Panel 28

Gender, sex and race in research and pedagogical practices with young people in and between Finland and South Africa: Transnational reflections on the politics of knowledge/praxis

Panel organisers: Tamara Shefer, University of Western Cape, South Africa and Jeff Hearn, Örebro University, Sweden

E-mail address of panel organisers:,

This panel arises from close transnational research between Finland and South Africa in the project, "Enabling South African and Finnish youth towards non-violence, equality and social well-being". The project is funded by the Academy of Finland and the National Research Foundation (NRF) in South Africa (2013-2016). The project has involved multiple research contacts of various kinds, research collaborations, extended, research visits, doctoral student support, writing and publishing workshops, collective memory work, and joint writing and publishing. In this panel we reflect on these transnational collaborations through three main broad sets of questions, addressed in particular ways by each of the panel members.

1) What does it mean to work transnationally, in this case between Finland and South Africa, across the contexts of difference at multiple levels, both material and discursive within continued inequalities and injustices in a patriarchal, post-colonial present? And what can we learn about how our research related to young people’s sexualities, genders, and intersectional identities, shape, reinstate or resist dominant discourses related to global inequalities?

2) How does our research and related pedagogies and programmes directed at/with young people in transnational contexts intersect with global frameworks of neoliberal governmentality which reproduces adult authority and surveillance and regulation of young sexualities and genders in ways that are raced and classed?

3) What are emerging alternatives to a framework of scholarship and pedagogies that are located in a didactic paradigm hinging around authoritative knowers/researchers and subjugated learners/research subjects and that destabilise dominant ways of knowing and making meaning for social justice. How do we begin to shift from rigid binarism between pedagogy and research and the investment of both endeavors in a civilizing project on young people?

Approved abstracts Panel 28

1. Challenging youth psychologies: participatory research engagements with young people in postcolonial contexts

Author: Floretta Boonzaier

While young people’s lives and the inequitable contexts in which they are located are key areas of concern for social scientists, much research on children and young people has begun with privileging the knowledge of adult researchers above those of the young people themselves. Psychology as a discipline is heavily implicated in the production and reproduction of discourses that problematically position young people as passive, with insufficient attention to the complexities of youth subjectivities. Young people negotiate selves and subjectivities in complex postcolonial contexts that involve continuities in the stereotypical gendered, racialised and classed ways in which people in the global south are represented. These include depictions of black people as lazy, ignorant and irresponsible and of black women and children in particular as passive and in need of help or ‘saving’. These representations stand in stark contrast to potential positionings of young people as active participants in their communities and societies and as having the ability to effect positive transformations in their lives. It has been recognized that participatory methods hold the capacity to engage marginalized individuals and communities in the process of research, education and action. In this paper I reflect on the potential of a participatory form of action research, Photovoice to provide the resources for young marginalized people to challenge their situations and mobilize for social change. The paper draws on examples from studies that engaged with diverse groups of young people around their concerns around poverty, violence, homophobic discrimination, and their gendered and sexual lives and identifications more broadly.

2. Transnational reflections on transnational research projects on young people: the paradoxical place of critical adult studies

Author: Jeff Hearn, (Örebro University, Sweden; Hanken School of Economics, Finland; and University of Huddersfield, UK)

This paper is in two parts. It first reflects broadly on the research project, ‘Engaging South African and Finnish youth towards new traditions of non-violence, equality and social well-being’, funded by the Finnish and South African national research councils, in the context of wider debates on research, projects and transnational processes. This discussion is located within a broader analysis of research projects and projectisation (the reduction of research to separate projects), and the increasing tendencies for research to be framed within and as projects, with their own specific temporal and organisational characteristics. This approach is developed in terms of different understandings of research across borders: international, comparative, multinational, and transnational. The theoretical, political and practical challenges of the North-South research project are discussed. The second part addresses more specifically some cautions in framings of research on or with young people. In some kind of parallel with critical whiteness studies (CWS) and critical studies on men and masculinities (CSMM), I argue for critical adult studies (CRAS) – more precisely critical studies on adults and adulthood – that are historical, materialist, relational, deconstructive, and problematising of adults and adulthood. A CRAS perspective on researching and engaging with young entails highlighting double ageism, the similarities and differences between ‘young ageism’ toward younger people, and ‘old ageism’ towards older people, in terms of, for example, interdependence, care, vulnerability, individual and collective agency, and solidarity. This political direction is elaborated through attention to transnational contexts, across borders, in physical migration, online and offline, North-South, and what this means for researching and engaging young people in complex mixings of place, location, institution, friendship, politics, and critical inquiry.

3. Rescuing the veiled queer: Pedagogies of intersectionality in youth work

Authors: Katarina Jungar (Helsinki University, Finland)
Salla Peltonen (Åbo Akademi University, Finland)

In this text we analyze and discuss the pedagogy of difference as articulated in youth work of the national lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersexual (LGBTI) rights organization in Finland (Seta). We pay special attention to a poster campaign and a discussion at a seminar on rainbow youth, where one poster was addressed. This poster displays a woman, marked as Muslim, kissing another woman marked as Finnish. Recently the figure of the Muslim has become the crucible of othering discourses in Europe, marking the difference between those who belong and those who are excluded from Western modernity. In this article we address how a politics of race, inclusion and exclusion articulates itself in a Finnish context of multiculturalism. By discussing what kind of politics of knowledge is articulated in the poster we ask what kind of failures and success intersectional approaches can offer in a neoliberal nationalist context. By analyzing the pedagogical aims of the campaign, we follow Petzen (2012) in arguing that that tropes of care and protection need to be interrogated and understood in the context of European racisms. By analyzing the discussion around the poster we pay attention to how the aforementioned questions articulate themselves in the context of Finnish lgbti youth work. In conclusion we argue that despite an emphasis on a pedagogy of difference and an attempt to an intersectional perspective, the work risks reproducing whiteness as the dominant position, especially when not acknowledging the work and insights of feminist postcolonial and critical race theory.

4. Ambivalent positions and challenging contexts in researching ”rainbow youth” in Finland

Authors: Jukka Lehtonen and Riikka Taavetti (University of Helsinki, Finland)

In our presentation we will discuss on the positions of young people and researchers in research projects on young lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersexual and queer (LGBTIQ) or “rainbow” people. We base our presentation on the experiences of researching on and with young people, who question normative sexuality or gender. In Lehtonen’s ethnography he analysed construction of sexuality, gender and intersecting differences in the youth work of Seta, the national LGBTI human rights organisation, and focus on the experiences of non-heterosexual and trans youth. Taavetti engaged with young “rainbow” people in her research on their situation and experiences. We based our work partially on a survey called “Well-being of rainbow youth” which was produced by Seta and the Finnish Youth Research Society in 2013. Six groups of young people were taking part in Taavetti’s project and worked fairly independently with the survey data and results into their own directions. Lehtonen followed this work as part of his ethnography. We will discuss methodological, ethical and theoretical problems we faced with our research on and with young people. We analyse our own positions as adults belonging to the LGBTIQ community. We also discuss on challenges related to research contexts. Taavetti worked in a government funded short-term project with a need to produce results for advocacy, and Lehtonen in a transnational research collaboration project, which gave him perspectives from other culture.

5. Re-thinking South African scholarship/practice on gender and sexuality among young people in transnational contexts

Author: Tamara Shefer (University of Western Cape, South Africa)

In the last 22 years of the post-apartheid democracy in South Africa there have been many efforts to pursue a social justice and transformation agenda at all levels in society. With the challenges of high rates of HIV infection among young people in many communities, together with an acknowledgement of the widespread nature of gender-based violence, there has been a particular focus on young people in both research and in practice through interventions and policy. Some feminists in South Africa, and the global South in general, saw the imperatives of HIV and the resources that it brought as an opportunity for critical postcolonial feminist scholarship to bring the challenges of intersectional gender justice to the center stage. On the contrary, it has become evident that our research and practice, that is how understandings about HIV and gender-based violence are operationalized, may rather be reinstating the very things we had hoped to challenge. Drawing on examples from narratives of young people in school situations, the paper unpacks some key areas where it is evident that HIV and gender concerns are being deployed in ways that undermine a critical gender justice project and serve rather to rationalize a regulatory framework of disciplining and constraining young sexual practices as well as reproduce local and global gendered, classed and raced othering practices and discourses.

To the top