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Critical Youth Studies Reader

Preface by Paul Willis

Edited By Awad Ibrahim and Shirley R. Steinberg

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.
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2 Theorizing Young Lives: Biography, Society, and Time

← 14 | 15 →CHAPTER 2


The current complication of structural inequalities, and of the forms of self-narration through which they are actively contested and reproduced, clearly requires more sophisticated and empirically grounded accounts …. If we are to do justice to what is at stake in young people’s lives, we have to find new ways of integrating empirically grounded and dialogical strategies of youth research within interdisciplinary and theoretically sophisticated frameworks of comparative analysis. (Cohen & Ainley, 2000, p. 242)

The three figures of excess which we have employed to characterize supermodernity—overabundance of events, spatial overabundance, the individualization of references—make it possible to grasp the idea of supermodernity without ignoring its complexities and contradictions, but also without treating it as the uncrossable horizon of a lost modernity with which nothing remains to be done. (Auge, 1995, pp. 40–41)


Young people live in the world as experiential beings of the present and past. They also live in possible futures as they move toward becoming adults. In both cases, they seek to belong in and to social institutions and relationships. To capture the complexity of young lives requires theoretically sophisticated modes of interpretation. Over the centuries, artists from the Italian Baroque (such as Caravaggio’s Youth Bitten by a Green Lizard (1593)), from German Expressionism (such as Munch’s Puberty (1984)), and from contemporary portraiture (such as Gartner’s (2007) Girl With Siamese Twins) have attempted to portray the tensions inherent in young lives; in being young and becoming adult while...

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