Young People’s Subjecthood in Politics

This report focuses on youth relations with politics in Turkey, where being young in the grip of political, economic, social and ecological crises has become a “difficult task”. It is the result of field research based on four focus groups representing different segments (organized in political parties, organized in NGOs, unorganized and non-students) and a mixed focus group discussion of their intersections. The text of the report and the fieldwork that informs it were conducted by a team of young people to raise awareness about the relationship between young people and politics, and the author of these lines was consulted only at the beginning.

In this study, which covers young people with or without direct or indirect relations with the field of politics, it has been the right approach to include not only student youth, but also working youth, taking into account social diversity. Although students have become quite important in proportional terms and have historically constituted the most dynamic youth group and even the main youth group in sociological terms, the approach that considers youth in plural is correct and necessary in studies that require diversity in the field. Since youth as a social category was constructed with the invention of institutionalized education, when we think of youth, we always think of youth in the process of education and training, whereas even today, only 40% of those who are at the age of university education are university students. The rest are either working or unemployed… Therefore, while looking at the common characteristics of young people on the one hand, the fact that it does not neglect these social categories and deals with youth in its diversity strengthens the content of the report.

The main problem underlying such studies is that the political sphere is not only failing to represent young people, but also failing to establish a dialog with them. Politics in Turkey is still old and male in terms of both representation and perception… While the median age in society is around 30, the average age of MPs in parliament is around 50, and only 8 of them (1.3%) are young. A similar situation applies to the governing bodies of political parties, municipal councils and sometimes even youth branch administrations. The 18-30 age group, which constitutes a large group of voters, has a representation power of only 1%. In other words, young people in Turkey are – in proportional terms – a mass that votes a lot, elects a lot of representatives but is under-represented. The solution to the problems they face depends on institutional politics, but we live in a society where young people are not adequately represented in politics, or even seen as subjects and not even addressed.

Young people are the most important social group affected by Turkey’s economic and democratic problems. Moreover, young people no longer want to be content with just “demanding” solutions to their problems, they want to be involved in the process of solving the country’s problems, they want to play a part. Yet, in the current situation, we are experiencing the opposite. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that young people are not taken seriously enough, that discrimination against young people has become widespread, and that young people are seen as a kind of potential threat, a situation that encompasses all institutional politics and all decision-making mechanisms.

Young people should be seen as political/social subjects, not as vote banks. This can be achieved not by imitating the language of young people on social media, which is always criticised by young people, but by learning the problems of young people from them and finding solutions together. In this context, a radical change of understanding should be made, and it should always be remembered that age differences and usurpation of rights are not based on a natural situation, but on a social construct that excludes young people. As in this study, approaches that prioritise field research that carefully include social actors in micro- and macro-scale studies should become widespread in the academic field. This would be an approach that would contribute not only to the understanding of young people, but also, in conjunction with this, to the transformation of the generational conflict into one that includes dialogue.

The field study that forms the basis of this report consists of three main sections. These are, respectively, young people’s perception of politics, young people’s political participation and the motivations behind young people’s political participation. The discussions around these topics, which constitute the main topics of the focus groups, are included in the report on a large scale, with numerous quotations from the interviews, and provide us with detailed information on the relationship of young people with politics.

Interviewees from different youth groups agreed on a number of points regarding youth perceptions of politics. The first of these is that the interviewees, including young people who are members of political parties, believe that politics is not only practiced in political parties. On the one hand, this shows that there is an awareness that politics has different channels, and on the other hand, the fact that this is also expressed by members of political parties indicates that the field of politics is seen as insufficient in terms of the expectations of young people. However, young people also think that the intervention of institutional politics is necessary to achieve concrete gains. Therefore, it can be said that they understand politics in terms of the necessity of interaction between different fields. On the one hand, young people think that doing politics is stigmatizing; on the other hand, they are distrustful and hopeless towards politics. In other words, the young interviewees heavily criticize and even claim that the field of politics is dominated by ignorance, lies, gender and generational hierarchy, and that it is far from convincing young people, and in a way stigmatize them. Young people expect a new politics and participatory political parties and demand a transformation of the political sphere.

There are especially qualitative criticisms about the level of participation. The lack of transparency in membership processes and the low number of active members were mentioned by young political party members themselves. Again, the interviewees list many factors that restrict youth participation; the fact that young people’s opinions are ignored and they are treated as children, the prevalence of using young people only for chores within the party, the fact that politicians prefer to impersonate young people instead of understanding them, the fact that those in the youth branches are spiritually old people who have turned into miniatures of the main level managers, the lack of parties that can address young people who deserve to participate…. Interviewees believe that for effective and widespread youth participation, political parties need to be transformed radically and youth should be involved in all processes.

Finally, it will be seen that the interviewees listed more demotivating factors that hinder the motivation to participate in politics than positive factors. The interviewees stated that the family, the current social and political environment, the circle of friends, the micro-powers in party organizations, the fact that advancement in politics depends on family relations, the fear of being labeled and future anxiety, the demand for absolute allegiance from the youth, the fact that political parties change their positions and do not provide trust, the fact that they do not understand the youth and only emulate their language, and especially the fact that politics requires financial resources are the factors that obstruct the motivation to participate in politics. As motivating factors, it was stated that the fact that young people constitute an important constituency makes political parties necessarily oriented towards young people, and that the difficulties experienced paradoxically make it necessary to be interested in politics. Some interviewees explained that the importance given to young people in the party and the democratic environment were highly motivating. According to young people, political parties providing a sense of trust and freedom would increase the motivation to participate. In other words, political parties that develop an understanding of “we are all different, we are all equal” and organize their institutional structure accordingly can motivate young people.

This interesting and important study prepared by young people about youth, and therefore realized with great empathy, addresses NGOs and researchers working on institutional politics, public opinion and youth. As we move towards the election process, this text is a call for the transformation of institutional politics in such a way that youth will be subjects, youth participation will increase and youth demands will be included. In a socio-political context where youth are not addressed as social actors, it is important that the demands of the youth are presented by a young person. I hope that the outputs of the report will raise public awareness about young people and their issues, raise awareness in politics and lead to the necessary structural changes so that young people can become more effective actors in politics.


Gençlerin Siyasette Özne Olma Hali (2023)
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