Emma Taylor-Collins

Youth social action: Access and inclusion

Supervisors: Professor John Mohan, Dr Angela Ellis-Paine and Dr Tom Harrison

Emma Taylor, PhD student

In Britain in recent decades, Labour, Conservative and coalition 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.

I am especially interested in how the influences of culture, society, school, family, and peers might affect the ability of girls from low-income backgrounds, who may be at risk of marginalisation owing to their gender, age and family income, to take part in social action over time.  My research questions are:

  • How do girls at risk of marginalisation understand their (non-)participation in social action?
  • How is their potential to participate in social action, and experience of social action, shaped by the marginalisation they may experience?
  • How is their potential to participate and experience of social action shaped by culture, society, school, family, peers and other influences?

My interest in multiple inequalities has led to an intersectional approach to my research, which sees beyond the individual elements of social identities – such as gender, class and race – to show how these elements mutually constitute one another and contribute to the (re)production of social hierarchies and subsequent inequalities in society, often at the level of the individual’s experience.

I am addressing my research questions through a multi-sited, ethnographic study over a period of 6-12 months with around 17 sixth form girls who have previously been eligible for Free School Meals.

I hope that my work will provide an original academic contribution to this field, in particular because studies in this area often explore one inequality rather than multiple inequalities when identifying barriers to involvement. A secondary outcome is the support that the research will give to the youth sector and those involved in supporting the #iwill campaign to achieve its 2020 goal. As such, I hope that the practical implications of this research will be as significant as the theoretical and empirical implications. 


I’m a part-time PhD student in the Third Sector Research Centre (2015-). I’m also Senior Research Officer at the Wales Centre for Public Policy (Cardiff University) and the Alliance for Useful Evidence.

Prior to this, I was Research Associate for the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, seconded to Step Up To Serve. I have also worked for youth charity Free The Children, think tank Credos, and charity English PEN. Until recently I also ran an editorial consultancy, Consult Write, offering proofreading, copywriting and copyediting services.

My volunteering experience includes English PEN, the Global Poverty Project, the Prince’s Trust, and Nobody Ever Told Me About Politics.


BA (Hons), History, University of Warwick

Research interests

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

Professional membership

  • Voluntary Sector Studies Network
  • International Society for Third Sector Research

Conference papers

  • Paper, ‘Working-class girls and youth social action: “hope labour”?’, Youth Action, Activism and Education: Continuities, Changes, and Possibilities, Canterbury Christ Church University, UK (March 2018) – abstract accepted
  • Paper, ‘Working-class girls and youth social action: access and inclusion’, presented at University of Melbourne’s Youth Research Centre PhD study circle, Australia (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, UK (November 2016).
  • Panel convenor and speaker, ‘Journey to 20: Growing the civic core’, Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference, Leeds Beckett University, UK (September 2015).



Email: e.taylor.2@bham.ac.uk

Twitter:  @ETaylorCollins

Linkedin profile