Civic Engagement and the Emergence of Race: American Youth Negotiate Citizenship

Youth Engagement: The Civic-Political Lives of Children and Youth

ISBN: 978-1-78190-543-2, eISBN: 978-1-78190-544-9

ISSN: 1537-4661

Publication date: 22 February 2013


Purpose – This paper aims to provide insight into high school students’ understanding and experience of citizenship and civic engagement in the United States today.Methodological approach – To supplement literature that reports the causes and correlates of youth civic engagement, this qualitative study explores the form and meaning of citizenship to young Americans. Drawing on observations and interviews with 116 high school students aged 14–19 years, this study explores how youth construct the meaning of citizenship and civic engagement.Findings – I find that race and racial identity are emergent in young people's construction of citizenship. Youth articulate the status of citizen on the basis of “privilege” and feel fortunate to be American. Forms of civic engagement vary by race with white students positioning themselves as helpers and delineating lower income minorities as “others” while also engaging in civic activity out of individual motivations and weak community connections. Minority youth express a desire to stay out of trouble, but also contest the boundaries of citizenship through forms of engagement that connect them to community.Value of paper – This paper contributes to understanding how race is emergent for young people's definitions of citizenship and civic actions. In addition to demonstrating how the categories of race and citizen are mutually constructed, it shows the value of looking beyond simple measurements of civic activity and exploring the meaning of youth civic work to gain insight into contemporary youth and democracy.



Morimoto, S.A. (2013), "Civic Engagement and the Emergence of Race: American Youth Negotiate Citizenship", Kawecka Nenga, S. and Taft, J.K. (Ed.) Youth Engagement: The Civic-Political Lives of Children and Youth (Sociological Studies of Children and Youth, Vol. 16), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 153-175.

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