Nurturing the political agency of young people in Aotearoa New Zealand : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Social Policy at Massey University, Manawatū, New Zealand

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Adult-led civic and political contexts play a critical role in shaping the experiences of young people in social and political activism. These contexts are shaped by social and political constructs that continue to regulate youth participatory rights and overlook their contributions in broader contexts. This qualitative-exploratory research explored how young people are developing their political agency through social and political activism. As a qualitative-exploratory study it utilised face-to-face semi-structured interviews to explore young people’s understandings of their political experiences. The data was analysed using thematic analysis informed by a social constructivist theoretical framework and underpinned by relevant literature. The research found that young people’s understandings of the political world were inconsistent with widespread beliefs about their ability to contribute. In contrast, with common misconceptions of their apathy and disengagement, the participants in this study were participating actively in social and political activities within broad civic and political contexts around issues of significance to them. Consistent with findings in other literature, the research also found that social contexts, access to political experiences, and connection to social and political issues of concern to young people were critical in nurturing their political agency. The research findings highlight the need for a shift in the way formal political institutions frame young people’s participation. It also calls for a cultural shift in civic and political settings to consistently provide genuine space for their active participation in these settings. Further research into young people’s lived experiences in these contexts and into different patterns of youth political engagement across various social and cultural groups in society may provide insight in to how best to nurture their political agency and reduce disparities in political participation.