As Jessica Kulynych posits, society’s failure to recognize youth political identity is evidence of an incomplete democracy (2001). Yet, our status quo incomplete democracy continues not only because adult gatekeepers state that youth political stances are wrong, but because, they claim, such stances do not even exist. In other words, adults often deny young people’s rights to political participation at least partly because they fail to recognize youth political identity in the first place. De facto gatekeepers, including adult allies, often erroneously judge young people as politically incompetent or only recognize young people’s political actions when they behave in ways palatable to authorities. I seek to examine components to and reflections of youth political identity that such gatekeepers fail to take into account when they deny young people’s political rights, including a) young people’s attempts to speak, be heard, and have their views taken into account in political space, b) young people’s attempts to shape political spaces, and c) young people’s tactics to expand formal political spaces or create alternative political spaces. Gatekeepers justify denying young people’s political rights, thereby curtailing democracy, because they fail to recognize this more comprehensive understanding of youth political identity.
Adults often only recognize youth as risk or at risk, characterizing young people as either too dangerous or too innocent to participate in decision-making arenas. On this basis, authorities exclude young people from political spaces, effectively denying young people’s rights as members of the public sphere. There are occasional references to the importance of allowing young people to speak, but these usually remain tokenistic. Tracy Skelton has illuminated how young people’s political actions outside of formally sanctioned political spaces are often ignored (2010). Rebecca Raby has criticized how agencies such as the World Bank promote a narrow interpretation of youth agency, one that favors a young person’s ability act autonomously, to be self-reliant and demand less from the State, and be resilient to unjust economic and social situations (2012). Yet, scholars have shown us how young people can conquer or expand formal political spaces to expand them, as well as creating their own alternative political spaces (O’Toole & Gale, 2008; Su, 2010). I will examine young people as political rights holders in the process of establishing new youth governance mechanisms. I will expand my perspective to look for young people’s collective actions that draw upon tools and resources in their networks to interrogate root causes of political exclusion and social injustice so as to contribute to a more critical conception of agency.