Cultural theory: Young people and disruption: What can we do to make our voices count?

Date & Time:

16th March, 16:00


Online event; the link will be sent to those who register.


Amerah Saleh, Juwairiyyah Walia and Jill Robinson discuss how young people can make their voices count in the current political climate.

Although there has been a decline in young people’s participation in mainstream political life across Western democracies during the 21st century (Sloam, 2017) this does not mean that they are disengaged from issues which may affect their own and others’ lives. These concerns relate to wider debates around the political, economic and social consequences for young people growing up in the ‘years of austerity’ in a neo-liberal context, (Generation Z) who have grown up in the years of austerity (Rue 2018). They have been amongst the hardest hit by the exacerbation of existing structural inequalities following the global financial crisis of 2008 when the labour market became increasingly precarious and welfare support was further reduced. Together with individual disadvantages arising from their age, gender, ethnicity or locality, these have helped to fuel young people’s feelings that their voices are often ignored or misrepresented by those in power.

Discussions over whose voices matter in society and why (Couldry, 2010) are certainly not new but the pandemic seems to have given fresh impetus to both individuals and groups to speak up and speak out about their concerns. Young people in particular have recently had some success in seizing the moment to use their voices to attract and hold the attention of policymakers and influencers in society. In this seminar, therefore, we draw on the experiences and insights of our guest speakers to discuss the possibilities for using their Voice to disrupt the normative policy narratives of their lives.


Amerah Saleh is an internationally acclaimed Muslim Yemeni spoken word artist born and bred in Birmingham. She is a leading figure in the Birmingham and UK Poetry scene with a growing reputation across Europe and further afield and the co-founder of Verve Poetry Press which published her first collection ‘I Am Not From Here’ in 2018. Her work touches on identity, womanhood, religion and social justice and she is committed to helping communities and particularly young people find creative ways to voice their concerns and capture the attention of those in power.

Juwairiyyah Wali is currently a programme coordinator on the Don’t Settle project[1] where she works to platform the voices of young People of Colour in the heritage sector. As a young person herself she takes a keen interest in reshaping the narratives told by arts and cultural institutions and is passionate about seeing more young people involved in the processes and decision making that will lead to reformed, representative and accessible arts and heritage spaces.

Jill Robinson is now in the final stages of a PhD funded through the Midlands 4 Cities Doctoral student programme at Birmingham City University. Her research explores the potential negative effects of policymakers’ use of data on young people’s lives and how the creative communication of data derived directly from the lived experiences of young people themselves might be used to counter them.

[1] A collaboration between Beatfreeks, Birmingham City University, Birmingham Museums and the Chance Heritage Trust.