Talking about relational youth work: why language matters

Cooper, Trudi ORCID: 0000-0002-4758-5881, Corney, Tim ORCID: 0000-0002-1980-6835, Tierney, Hilary ORCID: 0000-0003-1379-6944, Gorman, Jamie ORCID: 0000-0002-5153-2045 and Sutcliffe, John ORCID: 0000-0002-6477-094X (2024) Talking about relational youth work: why language matters. Journal of Youth Studies. ISSN 1367-6261


The literature on youth work emphasises the importance of ‘relationship’ to good practice, moreover, the characteristics of the youth-work relationship have been posited as a defining feature of youth work in the British-influenced tradition. Despite this, little attention is paid to the choice of language used to describe how professional youth workers relate to young people, or how language choices reflect political framing of youth work and of power relationships within their practice. Language choice has implications for how youth workers perceive their professional identity, for how accountability is construed, and for inter-professional working. In this article we undertake a thematic analysis to identify, analyse and critique various language options, drawing on international literature, with an application focus on Irish and Australian contexts. We address the question, ‘what language choices offer most precision and clarity about youth work professional relationships in different contexts?’ We identify three main ways the relationship between youth workers and young people has been framed: as collaboration; as transaction; or, as rights-based entitlement. We conclude with discussion of how different relational language choices in youth work should be selected to be congruent with the youth work context, power relationships and purposes.

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Item type Article
DOI 10.1080/13676261.2023.2298327
Official URL
Subjects Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 3904 Specialist studies in education
Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 4410 Sociology
Current > Division/Research > College of Arts and Education
Current > Division/Research > Institute for Sustainable Industries and Liveable Cities
Keywords professional youth work, professionalisation, Australia, language of collaboration, community-embedded youth work, cultural norms
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