Political IDs

My new study (2014-16)

Young Europeans’ Political Identities

How they are constructed and what this tells us

On this page I give an overview of the project, and then a brief description of my future plans to extend this work.  If you are interested in participating in my future plans, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

There are many more details of my work, together with major outputs and you-tube lectures, on the web-page PI:details.


An overview of the Young Europeans’ Political Identities project

I’d been thinking about the idea of this project since the late 1990s: how do young people in Europe (between the ages of about 12 and 19) construct their political identities? How do they see themselves as being part of, and perhaps participating, in the politics and societies of their locality, of their country, of Europe, and perhaps globally? My general observations and discussions with young people led me to think that most young people of these ages were giving thought to this, but much political science literature, and general public discourse, suggested that young people were apathetic and uninterested in politics.  I thought that these beliefs appeared often to be based on questionnaires and polling, and on quantitative studies that presented categories and concepts that tended to alienate young people, and that a much less structured qualitative study might produce rather different results. And I remembered when I was this age, and younger, being given the distinct lesson by adults that having an interest in politics was something that I shouldn’t express at that age – I was too young and immature, too open to being indoctrinated. I disagreed, but ‘learned’ not to say so!

My opportunity to investigate this in depth occurred when I decided in late 2009 to take slightly early retirement from my full-time work at the University, which coincided with the award of a Jean Monnet professorship, in recognition of my leadership of the European Commission CiCe Academic Network, that linked studies in a number of European universities of citizenship education.  The travel grant that came with this allowed me to visit nearly all the countries that had joined the European Union after 2004, and the then candidate countries – Phase 1 from 2010 to 2013.  I then took off independently to visit most of the countries that had been EU members before 2004 (and Norway and Switzerland) – Phase 2, from 2014 to 2017.  Each of these phases is described briefly below, and in more detail on the page PI:details. The project is ongoing, and late on this page you’ll find details of my aspiration to continue my study in eastern Europe, in the Balkans, and in the Uk and Ireland.

Phase 1 - central Europe, 2010-14

My initial area of investigation was into the post-2004 EU countries, and to the countries that were then applying to join the EU (though this group has changed since then):  

EU members 2004 2010: Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus (both the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus)

Candidate countries in 2010: Croatia (which became a member in 2014, after my fieldwork), Iceland, Macedonia (FYROM/North Macedonia) and Turkey

Most of the former group had previously been either members of the Warsaw Pact or part of the former USSR: they had all since 1989-92 become independent of Soviet Russian influence and hegemony.  This meant that all the young people in my age group had been born and grown up after this – they were the first generation in these countries never to have known directly what life was like in those situations. Did this make them a different generation?

My technique was to use deliberative discussion techniques with small groups, of about six young people at a time.  I used by contacts in each country to arrange to visit a number of different locations in each country, and a number of different schools or colleges in each location (ideally, at least one in a middle class area, one in a working class area). 

Conversations were usually in English, sometimes translated or partially translated.  Fuller details are given in the Political Identities: details page.

This map shows where I went – the different colours show each year.

        2010         2011         2012 

In total, I visited 49 different location, talking with 974 young people from 97 different schools and colleges, in 159 groups.


My findings were reported variously at a number of conference and lectures, and in some journal articles, and in full in a book: Understanding the Construction of New Young Europeans: Kaleidoscopic Identities (Routledge, 2015).  These are all listed, with some extracts on Political Identities: details.


Phase 2 - western Europe, 2014 - 6

In 2014 I decided to extend the study to include the counties of western Europe, in particular those pre-2004 EU members (and also the associated states of Norway and Switzerland). However, my experiences in Phase 1 suggested that where there were particularly acute conditions related to EU membership, any discussions about ‘feeling European’ would be dominated by these conditions.  In the 2014 context, I decided to exclude Greece, where the post 2008 bailouts to the economy were creating considerable concern and debate, and the UK, where there was in 2014 a real prospect of a referendum on continuing membership of the EU, generating much heat.  By mid 2015 this was being planned (but all my fieldwork was completed before the referendum took place).  In the context of the relationship between the Republic of Ireland and the UK province of Northern Ireland, I also thought it important that, in any study of political identity on the island, it should be made clear that the research was being conducted on both sides of the border. Thus Greece, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom were not included in this phase, with the intention to return to them in less contentious times. 

Phase 2 thus encompassed Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.  Fieldwork was carried out between September 2014 and February 2016.   

      2014          2015        2016

In total in phase 2 I visited 55 different locations, talking with 1,024 young people from 85 different schools and colleges, in          165 groups.       


A second book – Finding Political Identities: Young people in a changing Europe was published in 2019 (Palgrave Macmillan): this incorporated many elements of Phase 1, as well as all the data from phase 2.


Future plans

I have been planning to continue this study into other parts of Europe, but the COVI-19 pandemic has caused some disruptions, and there is some uncertainty about the immediate future.  Changes and developments will be reported here.  There are three potential areas of interest.

Eastern Europe

The states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia Moldova and Ukraine were part of a programme I developed with a group of civil society associations from these countries. In October 2019 I spoke at a meeting of the East European Network for Citizenship Education (EENCE) at their conference in Batumi, Georgia.  Plans were made for a study of young people in these states to start in September 2020: these are now on hold.  An investigation is being made into the possibility of on-line discussions.  These countries are of particular interests because of the complex constructions of citizenship and nationality that were developed in the USSR, of which these six countries were once a part. 

The Balkan States   

While I visited some Balkan states in Phase 1, there remains Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Greece, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia to investigate (and probably some updating on Bulgaria, Croatia and Macedonia).

The Atlantic Islands

The UK and the Republic of Northern Ireland remain to be covered, and the political focus is still on the Brexit arrangements.  Although they are currently at the end of the list, I don’t imagine the situation will be calmer till at least 2022/3.

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