BSocSc Sociology / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Youth, Politics & Activism in Contemporary Europe

Course unit fact file
Unit code SOCY20411
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course considers the debate around the implications for democracy of the decline in formal political participation among young people. It interrogates competing arguments that: young people have become disengaged or politically ‘apathetic’; young people are not apathetic but choose to engage in unconventional rather than conventional ways (online activism, ‘micropolitics’); disengagement constitutes not withdrawal from politics but a conscious ‘disavowal’ of politics or ‘a youthful anti-politics’. It considers a number of case studies of forms of activism of young people in contemporary Europe in order to evaluate the empirical evidence for and against these competing claims. 


The first half of the course explores key debates in academic literature and public discourse framing the debate on young people’s political engagement, specifically, whether evidence that participation in formal political activity is declining indicates that: i) young people are becoming disengaged; ii) young people are not disengaged but choose to engage in unconventional rather than conventional ways (online activism, micropolitics); or iii) disengagement is taking place but should be interpreted not as withdrawal from politics but a conscious ‘disavowal’ of politics or ‘a youthful anti-politics’. The course examines some of the ways in which young people’s political expressions and experiences of democratic life occur outside of the ballot box and explores what engaging with politics at a more everyday level means for our definitions of what constitutes 'political' or 'civic' participation and engagement. The course also considers the social and demographic factors (class, gender, ethnicity, education, social capital) alongside contextual factors (such as political socialisation through family, peer group and education and the role of (social) media) that affect young people’s political participation. In the second half of the course, a range of forms of activism in which young people are engaged are considered through a number of case studies designed to provide examples of the most relevant and current activism. Examples include case studies of: anti-austerity activism; anti-racist activism; environmental activism; radical right-wing and radical left-wing activism; and the (in)activism of marginalised and stigmatised groups. In each case study, the forms of activism, motivations for and meanings of activism and the relationship of the activism to the external political realm are discussed. The course concludes with a review of the evidence on whether young people’s politics and activism differs, in level, form or content, to that of the adult population and, if so, what explains this. 

Teaching and learning methods

The course unit will be delivered as ten two-hour lectures and ten one hour tutorials.

The course will utilise Blackboard to deliver the module's course content, core readings, lecture slides, any supplementary materials, and communication.  

Knowledge and understanding

  • Understand the arguments, and the empirical data underpinning them, concerning youth and its political and civic engagement.  
  • Be able to form and express an opinion on those debates and apply this theoretical knowledge to a range of examples of contemporary youth activism.  
  • Understand patterns of participation in countries and regions across Europe in their historical and cultural context.  

Intellectual skills

  • Evaluate competing analytical perspectives.  
  • Assess the strengths and weaknesses of empirical evidence.  
  • Employ material available from academic, media and policy sources to make effective arguments.  

Practical skills

  • Use library and electronic sources and resources.  
  • Be able to articulate a position in a clear and coherent way

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Present ideas and ask questions in group discussion.  
  • Be able to form and express an opinion on debates of relevance to contemporary society.
  • Develop a critical approach to academic, media and policy texts.  

Assessment methods

Summative assessment: one assessed essay (2,000 words) at end of course 100%

Formative assessment: Mid-term written coursework submission (500 words)  

Feedback methods

Informal feedback will be given during lectures and tutorials. Formal feedback will be given on the formative assessment and the summative assessment through Turnitin.

Recommended reading

Deakin, J. and Fox, C. (2022) ‘Labelled as ‘risky’ in an era of control: How young people experience and respond to the stigma of criminalized identities’, European Journal of Criminology, 19 (4): 653-673. 

Grasso, M. and Giugni, M. (2022) ‘Intra-generational inequalities in young people’s political participation in Europe: The impact of social class on youth political engagement’ Politics, 42 (1): 13-38. 

Harris, A., Wyn, J. and Younes, S. (2010) ‘Beyond apathetic or activist youth: “Ordinary” young people and contemporary forms of participation’, Young, 18 (1): 9-32. 

Henn, M. and Foard, N., (2014), 'Social differentiation in young people's political participation: The impact of social and educational factors on youth political engagement in Britain', Journal of Youth Studies, 17 (3): 360-80.  

ShapeShapeHenn, M., Weinstein, M. and Forrest, S., (2005), 'Uninterested Youth? Young People´s Attitudes towards Party Politics in Britain', Political Studies, 53 (3): 556-578.  

Kimberlee, R. H. (2002) 'Why don't British young people vote at general elections?', Journal of Youth Studies, 5 (1): 86-98.  

Manning, N. (2013) ‘I mainly look at things on an issue by issue basis’: Reflexivity and phronêsis in young people's political engagements’, Journal of Youth Studies, 16 (1):17-33, 

de Moor, J. De Vydt, M., Uba, K. & Wahlström, M. (2021) ‘New kids on the block: taking stock of the recent cycle of climate activism’, Social Movement Studies, 20 (5): 619-625. 

Pilkington, H., Acik, N., Annist, A., Dähnke, I., Nartova, N., Yasaveev, I. and Shilova, A. (2023) ‘Not apologising for a community: Young people’s responses to misrecognition and stigma’, Journal of Youth Studies, 26 (3): 331-350. 

Pitti, I., Mengilli, Y. and Walther, A. (2023) ‘Liminal Participation: Young People’s Practices in the Public Sphere Between Exclusion, Claims of Belonging, and Democratic Innovation’, Youth & Society, 55 (1): 143-162. 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Tutorials 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Kevin Gillan Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Recommended reading

Joseph-Salisbury, R., Connelly, L., and Wangari-Jones, P. (2021) ‘“The UK is not innocent”: Black Lives Matter, policing and abolition in the UK’, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, 40 (1): 21-28. 

Pitti, I. (2018) Youth and Unconventional Political Engagement, PalgraveMacmillan. 

Uba, K., Bosi, L. (2022) ‘Explaining youth radicalism as a positioning of the self at opposite extremes’ Politics, 42(1): 128–145. 

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