Unseen and darkly optimistic: young people's civic and political engagement from under the radar

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


In Australia, census data suggests that young people’s civic and political engagement is declining, but how accurate is this? Bringing together two separate studies, this presentation examines how young people’s civic participation, activism and protest are delimited and insufficiently understood by adult-centric notions of participation.

First, drawing on the 2023 Australian Youth Barometer, which surveyed 500 Australians aged 18-24 and interviewed 30 more, we highlight that although climate change is a key issue for young Australians, just 1 in 3 young people believe that climate change will be combated in the future. Building on this, the presentation then discusses a separate study which applied a novel deep learning algorithm to explore how young people expressed climate-focused political positions in a dataset of 14,117 original tweets from 2018-2021.

We relate these two studies to wider research about young people’s perceptions of generational differences and a “dark optimism” about the future. Tensions emerge in how youth activists are characterised by them and “adults” - particularly politicians - in relation to youth environmental and political engagement.

The two studies urge (re)consideration of how adult-centric notions of civic and political participation fail to capture hidden, nuanced, and sometimes intergenerational aspects of young people’s politics.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 25 Mar 2024
EventPolitical Studies Association Annual International Conference 2024: After (Neo-)Liberalism: Towards an Alternative Paradigm? - University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 25 Mar 202427 Mar 2024
Conference number: 74th


ConferencePolitical Studies Association Annual International Conference 2024
Abbreviated titlePSA24
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Politics
  • Civics education
  • Climate strikes
  • Political participation
  • Civic participation
  • Young people

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