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Young Activists Research Project
What inspires you to join others to create change?

Karen Nairn’s Keynote for Education for Climate Justice

Karen will be presenting to the Centre for Education and Racial Equality, Edinburgh University on 17 April. Karen’s presentation has been pre-recorded with voiceovers and is now available in two parts:

References for this keynote:

  • Boston, J. & Chapple, S. (2014) Child poverty in New Zealand. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books.
  • Braithwaite, V. (2004) Collective hope. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 592, 6-15.
  • Hage, G. (2003) Against paranoid nationalism. Searching for hope in a shrinking society. Annandale NSW: Pluto Press Australia.
  • Kelsey, J. (2015) The FIRE Economy. New Zealand’s Reckoning. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books.
  • McGeer, V. (2004) The art of good hope. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 592, 100-127.
  • Nairn, K., Higgins, J. & Sligo, J. (2012) Children of Rogernomics: A neoliberal generation leaves school. Dunedin: Otago University Press.
  • Pulido, L. (2003) The interior life of politics. Ethics, Place and Environment, 6, 46-52.
  • Rashbrooke, M. (Ed.) Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis (pp. 228-235). Auckland: Bridget William Books.
  • Shade, P. (2006) Educating hopes. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 25, 191–225. doi 10.1007/s11217-005-1251-2
  • Smith, L. T. (2013) The future is now. In M. Rashbrooke (Ed.) Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis (pp. 228-235). Auckland: Bridget William Books.

Project Update April 2021

Kia ora koutou

Tau Hou Hari (a little belated due to a technical issue!) Hopefully you and yours are safe and well, no matter where you are. Although our data collection is now completed, we do continue to think about you all, follow your groups and the wonderful work you’re involved with. We are very grateful for your generous gift of participating in our research and it’s now our turn to give something back to you and the broader community via our research work. We have been busy since our last update so below we’ve briefly summarised the things that we hope will be of interest. If you’d like to know more, don’t hesitate to contact any of us. These are the highlights of what we’ve been doing to make sure that the information you gave us is circulated to a range of audiences:

  • Bridget Williams Books have agreed to publish a book about our findings from the project. This should be available to the public in the first half of 2022. We recently had a weeklong writing retreat in Auckland where we began writing some of the chapters on the six groups taking part, plus some broader writing about young people and social change in Aotearoa. If you asked to be named when you consented to participating in the project, you will be contacted about any quotes we use – unless you don’t want to be contacted or have changed your mind about being named, in which case please let us know.
  • In November last year Karen and Kyle chaired a session at the Social Movements Conference in Wellington. Someone from each of your groups participated in a panel and there was a fabulous turnout of people to hear more about your work. Panel members were asked to discuss how the Covid-19 pandemic had impacted upon their work and they outlined a range of ways that the groups had continued their important work through and after lockdown.
  • We published an article called “Living in and out of time: Youth-led activism in Aotearoa New Zealand” in the academic journal Time and Society. This is available online but if you are unable to access this and would like a copy, just email and we can send you a PDF. The abstract is at the end of this blog post if you want to get a sense of what the article is about. Following the publication of this article Karen and Joanna presented on this topic at the Material Life of Time Conference in March.
  • In early February, Carisa presented at the Settler Responsibilities for Decolonisation Symposium in Auckland. She discussed our work-in-progress titled “‘So people wake up, what are we gonna do?’: From paralysis to action in decolonising activism.” We had so much great material from everyone about how groups think about Treaty engagement, decolonisation, and settler colonial responsibilities that we could only fit a small portion of it in the presentation. But what you all shared with us over the past few years suggested to us a continuum for thinking about and acting on settler responsibilities, and fleshing out the continuum was the focus of the presentation. Carisa, Karen and Kyle have been invited to submit an article based on this presentation to a special edition of the journal Ethnicities which we will do in June.

Those are the highlights of what we have done since the last blog post. Along with the book our ongoing work includes two academic articles (one in collaboration with participants) and work towards presentations at an upcoming conference where Karen will present at the Edinburgh University’s virtual event Moving from Despair to Hope in April. This is a public event so if you are interested in attending online and catching up with recorded presentations, you can register here or view the presentations here when they are made available. We have also received some queries from different groups and organisations in order to help them recruit, support and sustain young activists and are happy to contribute insights from our research to your group – just contact us.

Also please let us know if there are other ways of disseminating research information or events you think we could contribute to. We are really keen to reach a wide audience and you are likely to know of other things and ways that we are not so aware of.

And to sign off, we would like to use the project’s grounding theme of optimism: we sincerely hope that this year is a positive one for you and that there is progress on the social justice issues that concern all of us.

Ngā mihi,

Jude, Karen, Carisa, Kyle and Joanna

karen.nairn@otago.ac.nz

Abstract for Living in and out of time: Youth-led activism in Aotearoa New Zealand

Addressing past and present injustices in order to create more just futures is the central premise of most social movements. How activists conceptualise and relate to time affects how they articulate their vision, the actions they take, and how they imagine intergenerational justice. Two social movements for change are emblematic of different relationships with time: the struggle to resolve and repair past injustices against Indigenous peoples and the struggle to avert environmental disaster, which haunt the future of the planet. We report ethnographic research (interviews and participant observation) with young activists in these two social movements in New Zealand: Protect Ihumātao seeks to protect Indigenous land from a housing development, and Generation Zero are lobbying for a zero-carbon future. We argue that analysing activists’ articulations and sensations of time is fundamental to understanding the ways they see themselves in relation to other generations, their ethical imperatives for action, and beliefs about how best to achieve social change. Protect Ihumātao participants spoke of time as though past, present and future were intertwined and attributed their responsibility to protect the land to past and future generations. Generation Zero participants spoke of time as a linear trajectory to a climate-altered future, often laying blame for the current crises on previous generations and attributing the responsibility for averting the crisis to younger generations. How activists conceptualise time and generational relations therefore has consequences for the attribution of responsibility for creating social change. Understanding and learning about temporal diversity across social movements is instructive for expanding our thinking about intergenerational responsibility which might inform ways of living more respectfully with the planet.

Project Update July 2020

Kia ora koutou

Greetings from the Research team. We’re very aware of these very strange and unprecedented times and want to acknowledge that a lot is happening nationally, internationally and for many people, personally. We hope that you are all safe and well and are managing to maintain some hope, given that’s the emotion that this research project is framed around!

So, in amongst it all you may have wondered what on earth is going on in the research project which you have so kindly participated in. How have we responded to the strange context we all find ourselves in this year? Good question! At first, we had a moment of reflection: we wondered whether our research about young activists and young activism was still going to be relevant when the world is reeling or whether it might be a historical piece about activism before covid-19. Then we picked ourselves up and saw the amazing work you all were doing online. We saw that our project is relevant, if not more so: the world needs to know what motivates and sustains young people to engage in collective activism so that the work you’ve all participated in can inform you and others who are inspired to make change.

With a re-invigorated passion we have thrown ourselves into the work. We have completed all of our individual interviews. Ninety people have participated in 142 interviews with one or other of us and we are now finishing up the last of the processing of that information. If you have been interviewed, and haven’t already received an email telling you that your interview transcript is ready, we’ll be in touch soon.

Carisa and Jude were unable to present their work at international conferences in June but are writing two articles. Carisa’s is about updating and expanding of her SAANZ presentation last year (see earlier blog post), looking at how groups are using social media as part of both a broader activist strategy and a mode of community building. Jude’s is a collaborative piece with two research participants about the characteristics of InsideOUT that support young people from the rainbow community’s health and wellbeing.

Karen has been working on an article about activism and time. She’s exploring how activists conceptualise and relate to time, which affects how they articulate their vision, the actions they take, and how they imagine intergenerational justice. The two groups she is writing about are Protect Ihumātao and Generation Zero.

Carisa and Karen are also working towards a symposium in Feb next year about Settler Responsibilities for Decolonisation. We will be looking at the decolonisation work the groups in this study are engaged in as well as the decolonisation work Tauiwi members of the research team are trying to do.

Our most exciting writing is the book proposal. The book is intended for a general audience with an interest in activism and will outline all of our major findings and focus on each group in turn. The proposal is currently with a publisher. As we work on the book, you’ll hear more from us because we are really keen to feature your words and we’ll be checking with you that you’re happy with the context we’re using them in.

The other thing on the radar is the Social Movements Conference, which is scheduled 12-14 November in Wellington. Karen and Kyle intend to go to the conference and will chair a panel ‘Maintaining collectivity during a global pandemic’ where they hope to have representatives from each group that contributed to the research. So, we’ll also be in touch about that to gauge interest from your group.

Finally, we’d really like to take the time to thank you all for your ongoing support and commitment to the research. Our interviews and time with your groups have been so inspiring and interesting – your participation is a real gift for us and the project. Now, come the hard yards where we write it all up and publicise it so your insights can continue to inform others.

Project Team Publishes and Discusses Findings on Consent

On Thursday 18th June, Carisa and Karen woke early (well, early for Carisa) and spoke with a group of scholars at McMaster University in Toronto, Canada about our recent Young Activists’ project article: “Consent Requires a Relationship: rethinking group consent and its timing in ethnographic research.” Professor Michelle Dion, the current academic director of McMaster’s Centre for Research in Empirical Social Science (CRESS) wrote to us after seeing the article to ask if we would talk with their research and ethics communities about the project as part of their “Productivity during Pandemic” Speaker Series. It was a great opportunity to meet with some engaging scholars and talk about ways we can reframe the ethics process when working with different communities and groups.

After we explained what motivated the paper and questions it is generating for us, Professor Violetta Igneski offered some prepared comments and feedback before the session opened up for more general discussion. The full session lasted just about an hour, and you can view it at this link. Thanks again to CRESS for the opportunity and Professor Dion for the invitation.

Activism @ the margins conference in Melbourne, Feb, 2020

The perfect conference for the research team and I got to go! The programme looked great – covering all kinds of activism. Aboriginal activists fighting uranium mining and coal mining at Adani and ‘White Haven’ spoke strongly about their struggle. (And I couldn’t help thinking that the coal mining company’s name ‘White Haven’ was the ultimate disconnect).

At the conference, I presented a paper on ‘activism and time’ that the team has been working on. The catalyst for the paper was noticing the different ways the 6 groups in this study negotiated time. Working for change feels time-pressured while the pace of achieving change can seem grindingly slow.

This led us on to how we think about time. We noticed an assumption of a universal concept of time in what we were reading, unless the articles were about indigenous concepts of time specifically. I had the good fortune to listen to Christine Winter (Ngāti Kahungungu) talk about spirals of time based on her article about time and intergenerational environmental justice. Christine Winter talks about how a linear concept of time sets up different generations to be in competition with each other – what is used now won’t be available for future generations – and she warns how this works against intergenerational justice. Instead she shows how imagining spirals of time enables us to think about current generations co-existing with past and future generations and other life-forms, which helps generations to feel more responsible for each other.

With so much to write about and only 20 minutes for the conference presentation, I ended up focusing on Protect Ihumātao and Generation Zero.

Torerenui a Rua Wilson’s passionate kōrero (part of Voices of Ihumātao on YouTube) demonstrates what we mean by a spiral of time – she opens her kōrero by saying ‘I tried to keep quiet but my ancestors wouldn’t let me’. She talks passionately about her responsibility to ancestors, present and future generations, and the whenua, in taking a stand against Fletcher’s housing development. Her kōrero is one of the ‘living manifestos’ (a statement of each group’s vision) that we are showcasing as part of the research.

Intergenerational responsibility is framed differently on Generation Zero’s website: “Climate change is the challenge of our generation, and young people are the inheritors of humanity’s response to climate change. For that reason – Generation Zero, a youth-led organisation, was founded with the central purpose of providing solutions for New Zealand to cut carbon pollution through smarter transport, liveable cities & independence from fossil fuels”. (https://www.generationzero.org/about). I agree that climate change will impact younger generations more but Gen Zero’s second point – that they are the ones to provide solutions – is not a fair allocation of responsibility; providing and acting on solutions are the responsibility of older generations too. And certainly this message is coming through in some of our interviews with Gen Zero members. I think Christine Winter’s question asking how we can be good ancestors is more productive for thinking about how everyone, no matter which generation they are from, needs to take responsibility.

To give you a flavour of where our thinking is currently at, here are the key concluding points from the presentation…

  • how activists conceptualise time influences who they hold accountable for past & present injustices, how they allocate responsibility for creating change, & the solutions they promote.
  • Linear ways of thinking about time set generations up against each other, which works against sharing responsibility across generations & steers our attention away from our co-existence with non-human life forms.
  • Indigenous ways of thinking about time and intergenerational justice have a lot to offer us for envisioning how we live in a climate-altered world.

I’m still working on the full paper and I will let you know (via the blog) when it is ready to share. Your feedback is welcome on the ideas I’ve presented here – email me: Karen.nairn@otago.ac.nz.

If you want to check out Christine Winter’s article, here are the details.

Winter, C. (2019). Does time colonise intergenerational environmental justice theory? Environmental Politics.

Karen Nairn

Carisa Showden Presentation to SAANZ Conference on ‘Activism, Social Media, and Neoliberalism’

In December, Carisa attended the Sociological Association of Aotearoa New Zealand (SAANZ) conference held in Auckland. She was there as part of the Social Futures conference stream to present some (very) preliminary analyses from the Young Activists project. Specifically, she was workshopping two themes that are starting to emerge from our initial analyses.

The first theme is how youth activists think about online and offline ‘spaces’ of activism: how much does this distinction make sense? What are the ways that social media changes how activism is done, and then how does that impact what activism is or what it looks like? From our interviews, we know that our participants are familiar with criticisms about ‘clicktivism’ (a/k/a ‘slacktivism’ or ‘micro-political actions’). And from our observations, it’s clear to us that concerns about youth engagement as ‘mere clicktivism’ are overblown.

But it’s also true that the internet, and social media especially, have helped to reshape part of what counts as activism or, perhaps more appropriately, what’s possible in activist spaces. Our participants have talked about how social media is essential for reaching very visually oriented young people and for providing a sense of immediacy—social media connects people to events as they happen. For example, Facebook Live videos and Twitter enable activists to share in real time all kinds of events with followers who aren’t able to attend in person. They also allow for quick mobilizations when events on the ground require rapid responses.

Ideas about online/offline activist work are tied to a second theme, about building community in and through activist spaces and events. Activist spaces have long been important sources of community fellowship and social bonding. People often seek out groups as a way of engaging in politics because they want to feel part of a community. Our participants are no different.

The kinds of communities the internet facilitates, and the kinds of communities people seek, are varied. Some of the more recent academic literature on social media use in social movements examines an emerging ‘logic of connective action.’ This idea resonates with what our participants have reported to us. Connective action examines communities built through fluid online networks connected to various ‘offline’ events. Some participants have argued that online activism allows more meaningful participation because it’s personalized and based on sharing norms than, say, more traditional NGO type activism.

The presentation at SAANZ was well-received and generated spirited discussion. Audience members raised a number of useful ideas in response to the presentation. Some members shared experiences and articles aimed at tying our analysis more deeply to a specifically New Zealand activist history. They talked about experiences working in second wave feminist groups, child poverty activist groups, and trade union organizing in the 1980s and 1990s, among others. They discussed how what we’re finding now in terms of tactics, tools, and goals of activism reflects or responds to these earlier movements. We’re grateful to those who shared their ideas and experiences with us.

We’ll report back on how we develop these themes into publications and new presentations as our work progresses. And if/when any of this material gets published in full-blown articles, we will share the links and abstracts with you here.

Youth Activist Research Project Update December 2019

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa. Welcome to our second update!

Members of the Young Activists research team met for two days in Dunedin 14-15 November. We had not physically been together since January, and during the intervening time had fortnightly meetings over zoom to update each other on research progress and resolve issues.

The team recently submitted an article for review to an academic journal. This article explores how the traditional requirements of the consent process were often challenged by the groups we are working with. We found that groups wanted to know and trust us before signing a Memorandum of Understanding that guided the research process. The article argues for researchers and their institutions to be flexible with the timing and nature of consent so that it can be a negotiated process between researchers and participant groups. We look forward to hearing from reviewers! Karen has published an article from the pilot study for this Marsden-funded project: Nairn, K. (2019) Learning from young people engaged in climate activism: the potential of collectivizing despair and hope. Young. Nordic Journal of Youth Research. Email karen.nairn@otago.ac.nz if you are interested in a copy of this research.

Team members have already embarked on conducting second interviews and engaged with new participants who were not interviewed in the first round with a combined interview that incorporates questions from the first and second interview protocols. As at 14 November we had conducted 116 interviews – approximately 150 hours of audio! After they are transcribed interviews are coded to mark text relating to various themes, and this process was completed for the first interviews in July 2019. For some of our groups the second round of interviews are already ‘in the can’, and we are working through transcribing, checking, and coding these. Other participants can expect to hear about their second interview over the coming months as we look to complete data collection by early 2020.

The first round of interviews focused particularly on biographical and motivational aspects of activism – who our participants are, what in their background and beliefs motivated them to engage in a group in order to pursue social change, and what actions they perceived as effective or ineffective. The second interview consciously looks back over the past year, asking our participants what has changed in their personal lives, their politics, and their participation in their group, and how they have (or haven’t) sustained their activism. We are seeking to understand how their political world has changed, and what has influenced that change and their developing perceptions of their activism. We have also added some questions which have been raised by our participants in first interviews, such as the nature of activism, whether our participants call themselves an ‘activist’, and perceptions of volunteering one’s time as compared to being paid to be an activist. Some of our participants have ‘aged out’ or left their groups, and we’re particularly interested in the motivations for leaving. For some this has been a positive choice,  but others have felt  burnt-out or frustrated with the work of social change, and groups have had transitions with new activists and leaders.

As we complete the data collection phase of our work, our thoughts turn to analysing and writing about the information that our participants have so generously shared with us. This data consists of interviews, fieldnotes taken after attending meetings and events, and the social media, web pages, and media stories that represent our groups to the world. We are using coding reports compiled by Kyle Matthews and Jude Sligo, and fieldnote mind maps constructed by Amee Parker to help us conceptualise the nature of creating social change across our groups.

We took time during our two days to explore our nascent ideas through writing. Karen Nairn and Amee Parker are writing about how activists think about time in different ways and what this means for how different generations relate to each other when creating social change. Carisa Showden is exploring the complex way that our groups engage with and use online and offline spaces in their activism, challenging the idea of online activism as only consisting of ‘slacktivism’. Jude Sligo is working with two research participants on a collaborative piece of work, where they are identifying the characteristics of rainbow community activist groups that contribute to ameliorating mental health challenges for members of the group. Kyle Matthews is exploring how activists are political through ‘being’ the change that they are working towards.

Our time together finished with an assessment of the two days and planning next steps. With data collection starting to wind down, and analysis and writing winding up, we agreed to do more about keeping our participants in touch with research progress via this blog. We will stay in contact with our groups as we work with them to get their vision as a ‘living manifesto’, and we hope to host those manifestos, in whatever format, on this site. As we present the research at conferences we will write summaries for this blog site to keep participants updated.

If you have any questions about the research email karen.nairn@otago.ac.nz.

Ngā mihi nui,

Karen Nairn, Carisa Showden, Judith Sligo, Joanna Kidman, Kyle Matthews, and Amee Parker.

Young Activists Research Project Update June 2019

We recruited six groups to take part in our research and all groups have given us permission to be named:

We wanted to work with these groups because they are led by and/or have lots of young people involved (roughly aged 18-29-ish) and include activism in the areas of indigenous rights, climate change, economic inequality, and feminist and queer rights. Our participating groups often address more than one issue, and activist efforts and memberships sometimes overlap.

Our interviews and participant observation with these six groups are providing fascinating insights about what issues young people see as the most urgent and the most effective ways to create change.

We write field notes from talking to participants and our observations of groups’ meetings/hui, campaigns/events/protests, social media, documentation and actions. These add to our understanding of how groups work collectively, which complements interviewees’ perceptions of how their groups operate.

Through the one-on-one interviews, we are gaining insights into participants’ sense of themselves as activists (including whether this is a term they use), their experiences within the groups, and how their background has shaped their political commitments. To date we have interviewed 68 young people about the catalysts for joining these groups, and the interviews are currently being coded. We’re using a thematic analysis to categorise excerpts from interview transcripts. Research team members and a research assistant enter the data into a database.

Some of the second interviews have already started with members of groups who were interviewed around this time last year. In these interviews, we are asking research participants to reflect on what’s happened in their group over the past year and what has sustained their involvement (or not). If you have particular questions you would like us to ask of the people in your group please let us know.

We have invited each group to present their vision for the future as a ‘living manifesto’ in whatever way they choose, which we hope might be useful for groups reviewing their vision statements, website messages, etc. We are interested in how groups collectively negotiate their vision and hope the living manifesto might provide an opportunity for us to see these negotiations in action. If groups give us permission, we plan to include these living manifestos on our website.

We are collecting media material relevant to the broad areas our six groups focus on, which will provide information about New Zealand’s cultural and political context over the three years of this Marsden-funded research. This material is diverse, including, news items, blogs, policies, radio interviews, youtube clips, etc.

We have started drafting 2 journal articles:

  1. about the different ways we negotiated research consent with groups, to inform universities’ ethics committees and hopefully make them more flexible.
  2. about the time pressures of activism.

We have also worked with groups to provide research support for various projects they are working on, including:

We will keep you updated on our progress – research is a slow process!

We really value your involvement in our research and welcome feedback on our blog–what you would like to see included and what would be most useful to you?

Karen Nairn, Carisa Showden, Judith Sligo, Joanna Kidman, and Kyle Matthews

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