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PSP – Denmark

Table of contents 
Model of Upturned Participation

The LEMA project in Denmark

The LEMA project has been formed in Copen­hagen by two enti­ties: Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Copen­hagen and the hous­ing asso­ci­a­tion KAB. They have worked with a group of high­ly mar­gin­al­ized young peo­ple, char­ac­ter­ized by hav­ing lit­tle or no con­nec­tion to edu­ca­tion and ped­a­gog­i­cal offers, have con­tin­u­ous expe­ri­ences with crime and who stay con­tin­u­ous­ly and often in pub­lic space, i.e. young peo­ple who have rich expe­ri­ence using the street and the pub­lic space as alter­na­tives to the exist­ing offers and activ­i­ties. The age ranges from 16–25 and includes both boys and girls.

The main aim of the LEMA project guid­ed the actions car­ried out in Copen­hagen. The phi­los­o­phy of sci­ence and the method­olog­i­cal frame­work used were anchored in the actions of a research tra­di­tion called Crit­i­cal Utopi­an Action Research. We worked with a demo­c­ra­t­ic and par­tic­i­pa­to­ry approach with what we call The­mat­ic Work­shops which are inspired by Future Cre­at­ing Work­shops. The essence of this work is to reflect and ana­lyze with the young peo­ple on their every­day expe­ri­ences with being young in Copen­hagen espe­cial­ly in their local area – what are the options and what are the bar­ri­ers. Hav­ing done this begin­ning, the analy­sis of alter­na­tives and utopi­an ideas on how they would want them when they decide.

The main pur­pose is to bring the ana­lyt­ic work and alter­na­tive ideas into an imple­men­ta­tion of the exper­i­men­tal stage. Turn­ing the pow­er upside down we strive for new solu­tions, but also solu­tions that fit into the young people’s life. In the Dan­ish con­text the wel­fare state is pro­vid­ing their cit­i­zens with social secu­ri­ty, with insti­tu­tions that cre­ate space for their edu­ca­tion, leisure time and their life, but too often these mar­gin­al­ized young peo­ple do not rec­og­nize or are not being rec­og­nized by these wel­fare sys­tems. This project is try­ing to bring a new per­spec­tive to this challenge.

Upturned participation

‘Upturned Par­tic­i­pa­tion’ is a mode of par­tic­i­pa­tion and a plan­ning mod­el where we strive to change the rela­tion­ship of pow­er between the actors. Chang­ing the pow­er, leav­ing more pow­er if not all the pow­er to the ones that usu­al­ly do not have pow­er. In this project the mar­gin­al­ized youth. We will go fur­ther into the mod­el in the para­graph below. Here we want in short terms to lay out the back­ground for this way of work­ing with ‘Upturned participation’.

The inspi­ra­tion comes from the work of Kurt Aagaard Nielsen and Birg­er Steen Nielsen, both for­mer pro­fes­sors at Roskilde Uni­ver­si­ty, (Nielsen and Nielsen 2007). They have built a phi­los­o­phy of sci­ence and a method­olog­i­cal frame­work of action research which is named Crit­i­cal Utopi­an Action Research (CUAR) (Nielsen and Nielsen 2016, Tofteng og Husted 2014). Work­ing with upturned par­tic­i­pa­to­ry process­es is a core ele­ment with­in the CUAR action research tradition.

The tra­di­tion began in 1980 and it is pri­mar­i­ly char­ac­ter­ized by its prac­ti­cal inter­pre­ta­tions of crit­i­cal the­o­ry, a the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work first intro­duced by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno in the 1940’s (Horkheimer and Adorno [1944] 2001, Tofteng and Bladt 2019). The clas­sic crit­i­cal the­o­rist was occu­pied with the rela­tion between sci­ence, knowl­edge and democ­ra­cy, espe­cial­ly under­lin­ing that we need to pro­duce sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge a in col­lec­tive and demo­c­ra­t­ic way, to make sure that sci­ence itself will not be part of cre­at­ing an unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic real­i­ty.
Hence the mean­ing of the­o­ry is turned upside down: The­o­ry as crit­i­cal think­ing should express an under­stand­ing of what is in the light of what ‘should be’ (Adorno 1984, 206 here tak­en from Nielsen and Nielsen 2006, Tofteng and Bladt 2019).

Addi­tion­al to crit­i­cal the­o­ry, the tra­di­tion of CUAR is inspired by oth­er sources and thinkers;

  • One is the work of Kurt Lewin and the focus on democ­ra­cy and participation.
  • Anoth­er is the socio-tech­ni­cal tra­di­tion and the focus on orga­ni­za­tion­al social plan­ning and devel­op­ment and one is future research by Robert Jungk and the work of Ernst Bloch, with the con­cept of utopia from his work with ‘The prin­ci­ple of Hope’ (Bloch 1995; Lewin 1946).

All these inspi­ra­tions cre­ate a the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work that brings a some­what prac­ti­cal turn to under­stand­ing the soci­etal role of social research. An under­stand­ing of not only play­ing the role of crit­i­cal ana­lyst of soci­ety as the clas­si­cal crit­i­cal the­o­rists took, but to play an active reformist role. Par­tic­i­pat­ing in exper­i­ments and devel­op­ments of new futures even though there is a risk of alien­ation of both peo­ple and sys­tems, as the crit­i­cal the­o­rist warned us about (Tofteng and Bladt 2019).

The LEMA project is cre­at­ed on the back­drop of this CUAR tra­di­tion, cre­at­ing new knowl­edge in coop­er­a­tion with mar­gin­al­ized youth across Spain, Swe­den and Denmark.

An impor­tant ele­ment of CUAR is Future Cre­at­ing Work­shops (FCW) a method invent­ed by the Aus­tri­an future sci­en­tists Jungk and Müllert (1984, see also Bladt & Nielsen, 2013; Drewes 2006; Husted & Tofteng, 2007, Bladt og Chris­tensen 2020). Orig­i­nal­ly for Jungk it was a method for cre­at­ing social activism. Apply­ing the method in a research con­text is some­what dif­fer­ent from how this orig­i­nal mode. With­in the frame of a CUAR project it becomes both a method of cre­at­ing action and social activism and a method for knowl­edge pro­duc­tion in a broad­er sense. In the con­text of being research we sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly inves­ti­gate and ana­lyze how changes can be cre­at­ed when draw­ing upon people’s own dis­com­fort, ambiva­lence, and cri­tique regard­ing liv­ing in mod­ern times and their utopi­an ideas. With­in the LEMA project we work with the mar­gin­al­ized young peo­ple with­in the­mat­ic work­shops, inspired by FCW, cre­at­ing both drafts and mock­ups for prac­ti­cal change and exper­i­ment but simul­ta­ne­usly or under­neath this we cre­ate knowl­edge reflect­ing on social and soci­etal development.

Now we will get more spe­cif­ic and reflect on the spe­cif­ic mod­el of ‘Upturned Par­tic­i­pa­tion’ (see fig­ure below). Upturned par­tic­i­pa­tion is pri­mar­i­ly a guide to a more demo­c­ra­t­ic plan­ning process. Like all plan­ning process­es it con­sists of an ini­tia­tive phase (the begin­ning), a plan­ning phase, and an imple­men­ta­tion phase or exper­i­men­tal phase.

In most plan­ning process­es, it is the researcher, the teacher or the cur­rent author­i­ty that has own­er­ship of all three phas­es. This means that it is the cur­rent author­i­ty that ini­ti­ates, plans, and imple­ments a giv­en project, ideas or enter­prise. In mod­ern process­es of cit­i­zen involve­ment, we do see exper­i­ments involv­ing giv­en tar­get groups/citizens at dif­fer­ent stages of the process. In the area of social work it is very com­mon that the cur­rent author­i­ty – admin­is­tra­tion or youth work­er – ini­ti­ates and plans a giv­en activ­i­ty and then invites chil­dren and young peo­ple to par­tic­i­pate in the imple­men­ta­tion phase. For exam­ple, many foot­ball tour­na­ments are planned by pro­fes­sion­als, where­upon the young peo­ple are invit­ed to play in the tour­na­ment itself. Anoth­er pos­si­ble mod­el might be invit­ing young peo­ple to sug­gest activ­i­ties that are then planned by the pro­fes­sion­als, where­upon the young peo­ple are includ­ed once more, when the activ­i­ty itself (a fish­ing trip, a climb, etc.) becomes a real­i­ty (Bladt 2013).

What we want to intro­duce is the term ‘Upturned Par­tic­i­pa­tion’. Our choice of the con­cept ‘Upturned Par­tic­i­pa­tion’ has to do with who we allo­cate author­i­ty (Arn­stein 1969).

Being upturned means that the pow­er is dis­trib­uted to those who usu­al­ly do not have any say in or pow­er over a plan­ning process.
We put the pow­er of ini­tia­tive, plan­ning and exe­cu­tion into this group.

Further Reading

Ditte Tofteng & Mette Bladt (2020): ‘Upturned Par­tic­i­pa­tion’ and Youth Work: Using a Crit­i­cal Utopi­an Action Research Approach to Fos­ter Engage­ment, Edu­ca­tion­al Action Research, 28:1, 112–127, DOI: 09650792.2019.1699843