Radical youth work
Developing critical perspectives and professional judgement
By Brian Belton

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How can youth workers support young people while delivering policy?
What makes a 'positive activity' positive?
When is an 'informed choice' truly informed?
Why is politics in education discouraged?
How can we make sense of all of this?

Writing from a tradition of informed and radical dissent, Belton asks those working with young people to reassess their role and motivation and, on the basis of the radical traditions of youth work, critique the imposed forms of 'protection' (surveillance) 'welfare' (child care) 'management' (administrative fire-fighting) and pretty much formalised (didactic) instruction/advice giving. This book has been written to promote challenge and argument in the face of the increasing conformity, homogeneity and predictability within youth work theory.

Belton addresses topics that are ripe for review in this inspiring collection of interrelated discussions, which offers:
  • A foundation for workers, leaders and students to engage in positive critical analysis of the shift in government focus from individual and groups of young people - and their personal and collective perspectives - to national, functional, economic requirements.
  • Ways of putting into perspective this move away from seeing the strength of young people as their relatively unmediated potential to be a fresh and vibrant natural resource to reinvigorate society.
  • A launching pad for practitioners to consider how to use their professional judgement to alter perceptions and routines of services in ways that challenge traditions; but without condemning other academics, thinkers or youth workers.
  • Tania de St Croix's consideration of a foundation literature of radical youth work, and how new theories could be engendered.
  • Zuber Ahmed's concluding chapter that encourages youth workers to:
    • constantly question their own actions and interventions
    • help young people - through questioning - to forsake ready-made ideas and products and reawaken their own - and our - imaginations, sense of wonder, and faith in dynamic possibilities.
    The goal is to engender a self-reinforcing cycle, whereby radical theory is enlivened via practice, the critique of which provides the basis and provocation of professional judgment (development or even the rejection of convention) which is the conduit of radical theory (that tested in practice evokes further critique).

    Not a formal academic book, it uses logical deconstruction of current paradigms, personal narrative, life story and metaphor as the means for the reader to begin to take a look at the fundamentals of youth work practice and question its taken-for-granted notions. It will enable youth workers to think clearly about the social function and/or political purpose of 'education' in a time when many feel 'community education' to be their imposed role.

    As Belton puts it: 'I have worked with the contributors to leave as much room as possible for the reader to make personal links to practice and to create their own associations between the elements that make up the whole of this book. I hope this will mean that it will be a different book for every individual that reads it; this would be in the best traditions of the making of professional judgement, creating the means for us to generate eclecticism rather than conformity and derive comprehension via diversity.'

    Paperback. 144 pages. 978-1-905541-57-7. Published 2009. £16.95.


    Youth workers, youth work teachers, youth work students and anyone else who works with young people.


    Education and colonialisation
    The state
    The question of change
    Change, compliance and colonialisation
    We don't need no education
    From The Matrix to conviviality to eutrapelia
    Taking sides: dilemmas and possibilities for 'radical' youth work By Tania de St Croix
    RAC - regard, accompaniment and consideration
    Conclusion By Zuber Ahmed


    Brian Belton
    has been a youth worker in - amongst other places - Bethnal Green, Glasgow and the Falkland Islands, has completed a Doctorate on the nature of identity, race and ethnicity, is a senior lecturer at London's YMCA George Williams College - the biggest trainer of youth workers in the UK - and has taught youth work in several countries. He is the author of over 20 books, as well as sociologist, critical anthropologist and social historian.

    Tania de St Croix has been involved in youth work, play schemes and community activism since leaving school in 1993. She grew up in Bath and has mostly lived and worked there and in Manchester. She is currently a detached youth worker for a small charity in Hackney, London.

    Zuber Ahmed has worked in several voluntary youth and community organisations in a range of settings, from detached youth work to conventional youth club environments, and has been involved with several international youth programmes. He is a Senior Youth Worker with Tower Hamlets Youth Service, managing a youth centre and a team of staff.


    "Looks at how youth workers can support young people while delivering government policy and encourages them to continually question their own action and interventions." Youth Work Now.

    "What a breath of fresh air to read this book.

    "It challenges the whole belief that someone can decide what is best for another person and then put in place what they think will bring the required change to make them into the 'citizens they should be', and questions the way in which youth work has become a tool of government conformity, rather than a means of journeying alongside young people as they grow.

    "Belton shares himself in this book and the reality of what he believes comes through in what is a series of papers, even lectures that would be useful for any student of youth work (past and present) to ruminate on. He considers change in depth and encourages us to go beyond the 'one size fits all' thinking that now pervades youth work.

    "He offers some helpful options under the heading RAC: Regard, Accompaniment and Consideration. Values that I cannot find fault with.

    "Not an easy or comfortable read as it pushes the brain to do some work, but definitely worth the effort." Youthwork.

    "At the behest of government, youth work's change has involved a move away from young people's personal and collective perspectives to national, functional economic requirements. After all, the 'powers that be' want young people to become adults who can compete in the globalised capitalist economy.

    "But surely there is more to youth work than this. It is not about simply supporting the status quo by indoctrinating young people in what the 'system' requires, but is more about, as one of the contributor's notes, helping young people to reawaken their own (and our) imaginations so as to work towards dynamic possibilities.

    "The book is interesting and thought provoking, and should appeal to those social workers of a radical/critical persuasion, as well as those (many, I guess) who are unhappy with what social work became under the now departed Labour government." Professional Social Work.

    "Are you ready to question everything you know about youth work? Can you risk becoming infuriated or enlightened?

    "The first page promises: 'The radicalism that this book seeks to provoke is a marked departure from... accepted ways of... interpreting youth work.'... Suspicious of practices such as community education and 'invasive' interventions, Belton urges youth workers to find new ways to deliver services...

    "Through accounts of his own youth gang culture and his experiences as a youth worker in a tough East London neighbourhood, Belton ponders what makes youth work effective...

    "Tania de St Croix contributes a pivotal chapter that examines radical youth work's scarce literature and history to propose its working definition: informal work with young people, 'opposition to capitalism and authoritarianism, belief in equality and respect for the environment, debate and struggle,' critical reflection and fun...

    "Belton concludes with his own techniques for work with youth that convey mutual trust, companionship and guidance... Belton's claim is true: 'If you don't reconsider your practice, it is likely that you haven't really read this book.'" Youth Work.

    "Not intended as a benign addition to the already existing resources on youth work... On the contrary, the author is highly critical of traditional youth work which he sees as conservative and a vehicle for conformity and control, often at the behest of governments...

    "The author is critical of the idea of youth work as social education and positive intervention... He sees these as conforming tendencies which are about complying with what the state regards as best for youth while this is really what is best for the state...

    "The lasting impression of the book is of someone who has genuine humanity in his approach to young people and a passion for youth work." Well-being.

    "Draws on years of experience at the cutting edge of contemporary youth work in the UK... a collection of essays rather than a formal linear academic work and the reader is invited to dip in and out at will... Belton posits a wealth of insights, opinions and theories against a broader backdrop of local, national and international political and financial policy. Drawing on a huge variety of resources, the book is given a more intimate feel by the sharing of the author's own professional and personal experience... a catalyst for reflection, debate and experimentation in the youth work field at a time when this is sorely needed. The book is refreshing, honest, provocative, unapologetic, irritating, often challenging and highly recommended for anybody serious about youth work." Addiction Today.

    "Although Radical Youth Work was not aimed at training or instructing social group workers, it does provide group workers working with youths with some vital instructions. Brian Belton has written a book that promotes critical thought processes for youths and, in doing so, also promotes and advocates for the requisite skills that one needs in working with those youths.

    However, it is not a 'how-to' book... it is not a book that one should even read cover to cover inasmuch as it is annoying and simultaneously persuasive. It is annoying because the book challenges the reader to abandon Western democratic views on how to promote change with and within people; it is persuasive because, if one allows Belton's views to simmer in one's brain long enough, his points make sense from a change perspective.

    In essence, Belton requires of the reader that he or she develop his or her own critical thinking processes prior to attempting to help others develop these skills. For those reading this book, they may begin that process by believing that they already possess critical thinking skills. But, not so fast! Belton calls on the reader of this book to synthesize a myriad of critical screens when attempting to think critically. That is to say, critical thought for Belton is a macro (political) and micro (individual) process... Belton emphatically believes that change in individuals is at the heart of change at the state level... Belton encourages the reader and practitioner of change to develop a healthy sense of mistrust for those at state level and to communicate this to one's clients...

    Belton encourages the reader to move away from categorization of clients, to a consciousness of the potential that individuals and groups have to use situations to develop and educate them. In Belton's estimation this method improves clients' self concept and empowers them to affect internal and social change... Chapter 6 highlights myriad interventions to affect change in the individual and ultimately in the state. These interventions may be used on an individual or group level. For instance, Belton does an outstanding job in explaining how the media (e.g. internet, news, etc) can effectively be utilised to induce change...

    On the surface, this book looks deceptively simple. Do not let its size deceive you. Its 124 pages and eight chapters are a difficult read... However, the book does make good on its premises. It offers ways for practitioners to consider how to use their own professional judgments for change, ways to disabuse oneself of Western democratic thoughts that are linear, and ways for youth workers to engage in critical thought and analysis." Social Work with Groups.

    "The motivation and enthusiasm for youth work of de St Croix are clear, and she gives examples of her own practice... an entertaining read... (The author) aims to provide motivation for radicals to acquire critical perspectives and assert their professional judgement... Belton explains his own theory under the heading RAC: Regard, Accompaniment and Consideration. He explains what he means by these and the book could usefully have built on these ideas for practice. Zuber Ahmed concludes the book with an interesting discussion." Youth and Policy.