young people’? After all isn’t youth a relative term? The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) provides us with the following definition “Youth” is best understood as a period of transition from the dependence of childhood to adulthood’s independence and awareness of our interdependence as members of a community. Youth is a more fluid category than a fixed age-group.’

(Anon., n.d.)Whilst there is, as yet, no universally accepted age criteria that delineates ‘youth’, at present, it is generally perceived as the period spanning the ages of 16-25 (although this particular age range varies from nation to nation as it is dependent on extenuating factors which vary). this case study shall take youth to mean simply any person aged 14-25, the reasoning for this extended criteria for youth will be explained later on in the case study.

Secondly; what do we mean when we talk about ‘globalization’? Again, there seems to be no universally accepted definition of the term. This is because globalization, much like ‘youth’, a subjective process which ‘brings with it a multitude of hidden agendas. An individual’s political ideology, geographic location, social status, cultural background, and ethnic and religious affiliation provide the background that determines how globalization is interpreted’ (Dr. Nayef R.F. Al-Rodhan, 2006). Its intrinsic effect is dependent on whose frame of reference you choose to view it from.

If we choose to look from a purely economic perspective (representing the mainstream view of governments, transnational/national corporations; financial institutions; intergovernmental bodies; more commonly known as ‘globalization from above’) then globalization has historically been characterised by adherence to the following process(es):

  • The acceptance of a set of economic rules for the entire world designed to maximise profits and productivity by universalising markets and production, and to obtain the support of the state with a view to making the national economy more productive and competitive;
  • the reduction of the welfare state, privatisation of social services, flexibilisation of labour
  • de facto transfer to trans-national organisations of the control of national economic policy instruments, such as monetary policy, interest rates and fiscal policy;

(Urzua, 2000) This form of globalisation is predominantly interested in the opening of national borders specifically for purposes of ‘free’ trade and entry to new capital markets (Blossfeld and Klijzing, 2012).

Historically this has been the accepted and overriding definition of globalisation. However with the advances of the World Wide Web, the subsequent technological revolution in personal & mobile computing, combined with the transformation of global travel networks (specifically aviation and high speed rail) we have seen a new definition of globalisation take form more commonly labelled ‘globalisation from below’. It is based on broader principles than the standard definition; and places greater importance with respect to wider social, political and cultural needs. It is manifest mainly in the presence of individuals, institutions (governments in some cases) and movements who are opposed to what they see as the ‘corporate’ form of globalisation which some have described as neo-colonialism.

Adherents to this new frame (confusingly labelled the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement in the national press) generally agree that any future advances in globalisation should have a predominant and overarching focus on the freedom of movement of people and the freedom of exchange of ideas, culture and technology rather than specifically markets and capital, with an eventual view to the globalization of human rights. (Bahira, 2010). The benefits and downfalls of globalisation is (sometimes wholly) dependent on which specific definition you are referring to. For the purpose of this case study is going to take the World Health Organisation’s definition as I believe it goes the furthest in its attempt to address the multidimensional aspects: ‘Globalization, or the increased interconnectedness and interdependence of people and countries, is generally understood to include two interrelated elements: the opening of borders to increasingly fast flows of goods, services, finance, people and ideas across international borders; and the changes in institutional and policy regimes at the international and national levels that facilitate or promote such flows.’ (Anon., n.d.)

The question still remains, mainly, what is the effect of globalisation on youth. The answer becomes a little clearer when we look at the history of the current generation of young people. The ‘dawn’ of the silicon revolution lead to the rise of social media; allowing people from all over the globe to interact with a level of ease that has not existed in the entire history of human civilisation. With respect to the advances in telecommunication, it is now possible for those who had until recently been ‘silent victims’ on the frontline of globalisation (factory workers, indigenous peoples etc.) to tell their story. This deluge of voices, predominantly, but not exclusively, in the global south, have been able, in tandem with pre-exiting groups, charities and NGOs; to highlight the litany of failures and shortcomings (economic, social and environmental) caused by a solely economic model of globalisation. Further to this the advent of social media and the rise of social networking sites such as ‘facebook’ and ‘twitter’, have meant that (in the West and East at least, and more slowly with respect to those in the global south, as personal computers and internet access become cheaper and more prevalent) we now have a generation who, for all intents and purposes, interact with the majority of their peers and the world predominantly online (Prevalence and Correlates of Excessive Internet Use among Youth in Singapore; Subramaniam Mythily,1MBBS, MHSM, Shijia Qiu,1BSc (Life Sciences), Munidasa Winslow,1MBBS, MMed (Psychiatry); January 2008, Vol. 37 No. 1; Publisher) (Teens and Technology; by Mary Madden, Amanda Lenhart, Maeve Duggan, Sandra Cortesi, Urs Gasser Mar 13, 2013; Published by Pewinternet & Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard university ). Finally; the transportation revolution has transformed the ability of people to emigrate/immigrate/holiday, further reinforcing the ability to generate new relationships and experiences with foreign cultures and places.

Other consequences which may are brought about by globalization are the generation of new skills which are useful to an alternative society, the increasing internationalization of research has encouraged and incubated transnational cooperation. The increasing reliance on funding sources outside the university means researchers must do a benefit analysis of their work in an attempt to keep it relevant. Innovation has become the main factor of competitiveness specifically within the sciences and this tends to favour those who make use of the interaction between academic research, the industrial sector and the technological environment breakthroughs in methodology have come about as a result of this method of research (synthetic biology). Globalisation has, counter-intuitively, forced people to redress the very conception of what makes up society. Institutions have been forced to adapt to an ever changing environment which have radical changes of identities. No more can this be seen thatn in Universitites. The present challenge facing higher education globally is the need to build the new university in this climate of uncertainty. Projects such as the free online lectures in specific course have allowed the dissemination of knowledge to a greater proportion of people. These revolutions would not have been imaginable without the advances of globalisation. However along with tehse success stories there have been some serious failures.

The Problem

If it truly is the case that young people live in a world that is more interconnected than at any time in our history then what, one may ask, is the problem? It is mainly one of tangible political power; specifically with regards to policy that affects young people both directly and indirectly. The next paragraph gives a brief summary of the climate of the last three years just to give some backgfround to the changes afoot on the global and national level.

In 2007/8 there was a global crash of the financial markets, which was sparked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Governments all over the world bailed out many major financial and industrial firms in an attempt to stave of the worst effects of what then seemed like a certain Depression. This loaded governments with exorbitant levels of sovereign debt and in combination with high levels of household debt there was a contraction in consumer spending. The response by the majority of governments worldwide has been that of austerity, cut back on government expenditure to balance the books, as the mantra goes. So far, so unrelated to young people. However this balancing of the public books has had a detrimental effect on young people worldwide.

There are two predominant features which define the majority of young people’s lives. Education and the nascent stages of employment (usually part time or temporary). On both these fronts globalisation has had a detrimental effect on the prospects of young people. For example England as a case study. Historically education, up to Undergraduate level, was provided free of charge. There have been private alternatives and cost incurred for further study but this formed the minority of all schooling in England. With the introduction of The Teaching and Higher Education Act, 1998 there was a nominal charge of 1000. This was raised to 3000 in 2006 and in 2010 with the publication of the Browne review this was tripled to 21,000. (www.telegraph.co.uk) At around the same time as the limit on university tuition was increased to 21,000 Education Maintainance Allowance (EMA) was scrapped for 16-19 year olds who remained in further education (the upper limit for compulsory education is 16 in England). This was a weekly term-time, means tested grant given to the poorest students in the country ranging from 30-10 to help with the extra costs of continuing their education. There was heated opposition to both of these actions, which culminated in the student riots of November 2010. The situation for those young people who chose to forego university to avoid such substantial levels of debt, is not any better. Youth unemployment (16-24) currently stands 21.2%, in other words one out of every 5 young people is unemployed. (www.ons.gov.uk). The prospects for those with jobs is only a slight improvement. Median wages have been stagnant since 2003. (Growth without gain? The faltering living standards of people on low-to-middle incomes; James Plunkett; May 2011; Resolution Foundation). Whilst inflation has increased the prices of goods and rented accommodation is becoming ever expensive with each passing year. With the de-industrialization of vast swathes of England, as companies move operations overseas, where wages are substantially lower, has decimated huge regions in the North. The prospects for young people, the majority of whom only have part-time or temporary employment, is dire to say the least.

Not simply just in England. But there has seemingly been a worldwide awakening of youth orientated protests on a scale we have not seen before. Canada () Chile () USA () Spain () France () Iran () and in Tunisia () and Egypt () where governments were toppled. The specific details vary from region to region but when taken in their totality they depict a worrying tale of young people’s ideas as to their prospect in society and also, perhaps even more worryingly, represent a feeling of disenfranchisement with their ability (or lack thereof) to garner change within the confines of their political system. But why? And what relation has this to globalisation? The answer is simply because we do not give young people a voice. If the choice is between angering pensioners or the middle aged or taking social provisions away from the youth it is a relatively easy one to make; provided you frame the reasons for doing so in an acceptable manner. At present there is more risk to one’s political career from angering the old or the well-to-do than there is from angering the youth of today. This is an almost universal failure of politics.

Conclusion

This not to say there are not people who discus youth related issues. No. that is not what I am intending to imply. The problem is more basic than that. We do not, as yet, empower young people to discuss, construct and present their own solutions to the problems they encounter. The issue is further exacerbated by in the age of ‘politics by demographics’ young people always loose out because they pose no threat to politicians as you can only vote when you are 18 and even then relatively few numbers of young people vote in elections or a registered to vote. Whilst I partially believe in David Walker’s (1996) proposition with regards to the necessity of a minimum base of knowledge to engage in the political process. I am also of the belief that one must encourage people to achieve that standard. If we take, for example, the civil rights act and the protection of the voting rights of minorities in the United States. We can see how once voting became a viable option there was room for manoeuvre in the political sphere for minorities, no longer was direct action their only route to posit their views, they could channel their anger through the ballot. The same goes for the suffragettes’ movement. By opening up a channel with which to effectively engage with the goings on of politics I believe we can encourage young people to retake control of their own futures, and provide them with the political capital to ensure their voices and problems are heard. At the moment we are, as Bessant (1995), described simply delaying adulthood because we do not make enough of a collective effort to ensure economic independence through employment remains an option for young people. Globalisation in the economic sense, has played its part in this process because it has for all intents and purposes castrated the national political process. It is much easier for a company to relocate to another country where labour laws are not so all-encompassing and wages are lower. This undermines job safety and pouts those in work on an uneven playing field.

There are however ways in which to ‘rebalance the scales. The fact that young people have grown up on social networks means that more often that not participation takes on a momentum of its own. They need only be provided with a viable route/opportunity and left to be in charge. For example encouraging young people to self-organise is a preliminary step to providing them with a means to effect political change; you could utilise the fact that it is mandatory for young people to attend school to setup a Youth Council within a school and give students total control of a space for an allotted period of time, encourage them to self-organize separately from adults. To further this goal of giving emancipating young people from the control of adults you could only provide them with enough funding for the first few months. This gives them the incentive to formulate alternative means of keeping the space viable. There are many spaces with which this could be used. For example there are routes to reclaim disused land from councils for use in community projects, you could talk the children through ths process and let them think and present a use for some land. Once a specific taks is completed you can encourage the new group of young peope to direct their efforts at local government, whilst some would not be able to vote those that could would be able to use their civil rights as a form of collective bargaining to benefit the group. This process could be scaled up and outward very simply seeing as a the majority of most children are on social networks. Or how about giving children control of the school cafeteria in conjunction with allotment programmes. Growing, preparing and cooking the food could be left completely to the children (after some preliminary training) again providing the children with a self autonomous realm. Educationg children about food is also a good way to introduce them to topics such as seasonality highlighting the globalised nature of the food chain. It it through youth led social ventures as opposed to adult led youth experiences that real tangible change will come about for young people globally. For too long we have thought the solution to the underrepresentation of children has been for an adult to dicatet to children their method of empowerment. History shows us, however that it is through the empowerment of themselves that people gain freedom.

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