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Youth-quake: how New Zealand youth are putting hope into action

Associate Professor Karen Nairn. Photo provided

Associate Professor Karen Nairn from the University of Otago will explore the ways that hope for a better future motivates young New Zealanders to engage with politics and new social movements, and their visions for the future of our nation

Published 2 November 2017

Faced with climate change, growing economic inequality, and political instablity, the future of the world may seem bleak. Young people will live the longest with these challenges and their consequences, and recent elections and social movements have seen a resurgence of youth engagement and activism globally. The so-called ‘youth-quake’ behind the recent metoric rise of Jacinda Ardern is a striking example. In this context, hope for social change can be a powerful catalyst for political action.

Associate Professor Karen Nairn of the University of Otago’s College of Education will explore how young people in Aotearoa New Zealand put their hopes for social change into action in a new Marsden Fund grant. In particular, she will examine what inspires young people to join collectives and social movements, and what sustains their engagement.  Working with politically-engaged 18 to 29 year old New Zealanders through interviews, observation and social media, Associate Professor Nairn will investigate what issues these young people perceive as the most urgent, their visions for the future, and their views on the most effective ways to make change.

There is extensive research on the threats and challenges facing the current generation, and on youth resilience in the face of adversity. Yet few people have looked at the importance of hope as a powerful motivator towards social and political action. In doing so, this project will challenge stereotypes of youth as disaffected, apathetic and self-interested. It will highlight the hope and visions for the future that young people in Aotearoa – our future leaders – are actively working towards.