Youth Engagement: The Civic-Political Lives of Children and Youth: Volume 16

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

Table of contents

(20 chapters)

Since we began work on this volume in 2011, images of youth who are politically and civically engaged have populated news stories. Youth activists played key roles in the social movements that sparked and spread through Africa and the Middle East in the “Arab Spring” of 2011 and 2012. In Norway, politically engaged youth attending a summer camp run by the ruling Labour Party became the victims of a mass shooting in July of 2011. Students in Chile, Mexico City, and Quebec took to the streets in order to challenge the rising costs of education and to organize for improvements to their colleges and universities. Undocumented youth in the United States publicly shared their stories and lobbied for passage of the DREAM Act. And local newspapers throughout the United States continued to celebrate youth who were honored for their volunteer service with awards and scholarships.

Purpose – This article critically (re)examines the Girl Effect narrative in order to problematize the ways that this discursive paradigm shapes the forms and possibilities for girls’ political subjectivity and agency.Approach – Based on a close, textual reading of the first Girl Effect video, the study adopts the tools of deconstruction to reveal the discursive (im)possibilities for differently situated girls. It draws from contemporary girls’ studies scholarship and postcolonial feminist theory to identify the production of oppositional girlhoods and neoliberal girl power, while further considering how these disciplinary effects inform girls’ political practices.Findings – The author suggests that the Girl Effect paradigm offers limited understandings of girls’ political subjectivity: prompting Western girls to become agents of missionary girl power and positioning Third World girls as perpetual victims waiting for rescue.Originality/value – By exploring the effects of the Girl Effect logic, this article troubles the political ideologies framing the “invest in girls” message and contributes original research to the growing field of girls’ studies.

Purpose – This paper presents a critical exploration of the concept of children's ‘participation’ by looking in more detail at children's right to play and the possibilities this presents for a different understanding of children as political actors.Design/methodology/approach – The paper applies a range of concepts, largely drawn from Deleuzian philosophy and children's geographies, to produce an account of playing that unsettles traditional ways of valuing this behaviour. In doing so, it also extends current approaches to children's participation rights by presenting play as a primary way in which children actively participate in their everyday worlds. Observations of children's play are utilised to illustrate the multiple ways in which moments of playfulness enliven the spaces and routines of children's lives.Findings – Playing may be viewed as micro-political expressions in which children collectively participate to establish temporary control over their immediate environment in order to make things different/better. These everyday acts are largely unnoticed by adults and represent a markedly different form of political engagement from the ways in which children are brought into adult-led political realms. Yet playful moments are a vital expression of children's power and ability to influence the conditions of their lives.Originality/value – Thinking differently about playing offers an opportunity to revitalise the very notion of participation. Such a move marks a line of flight which opens up the possibility for everyday collective acts to disturb dominant ways of accounting for adult–child relationships and by doing so establish moments of hope that people can get on and go on together by co-creating more just and participative spaces of childhood.

Purpose – Educating active citizens engaged in civic life is a critical goal of citizenship education. This study examines how citizenship education is practiced in three public high schools in the City of Ottawa, Canada, and how teachers through their instruction prepare their students for active citizenship.Design – This investigation draws on citizenship theories and an examination of citizenship pedagogy through observations of class instruction and interviews with teachers and students.Findings – The research shows that despite shared provincial guidelines, in practice, there are dramatic differences in the design and provision of citizenship instruction across classrooms, shaped largely by teachers’ understandings of what constitutes active citizenship. I detail three distinct understandings of active citizenship that are advanced through class instruction: the duty-based, the make-a-difference, and the politically oriented active citizenship.Value – The article discusses important implications that these differing understandings and pedagogical approaches have as they delineate different expectations and paths for youth citizenship participation in public life.

Purpose – In recent years, various communities across Canada have recognized the need to include young people's input in community/urban decision-making processes. As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Canadian governments and policy makers are obligated to take young people's views into consideration when decisions about them are made. The aim of this chapter is to examine how some communities have attempted to involve young people in such decision making by creating youth advisory councils.Design/methodology/approach – This chapter draws on an open-ended small-scale survey conducted with youth council members and adults familiar with the operation of youth councils.Findings – The findings suggest that many youth councils were mostly initiated by adults for youth. However, the successes of these youth councils were many. Participants reported that youth councils provided young people with a voice on an array of issues ranging in scope from local to national/international. Despite these successes, the ability of young people to have a voice in decisions that affected them was hindered by the many challenges that youth councils faced (e.g., lack of adult support).Originality/value – This chapter provides strategies to help overcome barriers to genuine youth participation in the decision-making processes of communities/cities. It also critically engages with the concept of participation as it relates to youth councils as an avenue for enhancing young people's civic and political lives. Finally, it adds to the literature by examining the Canadian context which has often been overlooked in research on youth councils.

Purpose – Prior research suggests that high school experiences shape young adult political behaviors, particularly among immigrant youth. The U.S. social studies classroom, focused on democratic citizenship education, proves an interesting socializing institution.Methods – Through qualitative inquiry, we interviewed Latino immigrant young adults and their former teachers regarding their high school social studies experiences and evolving political and civic engagement.Findings – Armed with experience bridging the worlds of the school and home, immigrant students respond and relate to the content and pedagogy of the social studies classroom in such a way that they (1) participate in civic discourse and (2) nurture a disposition toward leadership through teachers’ civic expectations of them and instructional emphasis on critical thinking skills.Social implications – The ability to engage in civic discourse and a disposition toward leadership are both necessary to foster America's democratic ideals, and to take on leadership roles during adulthood. With focused effort on the unique perspective of immigrant youth, high school social studies teachers can nurture in these students the ability to become leaders in young adulthood, broadening the potential leadership pool.Originality – This study highlights how the social studies curriculum may be particularly salient to Latino immigrant youth as they transition from adolescence to young adulthood and develop their political and civic identities.

Purpose – This study focuses on seventh grade teachers’ constructions of students’ civic awareness as they planned for and enacted a civic engagement project with urban youth of color.Approach – Drawing on critical and interpretive paradigms, I analyze the teachers’ dialogues during colloquia on youth civic engagement and their pedagogy as observed in the classroom.Findings – At the start of the project, the teachers hoped to involve students in critical thought and action on a local social problem. Yet, they doubted the depth of students’ knowledge about injustices in their neighborhood. As the students shared their thoughts about budget cuts affecting a local park, the teachers expanded their constructs of the students’ civic knowledge.Value – The paper argues that teachers’ views of student knowledge are malleable and in the context of a learner-centered curriculum, they can position students as aware activists.

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.

Purpose – The present study looks at the dynamic process of Mexican immigrant children and youth's civic engagement through their participation in community and family activities. In particular, it explores how their collaboration in a grassroots, immigrant community-based Centro in New York City allows for civic engagement. We demonstrate how active community participation, in the form of civic engagement, shapes children and youth's citizenship constructions.Methodology – Based on extensive participant observations and focus group interviews, this article demonstrates how children and youth's civic engagement is mediated by their integration and contributions to family and community civic activities and how these activities inform children and youth's knowledge of citizenship discourse. We present evidence that demonstrates that children and youth's involvement and participation in protests, rallies, volunteer activities, as well as the creation of a booklet, associated with immigration, human rights, and social justice, organized through the Centro Guadalupano, facilitated their knowledge about illegality and citizenship issues.Findings – Findings suggest that when indigenous Mexican children and youth are integrated into the important activities of their community, as active and engaged members, they develop a deeper understanding of civic engagement and what it means to be a participatory “citizen.”Research implications – The present study provides a starting point for future research on the importance of and possibilities for child and youth civic engagement in grassroots community organizations. For example, children and youth learn that through active civic participation and community contributions, they are able to challenge dominant discourse on immigration, human rights, and citizenship. This study sheds light on the value of involving children and youth in civic engagement opportunities – a process that can facilitate the construction of citizenship among marginalized groups, particularly undocumented Mexican immigrants from indigenous regions.Value – The findings presented extend broader discourses on the politics of immigration and citizenship, and also challenge, to some extent, mainstream constructions of children and youth. More research in these areas is needed; our paper is a small contribution to the emerging field of indigenous and immigrant children and youth's political socialization and activism.

Purpose – To examine children and youth's participation in civic society in Norway with a particular focus on immigrant children's participation in May 17 (Constitution Day).Methodology – We observed May 17 activities in Trondheim, Norway, over several years and conducted in-depth interviews with immigrant children about their participation in May 17 activities. We also relied on archival data and statistical reports of youth participation and immigration policy as well as attitudes toward immigrants to provide context for the observations and interviews.Findings – We found three clear patterns in the data. First, the children continually expressed their enjoyment of traditional intergenerational activities and in the discussion we see how certain activities helped to integrate themselves and their families into their communities. Second, the children displayed a keen knowledge of the 17th of May traditions, their history, and their symbolic value in Norwegian society. Third, especially the older children and youth often discussed their feelings of being Norwegian while also expressing an awareness of their immigrant status and cultural heritage. Their reflections on these dual identities provide more general insights into immigrant status, assimilation, and multiculturalism in Norway.

Purpose – This paper explores how the interactive dynamics of peer education models within independent youth media outlets facilitate and impede youth engagement in media activism and social change work, more broadly defined.Design/methodological approach – Ethnographic and participatory action research methods are used with the youth media hub, Youth Media Action (YMA), to examine the possibilities and challenges that peer media educators confront in cultivating a noncommercial space for the collective production of oppositional media. YMA specifically seeks to involve youth from marginalized communities.Findings – The results suggest that peer-to-peer education models do act as vehicles for political engagement as youth experience shared ownership, cultivate solidarity, and acquire community organizing skills through the collective production of oppositional media. At the same time, challenges can surface when peer educators juggle multiple roles and participating community youth groups espouse differing organizational values and pedagogical sensibilities.Research limitations/implications – This study offers a potential pathway for further research on how peer education and collective media making models influence youth citizenship and social change work.Originality/value – The focus on the organizational and social dynamics of peer education models is useful in understanding youth citizenship and digital access as a collective experience for youth living in disenfranchised communities that seek out these spaces for not only media making but also community building.

Loretta E. Bass is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Oklahoma. She earned her PhD in Sociology from the University of Connecticut and completed a two-year appointment within the Fertility and Family Branch of the Population Division at the U.S. Census Bureau. Dr. Bass focuses her research on children and stratification issues, and has published her research in Population Research and Policy Review, Sociological Inquiry, Sociological Focus, Political Behavior, Anthropology of Work Review, International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Sociological Studies of Children and Youth, Journal of Reproductive Medicine, Journal of Sociology and Social Work, International Journal of Sexual Health, and Current Sociology. Prior to becoming the Sociological Studies of Children and Youth Series Editor, she served as co-editor for two years and as a guest-editor for a special international volume in 2005. She has also published a book, Child Labor in Sub-Saharan Africa (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2004), which offers a window on the lives of child workers in 43 African countries. She currently serves as Past-Chair of the American Sociological Association's (ASA) Children and Youth Section and as the President of Research Committee 53 on the Sociology of Childhood within the International Sociological Association (ISA).

Cover of Youth Engagement: The Civic-Political Lives of Children and Youth
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Sociological Studies of Children and Youth
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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