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Author(s): Paula Pope

To cite this article: Pope, P. (2022). Using a narrative-discursive approach to explore the art and science of youth work, Methodological approaches to research in youth work: Changing the paradigm, Youth Voice Journal, pp. 22-31. ISBN (ONLINE): 978-1-911634-42-3



This paper makes the case for using narrative-discursive research methods to gain insight into the dynamics of youth and community work practice. It is a methodology underpinned by theories of social constructivism and phenomenology that can generate socially-constructed data through the interaction of research participants. This approach was adopted in recent research into youth workers’ professional identities and practices in which the findings, initially organised thematically, were then subjected to narrative-discursive analyses to generate first-hand descriptions and explanations of youth work, thereby giving an insider view of professional practice. Closer scrutiny of the dialogical interaction drew attention to speech patterns and rhetorical devices used to create the well-formed narrative and bring to the fore some marginalised voices, while producing persuasive accounts of good practice of interest to stake-holders and funders. A discursive analysis highlighted the ways workers use subject-positioning to align themselves with their pro-fessional values and distinguish themselves from those who do not have a ‘youth-workery’ approach. Evocative imagery from this study, including ‘I am not a suit’, ‘stand up for young people’, ‘feeling like the poor relation’ and concern that ‘anybody can rock up and call themselves a youth worker’, revealed much of the workers’ professional preoccupations and positioning at the present times. As such, this was a methodology that could produce nuanced accounts of the multi-layered realities of everyday practice and afford instances of professional expertise as youth workers re-forged coherent professional identities in challenging times.

Keywords: narrative-discursive approach, subject positioning, discursive practice

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