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.
3 Historicizing Youth Studies
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Studies of youth exist in an eternal present, similar to young people themselves. While fields of study, from curriculum to sociology of education to teacher education, are regularly summarized and historicized, with an aim to re-present the conventions, trends, and omissions of scholarship, youth studies, a long-standing interdisciplinary field, has not fallen in line.1 Following McLeod (2009), we contend that “Youth studies can be usefully understood as itself a kind of international discourse, a body of ‘traveling ideas’ and truth claims about young people” and, as such, we should inquire not only into its relations to popular discourses, social change, and economic processes but also into how its discourses “impact upon and mediate the experiences and subjectivities of young people” (p. 276).
This chapter initiates a partial history of the present of youth studies. By history of the present we mean a method of historical analysis that problematizes the very terms and concepts through which we know and understand a topic. A history of the present starts with questions around categories and discourses in use, and interrogates how, where, when, and why they emerged and became popular. Therefore, we ask: Who are the youth that youth studies examines? What are the systems of reasoning that youth studies draws on to know and engage youth? How might we imagine youth and youth studies differently? In creating a history of the present, we do not assume “youth” as a biological reality or age-based category. Rather, we emphasize systems of reasoning,...
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