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/ Institute of Philosophy, Citizenship and Youth


Responsible citizenship

The IPCY's aim is to develop responsible citizenship, that is, a person's ability to think and act in their context, according to their own values, while taking into consideration—and even promoting—the interests of the community to which they belong. Although youth are not yet fully active citizens, notably owing to their age and their experience level, they are already capable of meaningful forms of agency which must be recognized and supported in order for them to experience themselves as emerging agents—that is, as individuals able to take an active role in their lives rather than merely as eventual adults.

The IPCY’s mission is to carve out spaces for youth to exercise and develop their competence as responsible citizens in ways that are meaningful to them, in light of their current maturity levels and lived realities. The IPCY's framework emphasizes three dimensions for what responsible citizenship could be :

  • Relational autonomy : The IPCY situates its notion of responsible citizenship under the umbrella term of “relational” autonomy in an effort to acknowledge the effects of complex intersecting social determinants, such as race, class, gender, and ethnicity—to which it adds ageist and adultist views—on an individual’s sense of agency (Mackenzie and Stoljar, 2000). Developing such autonomy involves “reflecting on one’s deeper wants, values, and commitments, reaffirming them, and behaving and living in accordance with them even in the face of at least minimal resistance from others” (Friedman, 2003: 99). Though youth’s range of autonomous choice is usually narrower than that of adults, they can demonstrate “volitional stability,” or moderate continuity in their commitments, that shapes their motivations to pursue certain goals and realize specific outcomes, under the guidance of trusted others (Mullin 2014). By supporting this burgeoning capacity for relational autonomy, the IPCY can help youth identify and enact what matters to them as emerging responsible citizens.

  • Social selfhood : Connected to relational autonomy, the notion of a social self further helps characterize the IPCY’s conception of responsible citizenship. On this account, an agent’s identity is seen as constructed within a social context that affects them and that they themselves affect. What matters is not only the capacity to authentically express one’s singularity and determine one’s own life path but also to acknowledge the “pre-existing horizons of significance” (Taylor 1991) that provide the backdrop for this identity-building. By extension, if youth can recognize their social embeddedness, they may be better positioned to limit what they value to commitments that take others into account, though this limitation can be considered as a source of enhanced well-being and expanded freedom rather than a type of sacrifice or impediment—“voluntary self-constraint in order to satisfy obligations towards others” (Ballet et al, 2007:198). The IPCY’s projects precisely aim to sensitize youth to this social notion of the self.

  • Participation : According to the IPCY, youth’s willingness and ability to participate as emerging citizens should be encouraged—even small acts ought to be celebrated despite their relative unimportance in the eyes of adults. Such efforts reveal youth are able to express their points of view, values and priorities as more than just passive “recipients of freedom” (Ballet, Biggeri & Comim, 2011). The IPCY strives to create spaces of participation for youth so they can have more say in situations that directly concern them, like what they study at school, how they spend their free time, the kinds of relationships they get to pursue, etc. Numerous countries are beginning to recognize youth’s voices as responsible citizens with respect to major decisions affecting their lives. Examples include child-custody arrangements, medical decision-making (notably involving terminal illnesses), and issues that form part of the expanding field of family ethics (Kopelman and Moscow 1989, Baylis and Mcleod 2014). The IPCY aspires to support these initiatives through its own projects.

See references.