‘Ethical, Informed Citizens of Wales and the World’: Researcher Blog by Catrin Edwards-Greaves

by Catrin Edwards-Greaves, Cardiff University and WCIA Heritage Placement

What does Welsh curriculum policy mean to the general public, and how does it relate to experiences of community participation during the pandemic?

Civil Society in Action: Volunteers helping create a community garden

What do you see when you look at this picture (right)? Perhaps you have experiences of protecting your local environment, helping out at a national event, or volunteering on a farm abroad? Would you consider these experiences as being ‘civil’ or ‘political’? What do these terms mean?

I’ve spent the last year not entirely staring at a screen, but also studying towards a Masters degree in Social Science Research Methods at Cardiff University. In this blog, I give you an exclusive sneak peek into my dissertation research.  You’ll find out how identity is important to community participation in Wales, and how some unexpected methods can help researchers to explore this current topic. 

“The glue that holds society together”

Dr. Michael Woods, WISERD

I’m researching ‘Civil Society’.  Being ‘civil’ is not just about trying no t to swear when your zoom connection fails.It’s that gap between our private lives and political institutions where we take an active part in communities. This could be through churches, charities, schools, or interest groups. I don’t think that being ‘political’ just means voting. I think that civil society is important too.

Why is academic research into Civil Society important?

Cardiff University is a leader in the study of Civil Society. Over the past few years, research projects from Cardiff have helped to:

  • Develop strategies for tackling youth unemployment (Pearce 2020)
  • Understand issues in developing a new curriculum for Wales (Newton et al 2019)
  • Demonstrate the links between volunteering and wellbeing (Fox 2019).

This shows that academic research can have positive, real world impacts.

Why study this now?

In 2020, the Senedd was recognised as a fully-fledged parliament, and in 2021, 16-18 year olds will have their say in Senedd elections for the very first time. This makes research into political participation in Wales a hot topic. But I think that it’s a big leap from not having a voice to suddenly becoming the next political pundit. So, I’m interested in less official political participation in everyday life. I hope to build on this work by showing the importance of Civil Society to this pertinent topic. 

Why are you studying Social Sciences if you’re interested in Politics? 

How have the Welsh Government’s efforts to handle the pandemic made you feel?  Did this increase your sense of ‘Welsh’ identity?

Sociology can help us to examine identity (Mills 1959). Political sociology is the study of power.  I think that ‘civil society’ is ‘political’ because power is important in everyday life too. There’s  been a recent cultural turn in political sociology where research has focused even more on identity and cultural symbols (Eklundh and Turnbull 2015). I want to apply sociological ideas about identity to politics, because I can see how these topics are intertwined in everyday life. 

Why are you interested in young people?

“The stereotype of young people being politically disengaged is based on a narrow view of what is ‘political’”

Roker et al (1999)

I want to turn this stereotype on its head, because I don’t think that it’s entirely accurate.  Some researchers have only considered ‘official’ participation such as voting when studying young people’s political participation. But there has been a rise in ‘unofficial’ political participation (Pickard 2019). This concept needs further clarification (Pitti 2018). 

Examples of ‘unofficial’ political participation 

Young people in Wales are active in ‘unofficial’ politics like volunteering and charity work, but in other countries such as France, they are more involved in activism and campaigning. Why these differences? They could be down to ‘cultural repertoires’ (Power 2020). 

[A cultural repertoire is] a set of … symbols, which provide the materials from which individuals and groups construct strategies of action

Swidler (1986:280-284)

So, I want to examine what ‘cultural repertoires’ young people in Wales draw upon when they take part in civil society, and how they relate to ideas about citizenship articulated in Welsh Government policy. I’ve chosen a purpose of the new curriculum for Wales, implemented from 2022: ‘Ethical, Informed Citizens of Wales and the World’ ( Curriculum for Wales 2015).

Because the curriculum is being implemented from this year, I wanted to find out what young people think this purpose means. I hope that my research can help to gain insight into the importance of  identity for young people’s political participation: What does it mean to be ‘ethical’? What does it mean to be ‘informed’? What does it mean to be a good citizen of Wales? What does it mean to be a good citizen of the World?

Designing a Dissertation

First, I needed to understand how the Welsh Government talks about being an ‘ethical, informed citizen of Wales… To do this, I conducted a policy literature review. I drew out themes used by the Welsh government when they talk about this curriculum purpose. I found that in policy documents, ‘Ethical’ relates to ideas of equality and sustainability in terms of environmental impact and working practices. Being ‘ Informed’ meant being able to think critically and creatively, and engaging with contemporary issues. Being a citizen of ‘Wales and the World’ meant taking a ‘ Welsh’ response to global challenges, such as how Wales is a ‘Nation of Sanctuary’, responding to the needs of refugees.

Following this, I developed a literature review, investigating what academic research had to say about all this. I decided to focus on research with women, because feminist research had some interesting things to say about what citizenship means, taking into account different contexts such as family and informal settings (Jackson 2016). But which methods did I choose for my research?

Does this look like academic research to you?

Researchers at Cardiff University have used creative methods to study:

  • The experiences of children in care (Mannay et al 2020)
  • Chronic illness (Bates 2019)
  • National Heritage (Dicks 2019)

This shows that being creative can get us talking about identity, whether it relates to place, upbringing or health. I built on this by drawing on my previous life as a museum workshop facilitator  to deliver creative workshops via Zoom. This included asking participants to make zines ( home made magazines) and mind maps exploring concepts. I focused on how people make meaning from interactions in their everyday lives (Hein 1998). Inspired by this, I used methods like drawing and creative writing to get people talking. I recruited participants from voluntary organisations reflecting themes from my policy review, such as volunteers working on equality or  environmental issues.

What did you hope to find out?

I hoped to generate and analyse some rich and interesting data. This includes conversations and stories about work produced in the workshops. This will help me to  explore the cultural repertoires participants use to participate in civil society. Thematic analysis will  shed light on how this links local, global or  international identities.  For example, a participant might discuss how volunteering for a charity in a Welsh-speaking area of Argentina is linked to both their Welsh heritage and sense of global citizenship

What did I find out?

Mind map made by a participant exploring concepts related to being an ethical informed citizen of Wales and the World, such as connecting with neighbours and linking local and global contexts.

My research revealed that whilst participants had some difficulty with terminology used by the Welsh government in policy documents, they did support and relate to some of the ideas articulated in policy. A main difference was the role of emotion: Participants talked about ‘feeling’ part of a community of volunteers, and having ‘feelings’ around what was ethical or right and wrong. Another difference between my findings and ideas articulated in policy is that my participants didn’t talk very much about Welsh identity when discussing their participation in volunteering. They talked mostly about global issues and linked global events to their everyday lives, not national Welsh contexts. My participants talked about a great range of contexts, from helping siblings with schoolwork to managing festivals about global issues.

What next?

I hope that findings from my research  could make participation in civil society more accessible for young people. Helping organisations to understand their identities could be useful in making  opportunities more relevant, such as: Focusing on informal contexts as well as formal volunteering through organisations; Linking local and global issues to make world events relatable. My research could also help me in my future career by developing my skills in delivering research projects online. Finally,  it could demonstrate the benefits of using methods from museum practice in research work. I’m currently working towards a PhD at Cardiff University exploring how heritage buildings such as the Temple of Peace can be used as resources for citizenship education… watch this space!

Tell me more…

I’d love to chat about my research.  You can contact me via : Greavescm1:Cardiff.ac.uk


Bates, C. 2019. Vital bodies : living with illness. Bristol: Policy Press.

Dicks, Bella 2019. Industrial heritage as place-making – the case of Wales. In: Berger, Stefan ed. Constructing Industrial Pasts: Industrial Heritage Making in Britain, the West and Post-Socialist Countries, Oxford: Berghahn Books,

Eklundh, Emmy and Turnbull, Nick 2015. Political sociology. In: Bevir, Mark and Rhodes, R. A. W. eds. Routledge Handbook of Interpretive Political Science, London: Routledge, pp. 298-308. (10.4324/9781315725314-30)

Fox, S. 2019. Volunteering and its Effects on Social Capital and Wellbeing in the UK: Insights from the United Kingdom Household Longitudinal Study. WISERD, Cardiff University. Available at: https://wiserd.ac.uk/publications/volunteering-and-its-effects-socialcapital-and-wellbeing-uk-insights-united-kingdom [Accessed: 22 April 2021].

Hein, G.E. 1998. Learning in the museum. London ; New York: Routledge.

Jackson, L. 2016. Intimate citizenship? Rethinking the politics and experience of citizenship as emotional in Wales and Singapore. Gender, place and culture: a journal of feminist geography 23(6), pp. 817–833. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/0966369X.2015.1073695.

Mannay et al, D. 2015. Understanding the Educational Experiences and opinions, attainment, Achievement and Aspirations of Looked after Children in Wales. Welsh Government Social Research. Available at: https://www.exchangewales.org/lace/ [Accessed: 22 April 2021].

Mills, C. Wright. 1959. The sociological imagination. New York: Grove Press. Newton, N. et al. 2019. Successful Futures for all: Explorations of Curriculum Reform. WISERD, Cardiff University. Available at: https://wiserd.ac.uk/publications/successfulfutures-all-explorations-curriculum-reform [Accessed: 22 April 2021].

Pearce, S. 2020. Civil society approaches to tackling youth unemployment: a sub-state analysis of the UK. Cardiff University. Available at: https://wiserd.ac.uk/publications/civilsociety-approaches-tackling-youth-unemployment-sub-state-analysis-uk [Accessed: 22 April 2021].

Pickard, S. 2019. Politics, protest and young people : political participation and dissent in 21st Century Britain. New York: Palgrave Macmillan Ltd.

Pitti, I. 2019. Youth and unconventional political engagement. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Power, S. 2020. Civil society through the lifecourse. Bristol Policy Press. Roker, D. et al. 1999. Young People’s Voluntary and Campaigning Activities as Sources of Political Education. Oxford Review of Education 25(1-2), pp. 185–198. doi: 10.1080/030549899104206.

Swidler, A. 1986. Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies. American Sociological Review 51(2), pp. 273–286.

 WISERD 2019. How would you define civil society? Available at: https://www.facebook.com/WISERDNews/videos/770390023444388 [Accessed: 22 April 2021]. All stock images from Unsplash.com

Catrin Edwards-Greaves, Cardiff University and WCIA Heritage Placement