Emma Taylor-Collins

Girlhoods and youth social action: an intersectional approach to working-class girls’ participation

Supervisors: Professor John Mohan and Dr Angela Ellis-Paine 

Emma Taylor, PhD student

My PhD is an ethnographic study of the social action experiences of 17 girls from low-income backgrounds at three schools in London.

In Britain in recent decades, Labour, coalition and Conservative governments have promoted youth participation in social action – activities such as volunteering, campaigning, and fundraising. The last 15 years have seen the introduction of Citizenship to the National Curriculum in 2002; the establishment of initiatives such as vInspired, following the 2005 Russell Commission into youth volunteering; the government-backed National Citizen Service set up in 2010; and cross-party support for the #iwill campaign, launched in 2013 and aiming to increase the number of 10-20 year olds involved in social action by 2020. Initiatives such as these aim to widen youth participation in social action across society, by increasing the number of opportunities available and highlighting evidence of the positive benefits of youth social action for society as well as for the individual participant. However, evidence from the #iwill campaign suggests that young people from wealthier backgrounds participate more than those from less affluent backgrounds. While it is often thought that girls are more likely to volunteer than boys, in fact the #iwill data show that this is not the case for girls from low-income backgrounds, who participate about the same amount as boys from low-income backgrounds, but significantly less than their more affluent female peers.

Focusing on girls from low-income backgrounds, I work with theories of girlhood and intersectionality to show how discourses around the ‘good girl’, the ‘successful girl’, and the ‘authentic girl’ are reinforced by expectations of girls’ participation in social action. I take an intersectional approach to this study focusing on gender, race, class, and age, recognising that ‘people’s lives and the organisation of power in a given society are better understood as being shaped not by a single axis of social division, be it race or gender or class, but by many axes that work together and influence each other’ (Hill Collins and Bilge, 2016, p. 2). Based on interviews with the girls, and with their teachers, parents and others who influence their involvement in social action, and observations in and out of school over several months, I applied a domains of power framework (Hill Collins, 2000) to my research design to explore the girls’ participation across the interpersonal, structural, disciplinary, and cultural domains.


Hill Collins, P. (2000) Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. 2nd edn. New York, NY: Routledge.

Hill Collins, P. and Bilge, S. (2016) Intersectionality. Polity.


I’m a part-time PhD student in the Third Sector Research Centre. I’m also Senior Research Officer at the Wales Centre for Public Policy (Cardiff University) where I lead social justice projects for the Welsh Government and Welsh public services on issues such as gender equality, looked after children, and social security.

Prior to this I was Research Associate at the University of Birmingham, seconded to Step Up To Serve, the charity coordinating the running the #iwill campaign. My background is in the charity sector and I have a First Class BA (Hons) in History from the University of Warwick.


First Class BA (Hons), History, University of Warwick

Research interests

  • Youth volunteering
  • Youth social action
  • Inequality
  • Intersectionality
  • Girlhood studies

Professional membership

  • Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN)

Conference papers

  • ‘Power, resistance, and youth social action: an intersectional approach to working-class girls’ participation’, Youth activism, engagement and the development of new civic learning spaces, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest (June 2019)
  • ‘Coping with the cuts? Welsh councils’ perceptions of austerity’, NISPAcee Annual Conference: From policy design to policy practice, Charles University, Prague (May 2019)
  •  ‘Working-class girls and youth social action: “hope labour”?’, Youth action, activism and education: Continuities, changes, and possibilities, Canterbury Christ Church University (March 2018)
  • ‘Working-class girls and youth social action: access and inclusion’, presented at University of Melbourne’s Youth Research Centre PhD study circle, Melbourne (November 2017)
  • Co-organiser and co-chair, ‘Youth social action: What do we know about young people’s participation?’, VSSN day seminar, University of Birmingham (November 2016).
  • Panel convenor and speaker, ‘Journey to 20: Growing the civic core’, Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference, Leeds Beckett University (September 2015).


  • Lamb, M., Taylor-Collins, E., and Silverglate, C. (2019), ‘Character education for social action: Conceptualizing and cultivating a habit of social action’, Journal of Social Science Education, 18(1): 125-152.
  • Taylor-Collins, E. (2019), ‘Working-class girls and youth social action: “hope labour”?’, Third Sector Research Centre working paper 144, https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/college-social-sciences/social-policy/tsrc/hope-labour.pdf.
  • Taylor-Collins, E., Harrison, T., Thoma, S., and Moller, F. (2018), ‘A habit of social action: understanding the factors associated with adolescents who have made a habit of helping others’, Voluntas, 30: 98-114.


Email: Elt443@bham.ac.uk

Twitter:  @ETaylorCollins