Preface by Paul Willis
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.
1 Toward a Critical Theory of Youth
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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...
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