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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Cultivated participation : the political pathways and cultural models of young Canadians McCollum , Erica


Traditional forms of political engagement, such as voting, have been on the decline in many western nations over the last number of decades, and researchers point to younger generations as driving these changes. This dissertation seeks to deepen our understanding of the relationship young Canadians have to political participation and engage with some of the questions raised by these trends. I do so through capturing the cultural models young people use to relate to political participation, and by identifying the common trajectories and experiences of people who do and do not engage with politics. I give particular attention to the role of higher education in these trajectories, as education has long been identified as strongly related to political participation. Yet the steady rise of education attainment along with stagnating or declining participation rates, has prompted closer examination of this relationship. Cultural models that young people use to think about politics and participation, and particularly the potential role of individualist orientations that some researchers have identified as driving changing relationships to participation, are also explored in this research. This study draws from 63 semi-structured interviews with young Canadians who went to high school in low, mid, and high SES areas of Vancouver. I suggest that political engagement is primarily fostered through social contexts where such engagement is produced as natural and desirable. The family appears to play the most important role in creating such contexts, but social networks, as well as schools and workplaces, also play a role in people’s trajectories of participation. I argue that people in higher SES backgrounds are more likely to experience overlapping contexts that promote political participation, and that the impacts of higher education are mediated by previous political experiences. Finally, by outlining the common cultural models of participation, I point to the role of individualist models in producing contingent and specialized relationships to participation. I argue that one prominent model participants use to think about participation, a ‘model of interest,’ tends to help further produce politics as a specialization for those with the existing dispositions and experiences with politics.

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