Emma Taylor-Collins

Youth social action: Access and inclusion

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

Emma Taylor, PhD studentIn 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 plan to address my research questions through a multi-sited, ethnographic study over a period of approximately 9 months with a small number of sixth form girls who have previously been on 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. I’m also a Research Associate for the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at Birmingham, where I’m seconded to Step Up To Serve, the small charity running the #iwill campaign. My current research focuses on what a habit of social action is for young people.

Prior to this, I worked for youth charity Free The Children, where I was responsible for creating educational resources and writing articles and blogs, as well as writing scripts for the charity’s event We Day. I also supported the monitoring and evaluation of their programmes. I also worked for think tank Credos, where I led a number of research studies focusing on young people. My published reports include a project understanding the impact on young women’s body image of airbrushed imagery in advertising. While at Credos I also took a short secondment to English PEN as a winner of the Vodafone World of Difference programme. In my spare time I also run 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

Conference papers

‘Journey to 20: growing the civic core’ (panellist), Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference, Leeds Beckett University, 8-9 September 2015.


Arthur, J, Harrison, T and Taylor, E, (2015)  Building character through youth social action. Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues.


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

Twitter:  @ETaylorCollins

Linkedin profile