Becoming Activist

Critical Literacy and Youth Organizing

by Elizabeth Bishop (Author)
©2015 Textbook IX, 135 Pages


Becoming Activist is a revolutionary study of youth human rights activism and literacy learning. The book follows five urban youth organizers from the Drop Knowledge Project in New York City. Intentionally polyvocal, the voices of the five youth are featured prominently to highlight the shifting articulation of their activist identities in relation to social and economic justice. Becoming Activist explores critical literacy pedagogy beyond the confines of formal education. While it has been historically theorized within English classrooms, much existing research points to the limitations of conducting critical literacy in schools. In search of a space where critical literacy can be more fully realized, this book positions urban youth organizing as an alternative context for powerful community-based learning. A valuable read for educators, researchers, and young organizers, Becoming Activist offers insight into conducting literacy work to promote positive youth and community development. Ultimately, the idea of «becoming» is key to understanding and supporting youth activists as they grow to exercise their political power for positive social change.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1. Drop Knowledge Project in New York City
  • Research at the Intersection of Literacy and Activism
  • Genealogical Roots of the Drop Knowledge Project
  • Becoming Critically Literate
  • Youth Activist Organizing
  • Asking Research Questions
  • Poststructuralist Articulation
  • Scope of the Book
  • Chapter 2. Step One: Mobilizing to Disrupt the Commonplace
  • Mapping Rhizomatic Research Lines
  • Vaga De Franx: Mobilizing to Disrupt the Commonplace
  • Gentle Meadows: Quietly Disrupting the Peace
  • Green Strawberries: In/Against a Digital Occupation
  • People’s Republic of Mars: Standing for Human Rights
  • Awesome Woman: Questioning the Status Quo
  • Chapter 3. Historicizing the Future of Critical Literacy
  • Defining Critical Literacy to Become Critically Literate
  • Tracing the Study of Critical Literacy Theory
  • Contemporary Practices of Critical Literacy
  • Limitations to Critical Literacy Projects in Schools
  • Actionable Elements of Critical Literacy Praxis
  • Chapter 4. Step Two: Interrogating Complex Perspectives
  • Mapping Multiplicities
  • Vaga De Franx: Considering Multiple Viewpoints
  • Gentle Meadows: Perspectives on Activist Work
  • Green Strawberries: International Perspectives
  • People’s Republic of Mars: Perspectives on Media, History, and Peace
  • Awesome Woman: Speaking Exponentially
  • Chapter 5. Organizing a Space for Justice
  • Tracing Definitions of Activism and Organizing
  • Describing Divergent Histories of Youth Organizing
  • Positive Practices of Organizing
  • Contextualizing Urban Youth Organizing
  • Conducting Activist Research with Urban Youth
  • Argument Around Literacy in Organizing
  • Chapter 6. Step Three: Identifying Sociopolitical Issues
  • Vaga De Franx: Focusing on the Sociopolitical
  • Gentle Meadows: Reading the Sociopolitical
  • Green Strawberries: Roots of the Personal in the Political
  • People’s Republic of Mars: Challenging Power Relations
  • Awesome Woman: The F Word
  • Chapter 7. Designing Ethical Research
  • Theoretical Framing of the Study Design
  • Conducting Ethical-Political Research
  • Polyvocal Subjectivity and Role as Researcher
  • Research Setting and Participants
  • Data Collection
  • Description of Data Analysis
  • Process of Data Analysis
  • Limitations to the DKPNYC Study
  • Transgressive Validity
  • Chapter 8. Step Four: Taking Social Justice Action
  • Activist Action in Organizing
  • Vaga De Franx: Taking Action
  • Gentle Meadows: Taking Action
  • Green Strawberries: Taking Action
  • People’s Republic of Mars: Taking Action
  • Awesome Woman: Taking Action
  • Chapter 9. Imagining Tactically Strategic Futures
  • Participants, Writer, Reader
  • Researchers, Academics, Educators
  • Organizers, Organizations, Networks
  • Lines of Flight: Trajectories of Space, Funding, and Futurity
  • Extending a Research Agenda around Youth Organizing and Critical Literacy
  • Chapter 10. Step Five: Reflecting and Envisioning Activisms
  • Vaga De Franx: Reflection for Futurity
  • Gentle Meadows: A Vision on the Future through the Past
  • Green Strawberries: Radical Self-Reflection
  • People’s Republic of Mars: Envisioning Activism and Advocacy
  • Awesome Woman: Performing the Unwritten
  • Chapter 11. Articulating Activist Identities
  • Vaga De Franx
  • Gentle Meadows
  • Green Strawberries
  • People’s Republic of Mars
  • Awesome Woman
  • Discussion: Lines of Flight for Peaceable Activist Futures
  • Significance in and of Articulation in Activist Literacy Research
  • References
  • Series index


Many inspiring people contributed to the creation, production, and distribution of this book. Thanks are due to everyone at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education, in particular the faculty, staff, and students in the Department of Instruction and Learning. Special thanks are due to a group of extraordinary intellectuals: my longtime advisor Dr. John Myers, currently at Florida State University, who understood my interdisciplinary inclinations and assisted me every step of the way on this research journey; the wonderful Dr. Patricia Crawford at the University of Pittsburgh, who played a crucial role in the completion of this study; Dr. Kim Gomez at the University of California, Los Angeles, who expertly oversaw my apprenticeship into the world of the academy, all the while supporting my radical sensibilities; Dr. Michael Gunzenhauser at the University of Pittsburgh, who reignited the poststructuralist fire in my brain when we first met in 2009; Dr. Matt Luskey at the California Polytechnic State University, who encouraged my concept mapping and advised me through my experiments into and against forms of academic writing; and the estimable Shakespearean and queer theorist, Dr. Madhavi Menon at American University, one of my earliest advisors, whose own deconstructed writing and intellectual free play continues to mesmerize and inspire me. I could not have hoped for a more diverse, energetic, expert, ← vii | viii → supportive, and brilliant group of advisors guiding me through the dissertation marathon that resulted in this manuscript. The students at the University of Pittsburgh, both my doctoral colleagues and my student teachers, brought much peace and good humor to my learning and teaching. Special thanks go out to my classmates/compatriots: Stephanie Kane-Mainier, Susanna Benko, Maritza Lozano, April Mattix, and Elissa Shoaf.

The rich world of educators and youth I know in and around New York City continues to inspire me daily. Special thanks are due to Molly Delano, Eris Johnson-Smith, Coco Killingsworth, Tene Howard, Kevin Murungi, Eddie Mandhry, Savith Sampath, Nassim Zerriffi, Usman Farooq, Evie Hantzopolous, Carol Artigiani, and everyone at Global Kids, Inc., who taught me to educate for social justice and who dialogued with me about this research in its earliest designs. Numerous other educators and scholars have pushed me in thinking and working with youth; shout-outs are due to the guru Billy Dusenberry, the mayor Regina Anderson, 42R ruckus crew GT & CE, and NYC artists-in-residence the honorable Robyn Hamaguchi, Esq., and Dr. Deb Vischak.

I am humbled to have worked with some remarkably creative and committed young people, starting with my earliest work with the Undecided Bananas and the Arts family in the Bronx (RIP Ivan). I have learned so much, from the 12th-grade cultural critics at Columbia University to the young rockers, techies, and writers I worked with in the Lower East Side. The youth I worked with through Global Kids programs were by far some of the most talented people I have ever met. The participants in the Human Rights Activist Project sparked the idea for this study in the first place. It is for and because of the work of youth activists outside of schools that I do the research that I do. Thank you to all of the youth and community activists who have taught me that, in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “what we have to learn from each other is how similar we are.”

One group of individuals made it possible for this project to happen at all. Thank you to my collaborators: Green Strawberries, Vaga De Franx, Awesome Woman, Gentle Meadows, and People’s Republic of Mars. Your powerful words, work, and action spark futurity. You continue to inspire me, and I hope I have done justice to your power on these pages.

I follow a powerful tradition of academics, intellectuals, and anti-institutionalists who foreground acts of love in peaceful struggle. I recognize that I am standing on the shoulders of giants, many of whom are represented in the citations of this text. I have great adoration for my contemporaries in the fight ← viii | ix → for educational justice, who make me ever more hopeful about the future. A special thank you to Dr. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz at Teachers College, who serves as a wonderful friend and mentor to me in my position as a public intellectual. Everyone in the Office of Teacher Education, specifically the Peace Corps Fellows Program, was gracious and supportive as I finished this project. Countless thanks to Nicolas Stahelin, who brought me to Teachers College and to many unexpected opportunities.

Chris Myers and everyone at Peter Lang Publishing made this process simple. Thanks to series editors Dr. Shirley Steinberg and Dr. Priya Parmar for providing this platform for critical praxis. I am humbled to be amongst the critical voices in this series. Also, thanks are due to the editors of the Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, who published an earlier version of Chapter 3 on critical literacy, and to the editors of Theory in Action, who published an earlier version of Chapter 11 on articulation theory.

Endless thanks go out to my family, who support me in all that I pursue. I take my lead from my educator family: my parents, Richard and Kathleen Bishop, and my sister Jane Bishop Marcoux, who taught me what it means to work hard to forward equitable and exciting learning opportunities for young people; and my brother Peter Bishop, who taught me how to hustle to be successful from as early as I can remember. Thank you for always believing in me.

Finally, my greatest thanks goes to Britney Harsh, Thank you for talking me through endless revision. I never could have written this book without you. Pura vida.← ix | x →

← x | 1 → ·1·


Vaga De Franx: On any given event, when people ask me, “What do you really do?” I say, “Well, we organized for about four months. We connected, we flyered our campuses, we talked to people, we tirelessly outreached to professors, we annoyed administration, and annoyed security for months. And we did it with the idea in our minds that there were other students in other campuses who were doing the same and we had an opportunity to secure that community on our campuses because there was somebody on another campus doing the same.”


IX, 135
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (June)
Youth Civil Right Your organisation Activism Civil Right Movement
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. IX, 135 pp.

Biographical notes

Elizabeth Bishop (Author)

Elizabeth Bishop holds a PhD in Language, Literacy, and Culture from the University of Pittsburgh. She has taught history, literature, writing, and media in New York schools and community organizations. Bishop works as Assistant Director of the Peace Corps Fellows at Teachers College, Columbia University.


Title: Becoming Activist
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149 pages