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Young people’s experiences of political membership: from political parties to Facebook groups

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In contemporary democracies, citizens’ political memberships are undergoing significant changes. Particularly young people are described as being less interested in long-term commitments in conventional political collectives, instead preferring to engage in cause-oriented activism in loosely organised groups, often sustained by online media. However, behind these general trends, there is a diversity of collective activities, where people are typically part of several ones. The shifting forms of memberships have rarely been investigated as such from the perspective of young citizens. Using a qualitative multi-method approach, this article investigates how young people with an interest in civic and political issues experience and reflect upon their involvements in various collectives. The analysis focuses on two aspects: the explorations that characterise the participants’ political memberships, and the meanings and motives of joining political collectives. On the whole, the participants’ involvement can be described as shifting and tentative. This can be related to the idea of adolescence as a formative period of life, where explorations of memberships constitute important processes in young people’s development of values, beliefs and identities. As for meanings and motives, three themes were found to be central: perceived efficacy, self-identity and peer relationships. The study suggests that political membership is multidimensional and usefully analysed as a process rather than a dichotomous category. As such, it involves explorations and changes over time. The study highlights the reflexive dimensions of membership, where affiliations to collectives is something that youth try out, work on, account for and reconsider in relation to their self-identities.
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Keywords: Young people; activism; commitment; political membership; political parties; social media

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Journalism, Media and Communication, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden

Publication date: January 28, 2019

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