Improving the health and social wellbeing of young people: exploring the potential of and for collective agency

Karen Lorimer*, Rod Knight, Jean Shoveller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
315 Downloads (Pure)


The period of adolescence represents a particularly critical and sensitive phase in relation to health. Emancipatory work on health inequalities and social justice suggests that understanding both social structures and individual human agency have important implications for how public health efforts should seek to improve the health and social well-being of young people. Despite a resurgence of interest in ‘agency’, there has been far less theorising of young people’s agency and agentic practices in relation to health. In this article, we offer our conceptualisations of agency and agency practices, focusing particularly on non-performative and reflexive conceptualisations, which allow for agency and agency practices to be decoupled from one another. We consider forms of collective agency that may catalyse structural change and disrupt existing power relations, and explore how collective agency may have currency in the promotion of health and social wellbeing of young people. Ultimately, to move towards greater health equity and social justice for young people, it’s vital to direct our attention towards a structurally transformative agency. We draw upon Sen’s Capability Approach to firstly suggest the utility of such an approach to expanding our evaluative field to capture agency change and expansions in wellbeing freedom, and secondly as a way to identify policies and collective actions for transformative individual agency. We hope that new thinking in these areas may help fuel collective agency in ways that promote social justice for young people in relation to health and wellbeing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-152
Number of pages8
JournalCritical Public Health
Issue number2
Early online date1 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2022


  • young adulthood
  • health
  • agency
  • Sen
  • capability approach

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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