The field of civic and political participation has been studied mostly from individual, psychological approaches rather than collective, relational perspectives. Here we address this gap through a political ethnography in the youth wing of a major Portuguese political party, conducted during the fervent months right before and after the Portuguese parliamentary elections of October 2015. Investigating the meaning-making of doing politics in real-life contexts, we assess the collective learning processes involved in political participation. This paper shows that youth wings can provide quality participation experiences. Indeed, collectively envisioning and constructing a more democratic society and working for the public good are guiding principles of the wing. Debatement politics and pedagogical politics thus play a fundamental role in the wing's activity, even if they are accompanied by the more mundane, festive party politics and the backstage politics. Through their activity, the wing's members acquire and display high levels of political efficacy, critical thinking and effort regulation regarding political involvement. Methodologically, this paper shows that ethnography is well equipped to study the experience of participation, foregrounding activities and perceptions of wing's members in order to make sense of their learning processes and outcomes.


Civic and Political Participation, Youth Wings, Political Ethnography, Learning

Author Bio(s)

Carla Malafaia holds a PhD in Education Sciences from the University of Porto (this was supported by a grant from the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology – FCT – SFRH/BD/92113/2012). Carla has been actively involved in research since 2008, both in national and international projects (funded by the FCT and the European Commission). She is currently a researcher in the CATCH-EyoU project, funded by the European Commission, Horizon 2020. Her research has dealt with conflict mediation, youth civic and political participation and citizenship education. She is the co-author of two books and has published in journals such as Current Sociology, Frontiers in Psychology, Journal of Social Sciences Education and the International Journal of E-Politics. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: carla.malafaia@hotmail.com.

Isabel Menezes is a Full Professor at the University of Porto. She has been working in the areas of educational research, educational and community intervention, and citizenship education. She has coordinated research on youth and adult civic and political participation, with a focus on the experience of groups at risk of exclusion on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability, and migrant status. She coordinated the Portuguese participation in several international projects such as IEA Civic Education Study, FP7 PIDOP and Erasmus USR, and two national funded projects. Currently, she coordinates the Portuguese participation in the CATCH-EyoU project, funded by the European Commission, Horizon 2020 and several Erasmus+ projects. She has published several papers in international journals (Journal of Social Science Education, Journal of Moral Education, Journal of Youth Studies, British Educational Research Journal, ...) and edited books and special issues for inter/national journals. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: imenezes@fpce.up.pt.

Tiago Neves is an Associate Professor at the University of Porto. Since the mid-1990’s, he has been involved in a number of studies on criminology and social and educational inequalities. His work has been funded by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology and by the Portuguese Social Security. He has authored three books and published in journals such as International Studies in Sociology of Education, Conflict Resolution Quarterly, the European Journal of Social Work, and Higher Education. Currently, he coordinates the participation of the University of Porto in the YOUNG_ADULLLT project, funded by the European Commission, Horizon 2020. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: tiago@fpce.up.pt.


The authors wish to thank Gianpaolo Baiocchi (Urban Democracy Lab - New York University) and Javier Auyero (University of Texas - Austin) for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

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