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Breaking Through and Burning Out: The Contradictory Effects of Young Peoples’ Participation in Institutionalized Movements

Social Movements and Media

ISBN: 978-1-78743-098-3, eISBN: 978-1-78743-097-6

Publication date: 22 December 2017


This chapter considers some of the divergent outcomes of youth mobilization and participation in offline spaces, particularly in the youth nonprofit. Critics of youth online political participation detail several shortcomings of online activism as compared to offline activism, but in so doing, these critics venerate offline activism as a utopic alternative. Based on qualitative research in three organizations that mobilize youth around issues of education reform, this chapter demonstrates that the offline youth activist nonprofit fosters political power among some youth while burning out other youth. For teenage activists, these nonprofit organizations offer political education, institutional leverage, and foster political efficacy. At the same time, older youth organizers who are paid staff in these same organizations struggle with having to reign in the radicalism of the youth they mentor, while performing invisible labor around the demands of their organizational funders. These organizational pressures work to burn out youth organizers and steer them away from politics. Online forms of youth activism bring about outcomes that both enhance the political capacities of youth as well as hinder their potential to transform social injustices. Far from utopic, offline movement contexts also foster these contradictory outcomes and should be considered more critically in the debates over the merits of offline versus online activism.



Gordon, H.R. (2017), "Breaking Through and Burning Out: The Contradictory Effects of Young Peoples’ Participation in Institutionalized Movements", Earl, J. and Rohlinger, D.A. (Ed.) Social Movements and Media (Studies in Media and Communications, Vol. 14), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 149-176.



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