My research agenda focuses on the political lives of children and youth in North and South America. I have ongoing intellectual interests in the role of young people in social change, the gendered meaning of politics, and the complex relationship between political cultures, identities, and practices. My scholarship engages with several disparate sociological and interdisciplinary fields, including work on political consciousness, youth cultures, childhood studies, social movements, globalization, and feminist theory.
My first book, Rebel Girls: Youth Activism and Social Change Across the Americas (NYU Press, 2011), is a transnational ethnography of teenage girl activists in five cities in North and South America. I have published numerous articles on a range of topics related to youth politics, including “girl power” discourses, girls’ organizations and ideas about the public sphere, peer-led political socialization amongst youth activists, and young activists’ ideas about what constitutes meaningful democratic participation (the last two with Hava R. Gordon). I also recently co-edited (with Sandi K. Nenga) a volume that seeks to bring together research on a variety of forms of youth engagement activities in order to explore multiple approaches to and understandings of youth citizenship. More information on these previous publications can be found in my CV.
I am currently working on a book manuscript, Social Movements and the Meaning of Childhood: Intergenerational Collaboration in the Peruvian Working Children’s Movement. This project is based on ethnographic research with a movement that is committed to children’s leadership and that seeks to create egalitarian relationships between kids and adults. Starting from the theoretical position that childhood is a socially constructed category whose meaning varies by context, my research examines how childhood is constructed and experienced in a movement that stakes out a strong position in favor of children’s political capacity. Based on participant observation, in-depth qualitative interviews, and analysis of movement documents, it seeks to explore the possibilities for and limits on non-hierarchical intergenerational relationships. I seek to address three closely related research questions:
- What are the discourses about childhood and adulthood that circulate within a social movement that is committed to children’s political participation and cross-generational partnership?
- What are the institutionalized organizational structures that facilitate and/or produce barriers to cross-age partnership within social movements committed to children’s political participation and cross-generational partnership?
- How do these cultural and structural contexts shape participants’ lived experiences of childhood, adulthood, and the relationship between children and adults?
The model of collaboration found in the Peruvian working children’s movement is quite unusual and not necessarily representative of widespread trends within social movements. This movement pushes at the boundaries of “normal” or hegemonic paradigms of childhood, thus allowing me to examine how children’s political identities and interactions are a site of contestation and debate. By studying childhood in this non-normative context, I am able to consider the extent to which the political meaning of childhood can be challenged and redefined. Given that this movement is re-imagining the political meaning of childhood, it is a vital site for exploring the outer limits and possibilities of children’s participation in social change and political decision-making. Adults and children within this movement are co-constructing children’s citizenship identities in a manner that is highly unusual, which allows me to carefully consider both the plasticity and fixity of the meaning of childhood in relation to political life and social movement activism.
In addition to this theoretical and sociological contribution, this study sheds light on some of the contextual factors that can facilitate children’s political agency and participation. In doing so, it can be of use to those communities, groups, and institutions that are interested in helping children to develop into engaged citizens. By examining the dynamics of child-adult partnerships for social and political change, this research will help both scholars and practitioners to better understand the possibilities and limits to children’s political participation and the benefits and challenges of cross-generational collaboration.