Critical Youth Studies Reader

Preface by Paul Willis

by Awad Ibrahim (Volume editor) Shirley R. Steinberg (Volume editor)
©2014 Textbook XX, 566 Pages


This book won the 2014 AESA (American Educational Studies Association) Critics Choice Award.
This reader begins a conversation about the many aspects of critical youth studies. Chapters in this volume consider essential issues such as class, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, cultural capital, and schooling in creating a dialogue about and a conversation with youth. In a society that continues to devalue, demonize, and pathologize young women and men, leading names in the academy and youth communities argue that traditional studies of youth do not consider young people themselves. Engaging with today’s young adults in formal and informal pedagogical settings as an act of respect, social justice, and transgression creates a critical pedagogical path in which to establish a meaningful twenty-first century critical youth studies.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Permissions
  • Preface
  • Foreword: Criticalizing Youth, Youth Criticalizing
  • Critical Youth Studies: An Introduction
  • Part I: Historical and Contemporary Epistemologies of Critical Youth Studies
  • 1 Toward a Critical Theory of Youth
  • 2 Theorizing Young Lives: Biography, Society, and Time
  • 3 Historicizing Youth Studies
  • 4 The Symbolism of Cool in Adolescence and Youth Culture
  • 5 Becoming Revolutionaries: Toward Non-Teleological and Non-Normative Notions of Youth Growth
  • 6 Youth: Multiple Connectivities, New Temporalities,and Early Nostalgia
  • 7 An ‘Evolving Criticality’ in Youth and/or Student Voice in Schools in Hardening Neoliberal Times
  • 8 Foot Soldiers of Modernity: The Dialectics of Cultural Consumption and the 21st Century School
  • 9 No Bailouts for Youth: Broken Promises and Dashed Hopes
  • Part II: Identities: A Métissage Between Indigeneity, LGBTQ, Whiteness, and Diaspora
  • 10 Abandoning Pathologization: Conceptualizing Indigenous Youth Identity as Flowing from Communitarian Understandings
  • 11 See Me, Hear Me: Engaging With Australian Aboriginal Youth and Their Lifeworlds
  • 12 ‘It Gets Better’: Queer Youth and the History of the “Problem of the Homosexual” in Public Education
  • 13 Cross-Cultural Reflections on Gender Diversity in the Earliest Stages of Youth Identity Formation
  • 14 Moving an Anti-Bullying Stance Into Schools: Supporting the Identities of Transgender and Gender Variant Youth
  • 15 Reading the Wallpaper: Disrupting Performances of Whiteness in the Blog, “Stuff White People Like”
  • 16 Targeted by the Crosshairs: Student Voices on Colonialism, Racism,and Whiteness as Barriers to Educational Equity
  • 17 Politics of Urban Diasporized Youth and Possibilities for Belonging
  • 18 Conocimiento: Mixtec Youth sin fronteras
  • 19 From Hijabi to Ho-jabi: Voguing the Hijab and the Politics Behind an Emerging Subculture
  • Part III: Cultures: Navigating Media and Identities, Sports, Technology, and Music
  • 20 Living Hyph-E-Nations: Marginalized Youth, Social Networking,and Third Spaces
  • 21 A Fat Woman’s Story of Body-Image Politics and the Weighty Discourses of Magnification and Minimization
  • 22 “Breaking” Stereotypes: How Are Youth With Disability Represented in Mainstream Media?
  • 23 She’s the Man: Deconstructing the Gender and Sexuality Curriculum at “Hollywood High”
  • 24 Learning Filipino Youth Identities: Positive Portrayals or Stifling Stereotypes?
  • 25 Surprising Representations of Youth in Saved! and Loving Annabelle
  • 26 “He Seemed Like Such a Nice Guy”: Youth, Intimate Partner Violence, and the Media
  • 27 We Don’t Need Another Hero: Captaining in Youth Sport
  • 28 Decolonizing Sport-Based Youth Development
  • 29 Posthuman(ist) Youth: Control, Play, and Possibilities
  • 30 Mediated Youth, Curriculum,and Cyberspace: Pivoting the In-Between
  • 31 Why Is My Champion so “Hot”?: Gender Performance in the Online Video Game, League of Legends
  • 32 Machinima: Gamers Start Playing Director
  • 33 Hip Hop Pedagogies in/for Transformation of Youth Identities: A Pilot Project
  • 34 Punk Rock, Hip Hop, and the Politics of Human Resistance: Reconstituting the Social Studies Through Critical Media Literacy
  • 35 The Breaking (Street Dance) Cipher: A Shared Context for Knowledge Creation
  • Part IV: Praxis: Pedagogies and Schooling, Kids not Talked About, and Activism
  • 36 Redefining the Notion of Youth: Contextualizing the Possible for Transformative Youth Leadership
  • 37 Cultural Studies of Youth Culture Aesthetics as Critical Aesthetic Education
  • 38 “Too Young for the Marches but I Remember These Drums”: Recommended Pedagogies for Hip Hop–Based Education and Youth Studies
  • 39 No Bystanders in Authentic Assessment: Critical Pedagogies for Youth Empowerment
  • 40 Schools as Prisons: Normative Youth Pedagogies
  • 41 Youth Writing: Rage Against the Machine
  • 42 I hope I don’t see you tomorrow
  • 43 Where Are the Mockingjays? The Commodification of Monstrous Children and Rebellion
  • 44 Youth against the Wall
  • 45 Reclaiming Our Public Spaces: Wall of Femmes as a Grassroots, Feminist,Social Action Project
  • 46 From a Culture of Refusal to a Culture of Renewal: Criticalizing Muslim Youths’ Lives Through Calls to Collective Action
  • 47 LGBTQ Youth and the Hidden Curriculum of Citizenship Education: A “Day of Silence” in a Suburban High School
  • 48 Epistemology of Emancipation: Contemporary Student Movements and the Politics of Knowledge
  • About the Contributors

← viii | ix →PERMISSIONS

Chapter 8. Willis, P. (2003). “Foot Soldiers of Modernity: The Dialectics of Cultural Consumption and the 21st Century School.” Harvard Educational Review 73 (3), 390–415. Permission from Paul Willis, copyright 2003.

Chapter 9. Giroux, H. (2011). “No Bailouts for Youth: Broken Promises and Dashed Hopes”. H. ­Giroux, Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism (pp. 89–94). New York: Peter Lang.

Chapter 23. Meyer, E. J. (2011). “She’s the Man: Deconstructing the Gender and Sexuality Curriculum at ‘Hollywood High.’” In Carlson, D. & Roseboro, D. L. The Sexuality Curriculum and Youth Culture (pp. 231–245). New York: Peter Lang.

Chapter 32. Jones, R. (2009). “Machinima: Gamers Start Playing Director.” In Macedo, D. & Steinberg, S. R. Media Literacy: A Reader (pp. 486–491). New York: Peter Lang.

Chapter 34. Malott, C. & Porfilio, B. “Punk Rock, Hip Hop, and the Politics of Human Resistance: Reconstituting the Social Studies Through Critical Media Literacy.” In Macedo, D. & Steinberg, ­S. ­Media Literacy: A Reader. (pp. 582–592). New York: Peter Lang.

Chapter 36: Steinberg, S. (2011). “Redefining the Notion of Youth: Contextualizing the Possible for Transformative Youth Leadership.” In Shields, C. Transformative Leadership: A Reader (pp. 177–206). New York: Peter Lang.

← ix | x →Chapter 44. Gaines, D. (1998). Extracted from Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia’s Dead End Kids. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Permission from Donna Gaines, copyright 1998.

Chapter 47. Wegwert, J. (2011). “LGBTQ Youth and the Hidden Curriculum of Citizenship Education: A ‘Day of Silence’ in a Suburban High School.” In Carlson, D. & Roseboro, D. L. The Sexuality Curriculum and Youth Culture (pp. 108–121). New York: Peter Lang.

← x | xi →PREFACE

After a generation in educational research besotted with neoliberalism, myopic positivism and self-limiting class practice improvement techniques, at last an international team addresses some of the grand questions again understood through the grain of subordinate experience and cultural form, undertaking theorizing conditioned by an understanding from below dominated positions and their everyday pressures. Big questions, critical perspectives, respect for micro experience, ah the relief! Social science needs generative not reductive theory: an element of radical indeterminacy is always necessary to our understanding of social process; there must always be space for subjective elements allowing felt degrees at least of agentive creativity and choice. Too often for grand theorists these latter were merely illusions to be ‘explained’ with exemplifications provided of what has already been decided should be there, no ‘surprises’. This book reminds and renews the theoretical appreciation of a few simple and open-ended generative mechanisms repeating over and over for different groups in wildly different places with different though not un-patterned outcomes.

I see more clearly than ever that I caught ‘the lads’ in England described in Learning to Labour perhaps in the last golden age of working class power, culture and organization in one ‘core’ location and that economic, social, race, nationality and sexual recompositions now sweep through the generations across the nations. I realize how parochial in many ways was my book, a product of its time; that there are quite other ways of ordering, picturing and imagining the giving of labor power, struggling with the need for belonging and the acquiring of identity in many different structural, cultural and institutional contexts. I am struck, though, by a kind of convergence. Desperate the situation may be in poorer countries, but I see in the ‘core’ countries too that a de facto apartheid is developing with liberal arts, critical discussion, open-ness, high expectations for the elite as opposed to rote learning, standardization, low-flying vocationalism with trappings of progressivism as well as a general cynicism and secret disgust for the rest. Perhaps we need new ways of analyzing the globalizing world based not ← xi | xii →on traditional national boundaries but on internationally mediated and organized class systems with rungs of abjection strung ever further out at the bottom of social space.

Material and social conditions change at a colossal pace everywhere. This book gives a wide panoramic view. We face a bewildering new world of contradictory influences, profound crises of the old and tumultuous birth of the new. Through what cultural mediations does the necessary now connect with the voluntary under new conditions and at multiple sites across the world? Though I have little direct experience of or understanding of the many sites covered in this book I am sure of one thing. Critical practices and methodologies, reflexive and comparative theoretical work and debate as offered in this book offer a grounds for understanding the human unfoldings of this colossal historical canvas from the position of youth. At the minimum, and as a pre-condition, critical perspectives stress agency and always insist on a role for subordinated groups in the production of their own cultures and understandings. Crudely, we must always ask, what is the meaning-making from below? Too often profound macro changes are seen in a passive way, described from above in gerunds as if merely automatic, agentless processes—globalization, downsizing, urbanization, modernization, etc. Desperately, urgently, there is a need for the human and ‘practical sense’ view from below. Real social agents live simultaneously, and in the same life space—the dislocations of ‘the void’ together with the recompositions of the social together with economic transformations and state forms of attempting to grapple with and direct social and economic change. Critical perspectives must encompass the inter-twinings of these too often separated worlds as they constitute the practical field on which agents live and act.

In the train of the new relations and the erosion of traditional cultural forms come new possibilities, emergent forms which must be scrutinized for their social possibilities. The new social agents called forth will not usually declare themselves as new social subjectivities, they will not bear self-made public stamps on their foreheads. Often they will only be known through the insulting stereotypes of their social abjection. But this book reminds us absolutely not to miss the theoretically inescapable but often unobserved moments of meaning-making from below. In this book we are reminded of the whole global range of discursive and symbolic resources—traditional, new and market oriented—which cultural production and penetrations can press into service. This book reminds us not to miss the possible assertiveness and confidence of ‘invisible’ or ‘representationally fixed’ groups which produce bottom-end-up, complex changes for all representations of social difference. Social agents can intervene in the symbolic orders of their own social universes. ‘Backward’, ‘anti-social’ and ‘resistant’ cultures or responses can tell us about the larger structural context, of yearnings for social justice and of both the complex creativities and complex submissions of social agents in subordinate and subaltern positions. They teach us about the emerging mismatches and ragged edges between penetrations and reproductions in situated contexts in different parts of the globe.

These issues raise pedagogic questions of the broadest hue. In future circles of these mutual relations how might the balance be switched more to the advantage of the dominated, under what conditions might the penetrations of cultural production be turned into forms of political consciousness/practice and/or mobilized for the interruption, rather than ironic strengthening, of social reproduction? Not only must young people be equipped technically to face the relentless pressures of changing capitalist labor markets, with renewed agitation to divert scarce resources from the elite to the marginal, they must also be equipped and have the means to equip themselves for the tasks of social becoming with full access to critical tools to understand their present situation in historical context as well as for picturing and imagining what could be in achievably different kinds of worlds.

Read this book, liberation may be some way off but you can liberate yourself from the neoliberal agenda.

Paul Willis, Princeton University

January 2014

← xii | xiii →FOREWORD

Criticalizing Youth, Youth Criticalizing

Shirley R. Steinberg


A short foreword to lead into Awad’s introduction to the works of youth workers, teachers of youth, and youth. This book is our first large attempt to reach across disciplines and contexts to bring out those who wish a critical voice in our cultural and pedagogical work with, and for youth. The last phrase is key, for we hope to create a circumstance in which working with youth, becomes a transformative act facilitating empowerment, leadership, and self-efficacy.

When we assembled the book, we realized we had only begun to assemble the voices we want to hear. Starting from our own geographical and personal places, we reached out to scholars whose work reflected the critical and democratic youth work we sought. We acknowledge that much of this volume reflects work and scholarship with North American youth, predominantly English speaking. We acknowledge that for every chapter, there are dozens of chapters that must be written. We acknowledge that for every topic, we did not address many others: caregiver/parental relationships, preparation for youth workers, preparation for youth as workers, romance, wellness and health, and so many genres of culture. We attempted to begin a conversation on how to continue the conversation. This book is the opening sentence to the dialogues, confabs, parlays, tracks, spittin’, and yes, scholarship, pedagogy, and research into a field grounded in social justice which recognizes respects youth.

We invited youth poets to contribute to this work. These young men and women wrote their contributions in their later teen years and have generously offered them to this volume. Shout Outs of thanks and love go to each poet, and to their mentors, Bettina Love, Reenah Golden, Fahima Ife, and Hodari Davis of Youth Speaks and Brave New Voices, youth workers with day jobs who spend the other 16 hours a day understanding and building the potential of youth poet/artists. You will find their poetry hidden within the book’s pages, as respite of verse and vision.

In opening the book, you turned the cover, the mural, I am Hip Hop, which was taken from the front of Maison des Jeunes, Côte-des-Neiges, Montreal. Painted by Shalak Attack, as part of a participative community mural for the No Bad Sound Studio. The first time I met Shalak was when she was ← xiii | xiv →covered I paint at MDJ on a driveway filled with young men and women immersed in learning how to be and do public art. I often return to that day, meeting this fabulous young woman speaking in multiple languages to each artist as they worked with intensity not often seen in schools, youth centres, or homes. Shalak’s work is international, cosmic; feel blessed if you come upon her art—it belongs to us all.

We asked Paul Willis and Donna Gaines to each contribute a piece of their seminal works; they are two writers/youth workers whose work has made a difference—and many, many references in our own work. It is impossible to reconceptualize a critical youth studies without grounding our knowledge with Paul’s lads, and the contextual understanding that class and place create in our work. Donna’s ethnographic/ethnomethodological/hermeneutic/phenomenological journalistic excerpt from Teenage Wasteland hits us with the grit, history, and reality we too often find in youth studies. We appreciate Paul’s and Donna’s time and vision as we put this book together, and Shout them Out with zeal.

We ask you to enter this new conversation, one which demands a criticalization of youth studies, a socially just way in which to engage, facilitate, and promote our most precious resources … our youth.


← xiv | xv →Critical Youth Studies
An Introduction

Awad Ibrahim


Our aim in this reader is to create an architecture of propositions that is not concerned with the question, “Is this youth studies?” But one which asks, “Why are we conducting youth studies and what do we do with it?” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987; Deleuze, 1985; Massumi, 1993).

This architecture of propositions for youth studies directly impacts and is impacted by spaces, concepts, intensities and constructs that are found in different fields of study. These include sociology (especially youth culture), cultural studies (media and pop culture), psychoanalysis (desire and seduction), and anthropology (language, cultural maps, norms and values). We are keen on answering our question pedagogically, “Why are we conducting youth studies and what do we do with it?” We emphasize transformative pedagogy, best practices, and leadership as a way to “think through” (Derrida, 2000) this thing, youth studies. The history of youth studies has always been something that is done to youth. Instead, this reader approaches youth studies as something that we can do with youth (Tilleczek, 2011), or something that youth can do themselves. This is why we distinguish between “youth studies” and the “studies of youth.”

Traditionally, the studies of youth focus on ‘understanding’ youth as a special category, as researchers remain outsiders looking in. Starting in the 1950s, most of the studies of youth were done by sociologists, who reached their peak with the work of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham in the 1970s and early 1980s (Amit-Talai & Wulff, 1995). Be it the work of Talcott Parsons (1964), Stanley Cohen (1972), Jock Young (1974), Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson (1975), Paul Willis (1977) or Dick Hebdige (1979) these studies of youth shifted the ground both epistemologically and empirically from youth as a psychologically categorized deviant group to a group manifesting resistance, rites of passages and temporality. The shift put the study of youth, into a culturally, socially and historically produced category, into a globalized, mediated and creolized category.

However, earlier studies of youth didn’t fully explore the intersectionality of gender, class, race, sexuality and ability and how they impact and are impacted by social structure. In other words, the ← xv | xvi →connections between structure and subjectivity, on the one hand, and the significance of subjectivity, on the other, did not receive much attention; hence the emergence of youth studies. Following Bourdieu (1978), youth studies involves regarding youth as an evolving concept, layered “with values which reflect contemporary moral, political and social concerns” (Jones, 2009, p. 1). For youth studies, youth is a historical category whose contemporary understanding emerged from twentieth-century welfare capitalism and industrialization. That is, through social and educational reform, when child protection laws began to prohibit child employment and education was extended to upper, middle and working classes, youth became a policy question and a life stage that requires an age range, descriptors, and psychological attributes. This apparently arbitrary age division, youth studies argue, is an expression of both manipulation and intergenerational power struggle. It is manipulation because ‘adults’ seem to talk about ‘youth’ as if it were a social unit, with common interests, strengths, and weaknesses at a biologically defined age. It is an intergenerational power struggle because the current negative media representation of young people as dangerous social beings and the resultant moral panic represent the side/site of more powerful and older generations.

A crucial element that is centrally emerging in the literature of youth studies is education. Education is heavily critiqued in youth studies as forcing an “inward movement,” in which young people socialize, interact, and create a culture with groups of their own age. The end result of this forced socialization is a stratified, classed, racialized, gendered, age-specific, and dependent culture. We talk about generation X and Y, generations with their own music, clothes, and sub-countercultural practices that began to distinguish youth. As these practices started to solidify, youth studies argue, “the message of consciousness went with it” (Reich, cited in Jones, 2009, p. 16). Keeping this debate on consciousness and sub/counterculture in mind, one of the big questions in youth studies is whether youth are marginalized by society or whether they marginalize themselves.

In the present volume, we want to hold on to these questions, but we also want to flip the script (as Hip Hoppers like to say). Although the volume stands on the shoulders of giants and is grounded on classic and contemporary youth studies, it pushes the field further. This volume is an attempt to criticalize and name a new field in youth studies: Critical Youth Studies (CYS). Epistemologically, CYS sees youth as action; as a performative category; as an identity that is both produced through and is producing our bodies and sense of self; as an agentive, ambiguous, fluid, shifting, multiple, complex, stylized, and forever becoming category. It is more than a transient, dependent, and age-specific category. Socially constructed (much like the term ‘adult’), youth in CYS are seen as cultural agents ­capable of desire, love, hate, hopes, struggles, language, dress, walk, and so many other social and cultural practices. We use critical to identify the critical theoretical notion that the study of youth is political; the context of being a youth has everything to do with how agencies of power work, and how this work affects young women and men.

To capture these complexities and contradictions, we invited the authors in this book for their expertise in youth studies, and challenged them and ourselves to push what they/we know further. The book contains an intersectionality of youth studies, sociology, anthropology, education, politics, and cultural studies, creating a theoretical grounding. Readers will gain a comprehensive and complete ­understanding of what CYS means on the one hand, and an awareness of the complexity of the new field on the other. Strategically, we do not enter the debate on developmental psychology or the traditional notions of adolescence; and we do not pathologize youth. There actually are few existing works addressing the field of a critical youth studies. To address this gap, the volume also includes seminal works by major figures in the field. The reader contextualizes youth critically through globalization, media, identity, leadership, music, fashion, sports, technology, gender, sexuality, religion, race, class, place, critical pedagogy, or decolonization. We adhere to Bourdieu’s (1978) notion that youth is not just a concept, and make the presumption that Critical Youth Studies is where it will be fully understood. WORD!

The Critical Youth Studies Reader has four major sections, thematically arranged in order to further a conversation on each meta-theme.

← xvi | xvii →Part I
Historical and Contemporary Epistemologies of Critical Youth Studies

Youth, it seems, is a narrative, a strategic, fluid and non-linear story that youth tell themselves and others. It is an organic process of acquiring knowledge about themselves and the world around them, thus making sense of who they are. In a contingent, historicized and postmodern moment, youth is no longer an ascribed identity. No longer, as a result, do youth have to reconcile themselves with their present identities and remain in those identities over their lives, be it through their career, the people they befriend, or the place they live in. Youth is now an identity process in which a story is created about their own lives, where persons use the environment around them and, especially, pop culture to create the story of who they are. Attachments to particular aspects of pop culture no longer completely define a young person as that which is loved can be transient. In a ‘neo-tribal’ spirit, the new social dynamic is now characterized by fluidity, occasional gatherings, and dispersal, especially in a consumer-oriented society (see Maffesoli, 1996). They may be ‘punks’ during teen years, ‘rockers’ during their twenties, ‘post-rockers’ during their thirties, or any number of classifications. This is not a linear process; we can go back and forth. In this process of identity-testing and identity formation, Gill Jones (2009) argues, consumption is an important vehicle for the construction of young people’s lifestyles, and it is largely within the context or in relation to pop culture that young people form their identities in the 21st century.

It is significant to note that youth are not dupes who invest completely and blindly in pop culture to the extent that it subsumes their lives. To the contrary, they are able to locate their identities through personal cultural maps where particular kinds of world culture and pop culture interpellate (Althusser, 1971) them. Here, given the vast number of representations they are introduced to, youth enter a process of identity-testing and taste-testing, thus leaving the scene their own tastes in clothing, music, entertainment, etc. Interestingly, with the abundance of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), youth (just like adults) seek groups of people who have the same tastes in popular culture. Michel Maffesoli (1996) calls these groupings ‘tribes.’ These groupings or tribes are not permanent or fixed. Their transitory nature explains why youth (like anyone else, adults included) are not completely satisfied with sticking to one category. It is not surprising, therefore, that youth will choose or test certain identities (punk, Goth, Hip Hop, hippie, etc.) till they feel loyalty to one brand or identity over another.

This process is situated in a socio-political context where promises are often broken and hopes are dashed. Yet, youth is nothing if not resilient.

Part II
A Métissage Between Indigeneity, LGBTQ, Whiteness & Diaspora

Part II is about how the process of creolization or métissage takes place on the ground; how the global is localized in such innovative ways that it calls for new research and theorization, making the division between the local and the global problematic. “Pratique de métissage” or cultural, linguistic, and musical creolization, Édouard Glissant argues, “is not part of some vague humanism, which makes it permissible for us to become one with the other” (cited in Françoise Lionnet, 1989, p. 4). On the contrary, métissage is a radical concept which refers to “the constant interaction, the transmutation between two or more cultural components [e.g., Indigeneity and Diaspora; or Whiteness and LGBTQ] with the unconscious goal of creating a third cultural entity—in other words, a culture, a new culture. Lionnet (1989) explains, “each one changes into the other so that both can be transformed” (p. 15). Métissage assumes two or more entities that are equally valorized; hence it is an egalitarian hybridity, where ambiguity, multiplicity, fragmentation, and plurality become the new landscape. These entities, however, are not found in complete isolation, as Homi Bhabha (1994) argues, because no form (cultural or otherwise) is “plainly plenitudinous, not only because there are other cultures which contradict its authority, ←xvii | xviii →but also because its own symbol-forming activity … always underscores the claim to an originary, holistic, organic identity …. [Therefore,] the ‘original’ is never finished or complete [and the] ‘originary’ is always open to translation” (p. 210).

Part II deals with horizontal and vertical métissage. Dealing specifically with identity, horizontal ­métissage expresses the explicit ways in which identity is performed and expressed on the body, while vertical métissage speaks to the intensity and depth of that performance. It is worth noting, as the ­authors in this section remind us, not all identity performances and testings are conscious. Indeed, most of youth identity negotiation takes place subconsciously, especially when it comes to desire, identification and consumption. That is why, these authors argue, we need an explicit, activist, anti-homophobic, anti-racist and critical pedagogy and politics, in which youth are able to name their own desires and agency, locate themselves in time and space, and at the same time question the adequacy of that location. Here, communities will not collapse because conscious, contingent, and radical identities are always invented. Identity-building becomes a resilient act when one knows her or his multiple contradictory and contingent selves and lives in that liminal space of the rational and the willful and the irrational and the unconscious.

Part III
Navigating Media and Identities, Sports, Technology and Music

Culture, Raymond Williams (1976) tells us, “is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language. This is so,” he continues, “because of its intricate historical development … but mainly because it has now come to be used for important concepts in several distinct intellectual disciplines and in several distinct and incompatible systems of thought” (p. 87). Even though Williams never tells us what the other two or three words are, Part III of this book testifies to the veracity of his conclusion in regard to culture. From media to sports, from technology to music, one can see the four typologies of culture that Chris Jenks (1993) has identified. Jenks sees culture as 1) a cerebral category or a general state of mind; 2) a state of intellectual and/or moral development in society; 3) a descriptive and concrete category of arts and intellectual work within any one society; and 4) the whole way of life of a people (pp. 11–12).

As a whole way of life, culture has that ambiguous task of being a producer and a product of media, technology, music, and sports (among other things). As a producer, culture is a map on which things make sense to its participants; as a product, however, the actors control its shapes and contours. Culture is similar to the Hip Hop cipha. In the Hip Hop cipha, rules are well known to all participants, but they are unwritten rules. One has to be in the know by either studying or paying very close attention to how dancers dance and battle each other; otherwise, one is doomed to fail. This is also true for students of culture. Culture, Williams (1976) reminds us, is everyday practice and doing; as such, very little is written down. It is a daily, mostly subconscious cultivation of taste, be it in media, sports, music, technology, or anything else.

There is no “nature” or naturalness to the cultivation of taste, especially within Critical Youth Studies. It is a socially and historically produced event, but, Pierre Bourdieu (1984) warns us, since cultivation of taste is also situated within semiotic systems of language, science, and popular arts, it has the potential to be an act of symbolic violence. Whether young people are gamers, Hip Hoppers, or social media users, their bodily and psychic investment is neither neutral nor without a situated politics of desire. This politics creates a double-edged sword: gamers may love gaming, but it is their love of gaming that makes them game. That is to say, similar to Bourdieu’s (1984) notion of habitus, the cultivation of taste becomes the principle that regulates the act, thus creating a direct correlation between the symbolic and the material.

← xviii | xix →When it comes to Critical Youth Studies, we need to uncover these unwritten rules and better understand that which is taken for granted, the habitus. Curriculum, masculinity, disability, bullying, sports, social media, dance, and music all have an epistemic structure of habitus. Part III is an attempt to do precisely that. The contributors’ intent is to break down the unnatural separation of the different fields discussed herein and to intersect the material and the symbolic so that we can hear the voice of youth and understand what they want us to hear.

Part IV
Pedagogies and Schooling, Kids not Talked About, and Activism

We must dare so as never to dichotomize cognition and emotion. We must dare so that we can continue to teach for a long time under conditions that we know well: low salaries, lack of respect, and ever-­present risk of becoming prey to cynicism. We must dare to learn how to dare in order to say no to the bureaucratization of the mind to which we are exposed every day. We must dare so that we can continue to do so even when it is so much more materially advantageous to stop daring —Paulo Freire (1998, p. 3)

There is an urgent need to move from an education that is creating docile, timid, egotistic, and self-absorbed students to an activist education that creates and envisions students as leaders and active citizens who are exceptionally mindful of their local realities yet see these realities as related to global phenomena by which a neoliberal notion of capitalism and global economy is creating casinos out of schools and zombies out of students. We need to envision an education that takes the everyday lived experience of young people seriously and sees the push for testing and standardization as a serious menace that has to be pushed back. Our contemporary system is creating a culturally irrelevant curriculum and prison-like schools. We need students to write and rewrite their own curriculum, that is, their own lives. No one is more of an expert on their lives than young people themselves.

In this sense, as Paulo Freire (1998) reminds us, we need to see teaching as invitational; a form of hospitality where we welcome our students unconditionally; a relation and a labor of love; and a praxis, where the intersection of theory and practice should guide both our teaching and theorizing. Teachers must have humility and be grounded in courage, self-confidence, self-respect, and respect for others. We must live with an insecure security—an existence that does not require absolute answers and solutions—and a lovingness rooted in our commitment to consistently reflect on our practice. This not only requires courage but the willingness to challenge ourselves and others and tolerance founded on ­respect, discipline, dignity, and ethical responsibility. We must maintain a tension between patience and impatience and sustain the joy of living, for which we need a pedagogy of humor in order to genuinely laugh from the bottom of our hearts.


Althusser, L. (1971). Lenin and philosophy and other essays. London: New Left.

Amit-Talai, V., & Wulff, H. (Eds.). (1995). Youth cultures: A cross-cultural perspective. London & New York: Routledge.

Bhabha, H. (1994). The location of culture. London: Routledge.

Bourdieu, B. (1978). La jeunesse n’est qu’un mot. Interview with Anne-Marie Métailié. Les jeunes et le premier emploi (pp. 520–30). Paris: Association des Ages.

Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A social critique of the judgment of taste. London: Routledge.

Cohen, S. (1972). Folk devils and moral panics. St. Albans: Paladin.

Deleuze, G. (1985). Cinema II: L’image temps. Paris: Editions de Minuit.

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. London and New York: Continuum.

Derrida, J. (2000). Of hospitality. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Freire, P. (1998). Teachers as cultural workers: Letters to those who dare to teach. Boulder, CO: Westview.

Hall, S., & Jefferson, T. (Eds.). (1975). Resistance through rituals. London: Hutchinson.

Hebdige, D. (1979). Subculture: The meaning of style. London: Methuen.

Jenks, C. (1993). Culture. London: Routledge.

← xix | xx →Jones, G. (2009). Youth. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Lionnet, F. (1989). Autobiographical voices: Race, gender, self-portraiture. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press

Maffesoli, M. (1996). The time of the tribes: The decline of individualism in mass society. London: Sage.

Massumi, B. (1993). The politics of everyday fear. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Parsons, T. (1964). Essays in sociological theory. New York: Free Press.

Tilleczek, K. (2011). Approaching youth studies: Being, becoming, and belonging. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press.

Williams, R. (1976). Keywords: A vocabulary of culture and society. London: Fontana.

Willis, P. (1977). Learning to labour: How working class kids get working class jobs. Farnborough, UK: Saxon House.

Young, J. (1974). New directions in sub-cultural theory. In J. Rex (Ed.), Approaches to sociology (pp. 23–34). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

← xx | 1 →image


Historical and Contemporary Epistemologies of Critical Youth Studies

← 1 | 2 →CHAPTER 1

Toward a Critical Theory of Youth

Douglas Kellner


Contemporary youth are major players in the postmodern adventure, because it is they who will enter the future and further shape the world to come.1 The offspring of the baby boomers born in the 1940s, their identities are indelibly marked as “post”—post-boomer, post-1960s, posthistorical, postmodern. Yet they live in a present marred by extreme uncertainty, facing a future that is murky and unpredictable. For youth today, change is the name of the game, and they are forced to adapt to a rapidly mutating and crisis-ridden world characterized by novel information, computer, and genetic technologies; a complex and fragile global economy; and a frightening era of war and terrorism. ­According to dominant discourses in the media, politics, and academic research, the everyday life of growing segments of youth is increasingly unstable, violent, and dangerous. The situation of youth is today marked by the dissolution of the family; growing child abuse and domestic conflict; drug and alcohol abuse; sexually transmitted diseases; poor education and crumbling schools; and escalating criminalization, imprisonment, and even state execution. These alarming assaults on youth are combined with massive federal cutbacks of programs that might give youth a chance to succeed in an increasingly difficult world.

Hence, today’s youth are at risk in a growing number of ways, and survival is a challenge. Ready or not, they will inherit a social world that is increasingly deteriorating, and a natural world that is ever more savaged by industrial forces. Yet they also have access to exciting realms of cyberspace and the possibilities of technologies, identities, and entrepreneurial adventures unimagined by previous generations. Contemporary youth include the best-educated generation in history, the most technically sophisticated, and the most diverse and multicultural, making generalizations about the youth in the present day precarious.

To illuminate the situation of contemporary youth, we need a critical theory of youth that articulates positive, negative, and ambiguous aspects in their current situation. A critical theory delineates some of the defining features of the condition of contemporary youth to indicate the ways that they are ­← 2 | 3 →encountering the challenges facing them, and to suggest how these might best be engaged. There is obviously a wide diversity of youth experiences of varying genders, races, classes, sexualities, and social groups, and thus major differences within youth today, as well as what they share in common as a generation. Within the present social situation, there are grave dangers for youth, but also some enhanced freedoms and opportunities. More positive futures cannot be created, however, unless youth are able to achieve a variety of forms of literacy, including print, media, and computer skills and enhanced education (Kellner, 2002, 2004). These abilities will enable youth to cope with a rapidly changing environment, and can help the emergent generations to shape their own future and remake the culture and social world they inherit.

Today’s youth are privileged subjects of the postmodern adventure, because they are the first generation to live intensely in the transformative realms of cyberspace and hyperreality where media culture, computers, genetic engineering, and other emerging technologies are dramatically transforming all aspects of life (see Best and Kellner, 2001). It is a world where multimedia technologies are changing the very nature of work, education, and the textures of everyday life, but also where previous boundaries are imploding; global capital is restructuring and entering an era of crisis, war, and terrorism; while uncertainty, ambiguity, and pessimism become dominant moods.

Consequently, the youth of the new millennium are the first generation to live the themes of postmodern theory.2 Entropy, chaos, indeterminacy, contingency, simulation, and hyperreality are not just concepts they might encounter in a seminar, but forces that constitute the very texture of their experience, as they deal with corporate downsizing and the disappearance of good jobs, economic recession, information and media overload, the demands of a high-tech computer society, crime and violence, identity crises, terrorism, war, and an increasingly unpredictable future. For youth, the postmodern adventure is a wild and dangerous ride, a rapid roller coaster of thrills and spills plunging into the unknown.

From Boomers to Busters

Perhaps the cruelest joke played on our generation is the general belief that if you went to college, you’ll get a job and be upwardly mobile. —Steven Gibb

The prospects for youth have always been problematic, dependent on class, gender, race, nationality, and the concrete sociohistorical environment of the day. Youth itself is a social construct that takes on different connotations at different periods in history. What is striking about the contemporary situation of youth is the totalizing and derogatory terms used to describe them. Youth have been tagged with terms such as the “Postponed Generation,” the “13th Generation,” the “New Lost Generation,” “The Nowhere Generation,” or most frequently, “Generation X,” as well as “the scapegoat generation,” “GenNet,” “GenNext,” and other catch phrases.3 These terms have mainly been applied to the 80 million Americans born between the 1960s and 1980s who follow the “boomer” generation that emerged in post-World War II affluence and who were the beneficiaries of an unprecedented economic expansion. Howe and Strauss (1993) see all of these young people as one cohesive group, yet they nevertheless draw distinctions between the older “Atari Wave,” born in the 1960s and raised on the first video games such as Pac-Man and Space Invaders; the “Nintendo Wave” who played the more advanced Super Mario II and Tetris games; and the “Millennial Generation” born in the 1980s who entered the computer world. While these distinctions serve to distinguish between younger kids and those who are now thirty-somethings and ascending, video games are obviously a poor marker of distinction, and do not adequately delineate important gender, race, sexual preference, and class differences among contemporary youth. Moreover, innovative computer, CD-ROM, and video technologies render video games a decreasingly central aspect of youth culture, hence the term “GenNet” has become a popular phrase to define the current generation. This task of defining today’s youth is best left to the generation in question, so I am here just delineating some categories that others can take up and develop.

← 3 | 4 →Contemporary youth embrace a wide array of young people, including those who helped create the Internet and others hooked on violent computer games; the latchkey kids who are home alone and the mall rats devouring fast food in the palaces of consumption; the young activists who helped generate the antiglobalization and emerging peace and antiwar movements; the cafe slackers, klub kidz, computer nerds, and sales clerks; a generation committed to health, exercise, good diet, and animal rights; as well as anorexics and bulimics in thrall to the ideals of the beauty and fashion industries. Today’s youth also include creators of exciting ‘zines and diverse multimedia; the bike ponies, valley girls, and skinheads; and skaters; gangstas, low-riders, riot grrls, and hip hoppers, all accompanied by a diverse and heterogeneous grouping of multicultural, racial, and hybridized individuals seeking a viable identity.

Certainly, in the age range of fifteen to thirty-something, in young men and women, and in various classes and races, there are important differences to note in an increasingly complex and hybridized “generation,” but they also have crucial things in common. In standard media and sociopolitical representations, youth are pejoratively represented as cynical, confused, apolitical (or conservative), ignorant, bibliophobic, scopophilic, and narcissistic. Young people are typically portrayed in media culture as whining slackers and malcontents suffering from severe Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) induced by MTV, remote-control channel surfing, net cruising, video and computer games, and tempered by Ritalin, Prozac, and the new Drug of the Week. Indeed, the cohorts of American youth over the past couple of decades have been widely stigmatized as “the doofus generation,” “the tuned-out generation,” “the numb generation,” “the blank generation,” “a generation of self-centered know-nothings,” and “Generation Ecch!” From the Right, Allan Bloom (1987) infamously excoriated youth as illiterate and inarticulate adolescents blithely enjoying the achievements of modern science and the Enlightenment while in the throes of a Dionysian frenzy, drugged by music videos, rock and roll, and illegal substances, and ushering in “the closing of the American mind,” the endgame of Enlightenment values. Such jeremiads constitute only the tip of the iceberg of hostility and resentment toward this generation by older generations, reopening a “generation gap” as wide as that between youth of the 1960s and “the establishment.”4

Such negative labels and characterizations of youth are falsely totalizing. They eliminate, for ­example, young political activists and volunteers, bright students in opposition to the values of media culture, and the technical wizards who developed much computer software and pioneered the Internet. Moreover, pejorative characterizations of youth fail to understand that whatever undesirable features this generation possesses were in large part shaped by their present and past; and how the younger generation is an unwitting victim of the economic recession, the global restructuring of capitalism, and the decline of democracy. As Geoffrey Holtz (1995) said of his own generation:

We are, perhaps more than any previous generation, a product of the societal trends of our times and of the times that immediately preceded us. The years in which we were raised—the sixties, seventies, and eighties—saw unprecedented changes in the political, social, and economic environment that, for the first time in American history, have made the future of society’s young members uncertain. (p. 1)

There is no widespread agreement concerning what concepts best characterize contemporary youth. During the 1980s and into the 1990s, the term, “Generation X,” popularized by Canadian writer, Douglas Coupland (1991), has been widely adopted. The “X” could signify the crossroads upon which the present generation stands between the modern and the postmodern. It suggests an unknown and indeterminate future, a fluidity of identities that are being redefined by new technologies and cultural experiences, and a situation of uncertainty and social chaos. Yet, if one needs a label to characterize this generation, then perhaps not “Generation X,” which is vague and widely rejected by those it is supposed to characterize,5 but “post-boomers” and “millennials” are preferable, because contemporary youth are the successors to those Americans born between 1945 and 1960, and their identities in large part are shaped in reaction to them and their times, and they are now the denizens, products, and ­← 4 | 5 →potential movers and shapers of a new millennium. Moreover, contemporary youth are the first generation to grow up in the post-1960s Cold-War era, characterized by the unfolding of the postindustrial society and postmodern culture, and have been living in the tensions and conflicts of the “post.”

The post-boomer generation could also be labeled as “busters,” for with this generation the ­American dream, enjoyed by many boomers, went bust, and they were thrown into a world of ­uncertainty, disorder, and decline. The baby boomers came of age during the optimism which followed World War Two, with the rise of suburbia, cheap education, good job opportunities, abundant housing, the Age of ­Affluence, and the exciting and turbulent events of the 1960s. Their children, in contrast, matured during more troubled times marked by recession, diminishing expectations, and the conservative reaction led by Ronald Reagan and George Bush Senior, an explosion of shallow greed and materialism, followed by the excitement of the explosion of new technologies, and talk of a “new economy” and dot.com boom in the 1990s rapidly followed by a dot.bust and hard times in the Bush-Cheney era.

The e-boom was a boom period for youth and by youth, and quite significant for this reason. In the 1990s, the Internet and the explosion of information technologies created new jobs, almost-unheard-of wealth, and seemingly unlimited possibilities for youth. Though ballooned out of proportion by the financial industries, the Internet boom represented a new economy led by a young vanguard. Yet the economic crisis that came at the end of the Bush-Cheney era dashed many of these hopes, and was ­accompanied by the mortgaging of a generation forced to take out unprecedented levels of student loans because a Republican antistatist ideology refused to invest in its future, forcing many contemporary youth to be slaves of the past.

In retrospect, the Bush II regime can be seen in many ways as a return to the old guard, the old extraction-based economy that sees economic advancement as a win-loss game best advanced through imperialist expansion—a shift from the consumer-, innovation-, and service-driven economy that ­envisioned (at least) a win-win global economy based on national comparative advantage and world trade. It was big oil and wars fought on its behalf and the almost booming military-industrial sector that characterized the Bush-Cheney Gang, along with stealing billions from federal coffers under the guise of tax breaks for the wealthiest, that constituted an incredible shifting of wealth to the biggest Have Mores, at the cost of stealing possibilities from the young. Thus, the restoration of the old, conservative order in the opening years of the new millennium is also an attack on contemporary youth, which also has the flavor in many ways of revenge on the young and more progressive on behalf of conservative elders (it is too soon to say if the Obama years can be seen as a revenge of the young in reaction to the attacks on youth of the Bush-Cheney years, or just more of the same under a liberal and multicultural guise).

Moreover, dramatically worsening social conditions in the new millennium emerged following the September 11 terrorist attack on the US and the subsequent “war against terrorism.” After declaring war against an “axis of evil” in his 2002 State of the Union speech, in early 2003 Son of Bush assembled his father’s Legion of Doom and a gigantic military machine to wage war against Iraq in an unfolding millennium of perennial war, one that will sacrifice another generation of youth, an intervention that intensified a war that went on in Iraq until the Obama administration and a war in Afghanistan still ongoing that has killed hundreds of thousands, cost trillions, and produced paroxysms of blowback (see Kellner, 2003 and Scahill, 2013). Hence, while post-boomer youth faced a life that was more complex, insecure, risky, and unpredictable than boomer youth, today’s youth face even more dangerous and anxious times, with threats of terrorism, war, and large-scale apocalypse on the horizon, as the global economy sputters, possibilities for a better life diminish, and climate change and the dangers of ecological collapse increase to an alarming extent.


XX, 566
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2012 (December)
class sexuality ethnicity social justice schooling
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. XX, 566 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Awad Ibrahim (Volume editor) Shirley R. Steinberg (Volume editor)

Awad Ibrahim is professor of Education, University of Ottawa. He is a curriculum theorist with special interest in cultural studies, Hip Hop, youth, and Black popular culture, social foundations (philosophy, history, and sociology of education), social justice and community service learning, diasporic and continental African identities, ethnography, and applied linguistics. He has researched and published widely in these areas. Among his books are The Rhizome of Blackness: A Critical Ethnography of Hip-Hop Culture, Language, Identity and the Politics of Becoming (Peter Lang, 2014); Provoking Curriculum Studies: Strong Poetry and the Arts of the Possible (2014) with Nicholas Ng-A-Fook and Giuliano Reis; Global Linguistic Flows: Hip-Hop Cultures, Youth Identities and the Politics of Language (2009) with Samy Alim and Alastair Pennycook. Shirley R. Steinberg is research chair and professor of Youth Studies and director of The Werklund Foundation Centre for Youth Leadership in Education at the University of Calgary. Her most recent books include: Critical Qualitative Research Reader (2012); Kinderculture: The Corporate Construction of Childhood (2011); Teaching Against Islamophobia (2011); 19 Urban Questions: Teaching in the City (2010); and the award-winning Contemporary Youth Culture: An International Encyclopedia with Priya Parmar and Birgit Richard (2005). She is a national columnist for CTV News Channel’s Culture Shock and a regular contributor to CBC Radio One, CTV, The Toronto Globe and Mail, The Montreal Gazette, and the Canadian press. The organizer of The International Institute for Critical Pedagogy and Transformative Leadership, she is committed to a global community of transformative educators and community workers engaged in social justice, and the situating of power within social and cultural contexts. Freireproject.org


Title: Critical Youth Studies Reader