Critically Researching Youth

by Shirley R. Steinberg (Volume editor) Awad Ibrahim (Volume editor)
©2016 Textbook XII, 297 Pages
Series: Critical Qualitative Research, Volume 16


Critically Researching Youth addresses the unique possibilities and contexts involved in deepening a discourse around youth. Authors address both social theoretical and methodological approaches as they delve into a contemporary discipline, which supports research with – not on – young adults. This volume is a refreshing change in the literature on qualitative youth, embodying the understanding of what it means to be a young woman or man. It dismisses any consideration to pathologize youth, instead addressing what society can understand and how we can act in order to support and promote them.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Part I Theorizing Youth and Research
  • Chapter 1. Contextualizing Corporate Kids: Kinderculture as Cultural Pedagogy
  • Chapter 2. Cipher5 as Method: Aesthetic Education, Critical Youth Studies Research, and Emancipation
  • Part II Economics and Youth Research
  • Chapter 3. Trapped Inside a Poisoned Maze; Mapping Young People’s Geographies of Disposability in Neoliberal Times of School Disinvestment
  • Chapter 4. Resisting Marginalization: Students’ Conversations About Life in University
  • Chapter 5. The Standpoint Project: Practitioner Research and Action When Working With Young People From Low-Income Families
  • Part III Youth Identity and Research
  • Chapter 6. Kinship Narratives: Beat Nation, Indigenous Peoples (Hip Hop), and the Politics of Unmasking Our Ignorance
  • Chapter 7. “Too Much Drama”: The Effect of Smartphones on Teenagers’ Live Theater Experience
  • Chapter 8. Macklemore: Strong Poetry, Hip Hop Courage, and the Ethics of the Appointment
  • Chapter 9. Immigrant Canadian New Youth: Expressing and Exploring Youth Identities in a Multicultural Context
  • Part IV Researching Youth and Place
  • Chapter 10. Hispanic Youth Leadership in Texas: Creating a Mexican American College-Going Culture in West Texas
  • Chapter 11. Conocimiento: Mixtec Youth sin fronteras
  • Chapter 12. The Schooling of African Youth in Ontario Schools: What Have Indigenous African Proverbs Got to Do With It?
  • Part V Youth Living Life and Research
  • Chapter 13. Making Sense of Non/Sense: Queer Youth and Educational Leadership
  • Chapter 14. Where We @? Blackness, Indigeneity, and Hip Hop’s Expression of Creative Resistance
  • Chapter 15. Interracial Conscientization Through Epistemological Re-Construction: Developing Autobiographical Accounts of the Meaning of Being Black and White Together
  • About the Contributors
  • Index
  • Series Index

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Critically Researching Youth as an Act of Radical Love: Let Them Speak and Let Us Shut Up and Listen!

Critically researching youth requires different epistemologies and a mind shift, where the very terms we use have to be re-labeled. As the authors in this book demonstrate, critically “researching” youth is now approached as a critical dialogue with youth, where youth speak, make sense of their lives, and radically envision their own futures. Critically researching youth is now turned into an act of radical love, where we researchers/adults shut up and listen (clearly in the most active and caring sense), and in doing so help young people think through their ideas and lives and hence materialize that which is yet to come, their futures.

However, for research to qualify as critical dialogue, it has to first, wrap itself in what Buber (2002) called “genuine dialogue,” and second, be conscious of three things: first, there is no humanity without dialogue; second, dialogue can and does take place in and through language (linguistic) but also sacramentally and holistically in silence (outside language and speech act, or para-linguistic); and third, in most relationships, especially those of domination (oppressor/oppressed, adult/youth, guard/inmate, etc.), what is conceived as dialogue is actually monologue. Monologue is when one hears one’s own voice and echo, and dialogue, especially when it is genuinely done, requires: a quality of communion; a sense of time, place, and above all love; an ethics of care (Noddings, 2005); a transformative act of love and intellectual rigor. ← xi | xii →

This volume, is a follow-up to our earlier book, Critical Youth Studies Reader (Ibrahim & Steinberg, 2014), brings together a group of scholars who are seeking genuine dialogue with youth. They challenge the notion of youth as an object of study, whose utility stops when the research finishes. They are aware and wide-awake (Ibrahim, 2014) of the powerful possibilities of our research findings and their social, historical, and pedagogical implications.

In becoming aware, the authors in this volume are completely open to being addressed by youth. Here, research is no longer about collecting data, organizing notes, testing theories, but an act of love. In researching (with) youth, we have to live the tension between being conscious, systematic, organized, and thoroughly ethical, respectful, trustworthy, and committed. The authors cover broad fields and areas of study, from music to arts to language, and from First Nations to immigrants to Mexican Americans. What is clear in all the chapters is the need for different epistemologies (moving from research to radical love) and methodology (moving from data collection to dialogue). Welcome to the new ethics of doing research with youth. WORD!

Awad Ibrahim


Buber, M. (2002). Between man and man. New York, NY: Routledge.

Ibrahim, A. (2014). Research as an act of love: Ethics, émigrés and the praxis of becoming human. Diaspora, Indigenous and Minority Education, 8(1), 7–20.

Ibrahim, A., & Steinberg, S. (Eds.). (2014). Critical youth studies reader. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Noddings, N. (2005). The challenge to care in schools: An alternative approach to education. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

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Kinderculture as Cultural Pedagogy

Shirley R. Steinberg

With our crashing tidal waves of war, politics, religious influences, struggles, and advancing web 3.0 globalization come an incredible phenomenon, kinderculture. Joe Kincheloe and I introduced this phenomenon in 1997 (Steinberg & Kincheloe, 1997) as a socio-theoretical conversation about (and with) the children and youth of the late twentieth century. Our points were underpinned by the notion that kids were being infantilized by a corporate/ media agenda from popular culture, schools, and adults. Yet, while being considered “too” young for almost anything, at the same time, these young consumers were being marketed to as seasoned adults. Almost 20 years later, the result is a consumer public of little girls, for example, who wear chastity rings and hip-clinging jogging pants with “Kiss My Booty” in glitter on the backside. With one voice, adults tell kids to stay clean, avoid sex and drugs, go to Disneyland, and make vows of celibacy … with another voice, the corporate side markets booty clothing, faux bling, and sexualized images of 12-year-olds. After three editions of Kinderculture: The Corporate Construction of Childhood (Steinberg & Kincheloe, 2006, 2012), this chapter ← 3 | 4 → adds to that notion by continuing to insist that new times have created a new childhood. However, paradoxically the current new times are conservative and liberal, sexual and celibate, and innocent and seasoned. Evidence of this dramatic cultural change surrounds each of us, but without a cultural lens, it is easy to ignore. In the mid-90s many people who made their living studying or caring for children had not recognized this phenomenon. However, in the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century, more and more people had begun to understand this historic change, and other child professionals remained oblivious to these social and cultural alterations. Now, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, the notions of childhood and youth are more complex, more pathologized, and more alien to adults who educate and parent.

In the domains of psychology, education, and to a lesser degree sociology, few observers have seriously studied the ways that the information explosion so characteristic of our contemporary era has operated to undermine traditional notions of childhood. Those who have shaped, directed, and used contemporary information technology have played an exaggerated role in the reformulation of childhood. Kinderculture analyzes these changes in childhood, including the role that information technology and media have played in this process. To say that technology and media had created an entirely new childhood would be simplistic; numerous social, political, and economic factors have operated to produce such changes. My focus here is not to cover all issues but to question the ways media, in particular, have helped construct what I will continue to call the new childhood. Childhood is a social and historical artifact—not simply a biological entity. Many argue that childhood is a natural phase of growing up, of becoming an adult. The cardinal concept here involves the format of this human phase that has been produced by social, cultural, political, and economic forces operating upon it.

Childhood is a creation of society that is subject to change whenever major social transformations take place. What is labeled as “traditional childhood” is only about 150 years old. The concept of children as a particular classification of human beings demanding special treatment differing from adults had not yet developed as a social construct until the twentieth century. From the 1600s, children were considered mini-adults, a chronological definition, which didn’t define their social or labor status. In the Middle Ages, for example, children participated daily in the adult world, gaining knowledge of vocational and life skills, working as young as 7 or 8. The zenith of the traditional childhood lasted from about 1850 to 1950. Protected from the dangers of the ← 4 | 5 → adult world, many children (up until the twentieth century, boys) during this period were removed from factories and placed into schools.

As the prototype of the modern family developed in the late nineteenth century, “proper” parental behavior toward children coalesced around notions of tenderness and adult accountability for children’s welfare. By 1900 many believed that childhood was a birthright—a perspective that eventuated in a biological, not a cultural, definition of childhood. Emerging in this era of the protected child, modern child psychology was inadvertently constructed by the tacit assumptions of the period. The great child psychologists, from Erik Erikson to Arnold Gesell to Jean Piaget, viewed child development as shaped by biological forces.

Piaget’s brilliance was constrained by his non-historical, socially decontextualized scientific approach. What he observed as the genetic expression of child behavior in the early twentieth century he generalized to all cultures and historical eras—an error that holds serious consequences for those concerned with children. Considering biological stages of child development fixed and unchangeable, teachers, psychologists, parents, welfare workers, and the community at large view and judge children along a fictional taxonomy of development. Those children who didn’t measure up would be relegated to low and self-fulfilling expectations. Those who made the grade would find that their racial and economic privilege are confused with ability (Polakow, 1992; Postman, 1994). Kinderculture joins the emerging body of literature that questions the biological assumptions of “classical” child psychology (Kincheloe, 2008).

Living in a historical period of great change and social upheaval, critical observers are just beginning to notice changing social and cultural conditions in relation to this view of childhood. Categories of child development appropriated from modernist psychology may hold little relevance for raising and educating contemporary children. In the 1950s, 80 percent of all children lived in homes where their two biological parents were married to each other (Lipsky & Abrams, 1994). No one has to be told that the family unit has changed in the past 60 years. Volumes have been written specifying the scope and causes of the social transformation.

Before the 1980s ended, children who lived with their two biological parents had fallen to merely 12 percent. Children of divorced parents (a group made up of more than half of the North American population) are almost three times as likely as children raised in two-parent homes to suffer emotional and behavioral difficulties … maybe more the result of parental conflict ← 5 | 6 → than the actual divorce (Mason & Steadman, 1997). Despite such understandings, social institutions have been slow to recognize different, nontraditional family configurations and the special needs they encounter. Without support, the contemporary “postmodern” family, with its plethora of working and single mothers and deadbeat dads, is beset with problems emanating from the feminization of poverty and the vulnerable position of women in both the public and private spaces (Polakow, 1992).

Positivist Notions of Children

It is important to place Kinderculture in paradigmatic context, to understand what I am discussing in relation to other scholarship on childhood studies and childhood education. Kinderculture directly challenges the positivist view of children which is promoted in mainstream articulations of psychology, sociology, education, and anthropology. Positivism is an epistemological position maintaining that all knowledge of worth is produced by the traditional scientific method. All scientific knowledge constructed in this context is thus proclaimed neutral and objective. Critics of positivism (see Kincheloe, 1993, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2008) argue that because of the narrow nature of what positivist research studies (what it can study given its rules of analysis), it often overlooks powerful normative and ideological assumptions built into its research design. In this naïve context positivists often seek empirical proof of what are normative and/or political assertions that adults always know better when it comes to issues involving children.

A key goal of critics of positivism involves bringing these normative and ideological assumptions to the surface so observers can gain a much more textured perspective of what research involves and indicates. Indeed, critics of positivism insist that one dimension of research involves the researcher’s analysis of his or her own assumptions, ideologies, and values, and how they shape the knowledge produced. In such a spirit, I openly admit my anti-positivist, hermeneutic epistemological orientations. Concurrently, I admit my critical democratic values, my vision of race, class, gender, and sexual equality, and the necessity of exposing the effects of power in shaping individual identity and political/educational purpose. This is not an act of politicization of research; research has always been politicized. Instead, I am attempting to understand and act ethically in light of such politicization.

In the positivist perspective, children are assumed to be subservient and dependent on adults as part of the order of the cosmos. In this context, adults ← 6 | 7 → are seen as having a “natural” prerogative to hold power over children. Positivists turn to biology to justify such assumptions, contending that the physical immaturity of children is manifested in other domains as inferiority, an absence of development, incompleteness, and weakness. One does not have to probe deeply into these biological assumptions to discern similarities between the positivist hierarchy of adults and children and the one subordinating emotional women to rational men. In my challenge to the positivist view of children, I focus on age and generation to depict children as different from adults but not inferior to them. Children are not merely entities on their way to adulthood; they are individuals intrinsically valuable for who they presently are. When positivists view children as lesser than adults, they consistently ignore the way power operates to oppress children around the axes of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, etc. The positivist construction of the “vulnerable” child in this context actually becomes more vulnerable as real and specific threats are overlooked because childhood is viewed as a naturally vulnerable state. The threats of different social, economic, political, and cultural “childhoods” are erased (Mason & Steadman, 1997).

The positivist view of childhood has been firmly grounded in developmental psychology’s universal rules of child development. Regardless of historical or social context, these rules lay out the proper development of normal children. This mythos of the universal innocent and developing child transforms cultural dimensions of childhood into something produced by nature. By the second decade of the twentieth century, this universal norm for the developing child had been established on the basis of scientific authority, drawn almost exclusively from North American white, middle-class norms and experiences. Schools fell into line, developing a white, middle-class, patriarchal curriculum that reflected the norms of proper development. Reformers, blessed with the imprimatur of science, based their efforts to regulate play on the principles of developmental psychology. Advocates of municipal playgrounds, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts worked to make sure that children made appropriate use of leisure time (Spigel, 1998).

The decontextualized aspect of the positivist view of childhood shapes numerous problems for those who don’t fit into the dominant cultural bases of the proper development of normal children. In failing to understand the impact of race, class, gender, linguistics, national origin, etc., positivism fails to understand the nature of, and the reasons for differences between children. Positivism is often drawn by the obsession with standards, standardization, and testing … wherein differences are viewed as deficiencies. In this positivist ← 7 | 8 → regime, children from lower socioeconomic, nonwhite, or immigrant backgrounds are relegated to the lower rungs of the developmental ladder. The idea that life experiences and contextual factors might affect development is not considered in the positivist paradigm because it does not account for such social and cultural dynamics (Mason & Steadman, 1997).

As positivism came to delineate the scientific dimensions of child development, male psychologists replaced mothers as child-rearing experts. In the early part of the twentieth century, the psychologist took on a socially important role. Many people believed that if scientific principles were not followed, innocent, malleable children would be led en masse into immorality and weakness. A significant feature of these scientific principles involved exposing children only to developmentally appropriate adult knowledge. The secret knowledge of adulthood, the positivist psychologists believed, should only be delivered to children at appropriate times in their development. One can understand the impact TV made on nations that bought into major dimensions of the positivist mythos. TV became a window to adult knowledge that could undermine the nation’s strength and moral fiber. The positivist view of childhood could be maintained only through constant social regulation and surveillance of the young. Since childhood is vulnerable and socially unstable, the control of knowledge becomes especially important in the maintenance of its innocent format. In positivism, childhood no longer exists if the young gain access to certain forms of adult knowledge. No wonder the last half of the twentieth century witnessed so many claims that after TV and other electronic media, childhood was dead. The positivist position has been deemed by many as an elitist perspective, as adults are deemed the guardians under the bridge of childhood. Adults decide what children should know and how they should be socialized. The idea that children should be participants in making decisions about their own lives is irrelevant. In the positivist paradigm children are passive entities who must be made to submit to adult decisions about their lives (Spigel, 1998).


XII, 297
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (February)
Pedagogy School Disinvestment Low-Income
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XII, 297 pp.

Biographical notes

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

Shirley R. Steinberg is Research Professor of Youth Studies at the University of Calgary and the Director of the Institute of Youth and Community Research at the University of the West of Scotland. She is a prolific author and international speaker, and was recently awarded lifetime achievement awards for Social Justice from Chapman University and from the International Conference on Critical Media Literacy. Awad Ibrahim is Professor of Education at the University of Ottawa. He is a curriculum theorist with special interest in cultural studies, Hip Hop, youth, 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.


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