Youth studies

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Youth Studies, Comparative Inquiry, and the Local/Global Problematic

Author: Julie McLeod

Published in: [pic]Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, Volume 31, Issue 4 September 2009 , pages 270 - 292

Previously published as: The Review of Education (0098-5597) until 31 December 1993

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The field of youth studies appears to have increasingly taken on aself-consciously “international” orientation, characterized by grappling with how to represent local youth identities and social practices within international, transnational, or global contexts. This challenge is repeated across many different types of study and worked through in a variety of ways. A common thread, however, is that young people's identities and lives today must or should be understood withreference to global phenomena and frameworks, and in terms of how they negotiate and are formed in the intersection of local and global contexts. One starting point for this essay is an attempt to understand the “systems of reason” (Popkewitz 2001) and lines of thinking that underpin how young people are researched, reported, and represented. The local/global binary has quite strikingly become one ofthe main lenses for exploring questions about “youth identities” today and one of the key problematics constituting contemporary youth studies scholarship. A more specific starting point, then, is to reflect on what the growing and widespread interest in the local/global relation offers youth researchers—what are the features, the gains, and the losses associated with this construct? And what arethe implications of this binary in terms of the intellectual history and truth claims of youth studies? A third and related starting point is the important, yet not always analytically addressed, role of comparative inquiry in youth studies scholarship, particularly in relation to the ascendency of the local/global comparison.
Bourdieu's arguments about reflexive sociology and the scholasticpoint of view are instructive here (Bourdieu 2000; Kenway and McLeod 2004). The scholastic point of view refers to an intellectual bias, a set of dispositions and perspectives that are produced within an academic field (Schirato and Webb 2003, 545). Bourdieu argues that this point of view is characterized by its relative indifference to the “logic of practice” and its masquerade as a “natural” pointof view, a perspective without a history. For Bourdieu, the viewpoint of the intellectual is a particular perspective, not simply the expression of an individual viewpoint, but an analytic disposition that is part of, formed in and by, the “collective unconscious” of an academic field (Bourdieu 2000; McLeod 2005). Academic fields include the accumulating practices and habits of thought ofindividual academics (in his examples often sociologists) but are not reducible to such individuals; the terms of argument and perspectives are thus structured into the disciplinary fields, appearing as natural and timeless orientations. The role of the (Bourdieu-ian) reflexive sociologist is to subject that presumption to historical scrutiny, to expose the production and illusion of impartiality,timelessness, and singularity, and to examine its sociological and practical effects (Bourdieu 2000, 21-22, 121).
In a similar move, this article begins a critical mapping of the dominant modes of thought that characterize the field of contemporary youth studies in education. Clearly, such an ambition cannot be fully realized here, but an initial attempt to delineate some key features is offered. Theessay first notes debates regarding limitations as well as new directions in comparative inquiry, with particular attention to educational research—a field centrally concerned with youth and young people. It then reviews recent youth research that examines the impact of globalization on youth experience and identity and in various ways engages with the local/global dualism as both empirical context...
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