Positive Recognition

(In Finnish: Myönteinen tunnistaminen)

Jouni Häkli & Kirsi Pauliina Kallio & Riikka Korkiamäki 


Positive Recognition is a theoretically informed practical approach that seeks to bring new insights to the advancement of wellbeing among children and young people and to the prevention of youth marginalization. It has been developed in academic research projects in close collaboration with professionals and practitioners who work with children and young people in different institutional contexts and in various occupational roles. The approach is based on the understanding that giving and receiving respect is one of the pillars of human life. People may feel accepted and included in all kinds of situations, environments and communities, and therefore these experiences can also be actively promoted almost anywhere. 

As an operational principle, Positive Recognition sets out to strengthen dignity and inclusion in people’s everyday environments. Drawing from theories of recognition, it acknowledges that care and respect in personal relationships, participatory inclusion in everyday communities and respect for equality and difference in society are imperative to the development of self-confidence, self-esteem and self-respect. The human capacities to care, respect and give acceptance provide for meaningful active agency that may unfold in different contexts of private and public life. Positive Recognition can hence be considered one of the important drivers of democracy.

This book introduces Positive Recognition as an aspect of professional work with children and young people. It suggests an alternative way of thinking about the wellbeing and marginalization of children and young people, as well as a practical approach to how children and young people can be supported by professional means. Rather than a method or model, Positive Recognition is about understanding, exposing and engaging with everyday communal dynamics. It is appreciated primarily as an intuitive mode of operation that can be strengthened in institutional environments where children and young people spend much of their time. 

The practices of Positive Recognition are mobilized within communities that are meaningful in the everyday lives of children and young people, instead of inviting them into separate supportive projects or environments. Empowerment in their communities of importance is considered vital to their wellbeing and to the prevention of youth marginalization. As a supportive measure, Positive Recognition is directed at all children and young people, including individuals with specific problems who may derive particular benefit from it. It leans on the dynamics of recognition, including the elements of familiarization, esteeming and support. The approach takes a normative stand towards the power-knowledge relations that tend to place children and young people in subordinate positions and dependent roles. Practicing Positive Recognition requires that all parties involved accept equality as a basic principle and difference as a dimension of humanity. On these grounds, professional practices bring together people who view themselves as equals with differing needs, strengths and weaknesses.

The book presents results from multidisciplinary research work carried out by the Space and Political Agency Research Group (SPARG) at the University of Tampere. This long-standing research has been funded through projects entitled “Preventing children’s marginalization through place-based participation” (2010–2013) and “Early recognition in curbing the marginalization risk of children and youth” (2013–2015) as part of the Academy of Finland Research Programme on the Health and Welfare of Children and Young People (Skidi–Kids). The studies involved more than a hundred girls and boys aged eleven to sixteen, and a large group of professionals from various fields. Some of the professionals are involved in this book as authors.

The book begins with an introduction that presents the concept of Positive Recognition. This is followed by four sections. The first three discuss the dimensions of familiarization, esteeming and support, each including an empirically grounded research article and three professional contributions. The final section assesses Positive Recognition from the perspectives of public administration, youth policy and youth work. The book is intended for professional communities and future professionals working with children and young people, and for administrative personnel dealing with childhood and youth issues. The approach can also be implemented in other institutional contexts.