Tanya Brann-Barrett

Engaging with Youth & Communities

What Does Civic Engagement Look and Sound Like To You?

Post-industrial communities need their youth just as youth need their communities. When faced with an uncertain future how do youth experience civic engagement in their communities, and how can communities support their involvement?

Tanya Brann-BarrettThat’s what Dr. Tanya Brann-Barrett, faculty member of the CBU Communication Department, will address with her research program entitled “The Learning Significance of Place-based and Virtual Communication Networks in How Young People Living in Disadvantaged Regions Experience Civic Engagement.” She was recently awarded a three year Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC)standard grant to conduct her research.

Dr. Brann-Barrett loosely refers to civic engagement as ways people participate in activities that they consider beneficial to their local community and/or broader society. This media arts-based qualitative research study examines ways older youth (16-28) living in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) learn about, experience, and understand civic engagement,” she says.

Dr. Brann-Barrett has great respect for youth and enjoys working with them through community and school-based workshops where she helps them develop communication skills. She notes that many young people are immersed in the communities where they live and in on-line communities where they interact. However, with constant changes in the ways youth communicate in-person and on-line, community engagement is also changing. She says it is not always easy to recognize ways many youth use communication tools such as visual and performing arts, music, and social media to voice their views and contribute to their society. To address this issue, Dr. Brann-Barrett will conduct a qualitative study which includes asking youth to use media-arts based communication tools such as photography, music, and graphic images to help share their ideas about civic engagement. She will also interview local youth artists and community advocates who use new media to ‘get involved’. 

Dr. Brann-Barrett’s research goes beyond local boundaries. The South Wales Valleys is a former mining region where de-industrialization began earlier than in Cape Breton.  While youth disengagement is a concern, some researchers and community workers note that many Welsh youth engage with their communities through media and arts, as do many youth in the CBRM. Dr. Brann-Barrett is working with international researchers to determine what we can learn from each others’ post-industrial experiences and how education and policies can support civic engagement that is meaningful to youth and communities. 

“This research may provide youth with opportunities to develop their media arts-based communication skills; broadening their capacity to express their civic views,” she says.More specifically it may help youth get involved politically and provide educators and policy-makers with insight into how youth perceive civic engagement.

Dr. Brann-Barrett is thrilled to have students working with her over the next three years as she loves learning with them in the classroom and the research field. The student assistants are involved in all stages of the research process from gathering literature, helping to recruit participants, to helping to create online and place-based exhibitions of the work created throughout the study.

When not researching, teaching or conducting workshops, Dr. Brann-Barrett is a marathon runner who, with her husband Billy and their two teenage sons, volunteers as a running coach for new runners of all ages and local athletes, especially kick boxers.