So here we are, the third blog in a series of three. I have set out the process of empowerment and how this is situated within a structure and agency cycle.
In this blog I explain how these are also situated within wellbeing and social justice. Its a lot to take in – it took Lucy and I years of reading, thinking, discussing and gallons of coffee to get here – so take your time and revisit it all a few times.
At the end of the last blog we were here, with the empowerment process sat in the middle of structure and agency:
Lucy and I realised two things and its always hard to know which one to write about first.
One: the link between empowerment, structures, agency and wellbeing.
If a young person lives in highly enabling structures they will probably also have a high level of agency. This would be likely to lead them to feel good and function well (Aked, 2001), which for us, is the definition of wellbeing. Conversely, if a young person lives in highly disabling structures they are likely to experience a low level of agency and consequently feel bad and not function well.
Wellbeing is really complex, it involves individual and social, subjective and objective factors, it combines physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, environmental and financial domains…. and so on. We acknowledge that all of these are important aspects of wellbeing and so we include them all holistically in our description of wellbeing as feeling good and functioning well (you can read more of this in our book).
Through the process of empowerment we can support all young people to have increased agency, and thus wellbeing – particularly those who started life in difficult circumstances. Empowerment, agency and wellbeing and therefore extrinsically linked.
Two: the link between empowerment, structures, agency and social justice.
Young people do not all live in the same structures, some experience more poverty than others, some have more social networks than others, some have better housing than others – and so on. Because different young people live in different structures we can say that their experiences of growing up are not socially just. Empowerment and agency are therefore also not equally distributed and so we need a range of equal and equitable support (i.e. empowerment processes) for young people who have experienced more constraining structures than others.
Social justice is also really complex. It involves the equitable distribution of resources, equal behavioural norms (criminal justice), freedom from discrimination and so on. We therefore come to a place where social justice for us is access of opportunities and resources with freedom. Again, we have a whole chapter on this topic in our book.
There is then, of course, a reciprocal link between social justice and wellbeing. The more wellbeing someone has, the more likely they are to be able to affect social justice – if they feel good and function well they might be up for supporting other people to do the same (they may of course choose to do nothing too!). The less wellbeing someone has – if they feel bad and function badly, they are less likely to be able to affect social justice. As Margaret Ledwith says: “When people have control over what is happening in their lives, their health and well-being improves” (Ledwith, 2011). Social justice also acts back on wellbeing in that the more equitable societies are, the more wellbeing experienced by everyone in that society (Wilkinson and Picket; The Equality Trust, 2018).
As a result, we draw wellbeing and social justice acting on one another around the outside of structure and agency, and the empowerment process:
Fundamentally then, developing the awareness, choices and actions of young people (as per the empowerment process) supports wellbeing and social justice, and acknowledges that young people are situated in societies avoiding victim and demon positioning.
So how does that relate to this blog?
I hope to raise the AWARENESS of young people, parents, practitioners, researchers, councillors, MPS, policy makers, government, helping them to understand some of the social injustices that exist in the UK and how they lead to poor wellbeing. I hope to make them realise that we recreate these unjust structures everyday when we don’t act to make a difference. Inaction is a CHOICE to collude in social injustice. I want to challenge everyone (including myself) to step up, to ACT and make a difference.
I particularly want to show what social injustice and wellbeing looks in Cumbria and Lancashire, where I work and live, in order to support my local communities.
Please send in ideas and comments. Please get involved. Please do your bit, whatever that might look like, to make a difference.