Youthtopias: Towards a New Paradigm of Critical Youth Studies

by A.A. Akom and S. Ginwright, San Franscisco State University, and J. Cammarota, University of Arizona
Social science research on Black and Latina/o youth over the last century has been dominated by studies that frame young people as ‘problems,’ ‘pathologies,’ and ‘poisons,’ rather than focusing on young people’s emerging ‘assets,’ ‘agencies,’ and ‘aspirations.’ More often than not young people’s educational under-achievement has been explained as an individual pathology or cultural adaptation, which stem from social disorganization in their communities or lack of individual effort. In this article, we argue for a more expansive notion of youth cultural production, one that posits young people as central subjects to knowledge production and underscores their ability to actualize their agency for personal and social transformation. Following the work of Freire (1970), Fanon (1963), Solorzano and Delgado-Bernal (2001), Soep and Chavez (2005), Kellner and Share (2005), Cohen (2006), Andrade and Morrell (2008), to name a few, our new framework establishes clear pathways for civic engagement and social justice in the field of critical youth studies by utilizing the following five elements to form it’s basic core:
1) An explicit commitment to understand how race intersects with other forms of social oppression such as class, gender, religion, nationality, sexuality, phenotype, accent, immigration status, and special needs;
2) Challenging traditional paradigms, texts, and theories used to explain the experiences of students of color;
3) Fore-grounding the experiential knowledge of students so that young people and adults are “co-constructing” the learning environment;
4) A commitment to developing critical consciousness; and finally,
5) A commitment to social justice.
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