Location: Bowdoin / Sociology and Anthropology / Symposia / Symposuim / Abstracts

Sociology and Anthropology


Adolescents in the Americas: Negotiating Identities, Shaping Contexts in an Interconnected World
October 3-4, 2013 

Claiming Belonging: Dilemmas of Identity among Adolescents in the Americas

Chair: Doris Santoro (Education, Bowdoin College)

“Citizens but not Americans”: Identity and Belonging among Latino Youth
Nilda Flores-Gonzalez (Sociology, University of Illinois - Chicago)

Based on 113 interviews, this presentation examines feelings of identity and belonging among Latino youth.  They shared feeling of being a “U.S. citizen but not American.” Is this sentiment particular to a subset of Latino youth or is it a widespread feeling?  What does it mean to them to be a “citizen but not American”? Why do Latino youth feel this way? What does this tell us about Latino integration into American society?  That is, what does it tell us about the process of becoming American.  I argue that to address these questions and ultimately understand why these youths feel they are “citizens but not American,” we need to examine how they come to understand their ethnicity, race, and racial location, as well as the racialization processes that lead them to construct subjectivities as “citizens but not American”.  Broadly speaking, here I join the long-standing debate on immigrant integration.  More specifically, I take in hand current theoretical understandings of ethnicity and race that do not honor Latinos’ self-understandings.  How Latinos see themselves and their position in U.S. society, and why they view it that way, and how this affects the process of integration is the focus of this presentation.

Negotiating Privilege:  Complicated and Conflicting Self-Understandings of Affluent Adolescents
Adam Howard (Education, Colby College)

Highlighting the relationship between advantages and identity formation, this talk reports the findings of a participatory action research project on eight affluent adolescents’ understandings and interpretations of who they are, their relationships with others, and their place in the world. This talk surfaces the role that privilege plays in shaping affluent youth’s identities and experiences. In negotiating their self-understandings, these adolescents construct privilege as a critical dimension of their identities that not only plays a significant role in their overall ways of knowing and doing but also serves to preserve their advantaged position. Privilege, for these adolescents, is more than the advantages they have; it is a crucial part of their identities that they both create and inherit.

Staying in Maine: Family and Community Social Capital in Rural College Graduates’ Transition to Adulthood
Ingrid Nelson (Sociology, Bowdoin College)

Unlike generations before them, young people today rely on a college degree to help them successfully transition into adult roles and establish a solid footing for the years ahead. This growing mandate for higher education creates particular challenges for youth in rural areas. Due to the decline of rural industries, adolescents often must choose between staying to close to home and facing limited economic opportunities, or leaving to pursue higher education and socioeconomic advancement. Using a social capital framework, this study explores how disadvantaged rural students overcome these obstacles and make it to college. Through in-depth interviews with 30 college graduates from across Maine, this study spotlights the sources of social capital that educationally successful youth experience during their transition to adulthood. I examine both family and community social capital, with special attention to the differences between first-generation college students and their peers.

Transnational Urban Competencies:  Affect, Race, and Neoliberalism among Brazilian and Puerto Rican Youth in Newark (NJ), Belo Horizonte (BR), and Santurce (PR)
Ana Y. Ramos-Zayas (Anthropology, Baruch College - CUNY)

Under neoliberalism there has been an intensification in the cultural standardization and organization of feelings and sentiments (Haskell 1985). This organization of feelings and sentiments intersects with everyday evaluations of racial difference and ongoing processes of “racial learning,” particularly among Latin American migrants and US-born Latinos. Racial learning is here understood as a behavior-contingent aspect of social action and a phenomenological experience, as well as a production of bodies through everyday disciplining and normalization in service of state and market goals.  Drawing from ethnographic  research conducted in public and private schools in Newark, NJ, Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and Santurce, Puerto Rico, I explore the intersection of affect, race, and neoliberalism in the lives of Brazilian and Puerto Rican youth.  In particular, I examine the ways in which U.S.-born Latinos and Latin American migrants learn race in the predominantly African American context of Newark, NJ and how these forms of racial learning compare to perspectives on race in countries of origin or ancestry.   Some critical questions explored in this presentation include:  What do individuals’ affective worlds tell us about multiscale experiences of race, racial ideologies, and racialization practices? What kind of emotional work do embodied practices of learning race require? How does becoming a racial subject in the United States and transnationally alter one’s affective world and perspectives on the emotional and racial subjectivities of others?  As demonstrated in this presentation, examining affect in its alignment to the aspirations of urban neoliberalism allows us to analyze the impact of the market and class interests on changes in cognitive style and sensibility, as well as on perspectives on race.  Ultimately, the goal of this presentation is to foreshadow the impact of capital on young people’s intimate,  phenomenological experience of the material environment, and the way in which “race” is perceived, learned, and affectively understood.

Youth Refiguring Gender and Sexuality: Institutional Contexts, Interpersonal Dynamics

 Chair: Nadia Celis (Spanish, Bowdoin College)

The Promises of Empowered Girls
Nancy Lesko (Education, Teachers College – Columbia University)

We love empowered girls: those “can-do” girls who get an education, postpone childrearing, have a voice, start in athletics, and believe they can have it all. Empowered girls are sketched as solving all social problems from intergenerational poverty worldwide to traditional gender imbalances in leadership, residual sexism in occupations and schooling, and work-family tensions. Successful girls make us happy. This presentation inquires in to girl success as an object of desire and in to what empowered girls promise. Drawing from Lauren Berlant, I am interested in the intimate public that is created around empowered girls as a case study of affective politics.

Questioning Adolescents: Queerness and Curiosity in Educational Contexts
Cris Mayo (Education, University of Illinois – Urbana/Champaign)

 Queer and questioning adolescents provide us with an opportunity to examine the curiosities and critical capacities of young people reworking gender and sexuality norms.  As growing numbers of middle school students organize gay straight alliances or advocate for transgender rights, they articulate new forms of identity and community, and engage in intricate negotiations of forms of public and private.  This paper will examine their strategies and innovations as well as discuss the particular challenges that questioning and curious nonconforming students face in educational institutions unable to keep up with the pace of changing subjectivities, alliances, and communities.

Comparing Cultures of Adolescent Sexuality and the Self in the US and Netherlands
Amy Schalet (Sociology, University of Massachusetts - Amherst)

Most scholarship on adolescent sexuality examines it from the perspective of individual choices and development, on the one hand, and peer group interactions on the other.  This paper takes a different approach, focusing on the negotiation of adolescent rights and responsibilities within the parent-teenager relationship, as a particularly fruitful, and often overlooked site for illuminating how youth come to relate to sexuality, themselves and others.  Based in cross-national research with 130 parents and teenagers in the US and the Netherlands, and drawing from my book "Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens, and the Culture of Sex (University of Chicago Press, 2011), it shows how much of what we take for granted about teenage sexuality--in American folk, professional and academic wisdom--is the product of our cultural constructs and institution.  Focusing on members of the white middle class in the two countries, the paper illuminates two distinct cultures of individualism.  I show how the Dutch middle-class cultural template provides teens with more support and subjects them to a deeper form of control, while the American middle-class cultural template make the experiences of adolescent sexuality particularly conflict-ridden.

Negotiating the Moral Politics of Heterosexuality: Young Mothers and Tourists in Transnational Cusco
Krista Van Vleet (Anthropology, Bowdoin College)

Based upon ethnographic fieldwork in a home for adolescent mothers near Cusco, Peru this paper explores the circulation of ideologies of gender, citizenship, and sexuality that emerge between Peruvian, North American and western European youth. In contemporary Cusco, the tourist industry shapes variable movements of ideas, commodities, and people, enabling individuals with diverse understandings of the world to interact. This home, like many others, relies on the labor of volunteers to support and enrich the everyday experiences of children and youth. The clients of this particular home are adolescent girls who are pregnant or have a young child and have been declared abandoned by the state. Volunteers are primarily young, unmarried women who work in the home for several days to several months as part of language or service learning programs. In the nurseries, kitchens, workshops, and schoolrooms of the home, the clients and volunteers exchange ideas about boys and babies, music and modernity, school, work, and travel. Drawing on narrative and visual methodologies, I consider, first, how young women revise or reinforce diverse assumptions of gender and sexuality, as well as of nationality. Second, I ask how “caring” is engendered not only among adolescent mothers but also in the among the tourists who aim to “give back to local communities.” Considering the uneven exchanges of ideas between these young women illuminates social and political issues of 21st century Peru that percolate through public awareness, circulate transnationally, and shape the parameters of encounter between youth.

Political Engagement and Social Activism among Youth: Opportunities and Possibilities, Present and Future

 Chair: Mara Tieken (Education, Bates College)

Keepin’ It Clean: Latino Youth and Shifting Activisms in Suburbia
Ana Aparicio (Anthropology, Northwestern)

This paper will examine the ways in which youth activists working in an increasingly impoverished and racialized suburb attempt to critique local policies and programs. With a focus on a cleanup and beautification project developed by a group of young activists, this paper explores the complicated and potentially counterproductive ways they engage with neoliberal governance. In recent decades, suburbs across the U.S. have borne the consequences of major political, economic, and demographic shifts: a dramatic increase in foreclosure rates, a sharp and sudden decrease in labor prospects – in the service sector, in construction, and in white-collar professions – an influx of more people of color, and an increase in neoliberal bureaucracies and policies.  In the suburb that is the subject of my research, public discourse often vilifies local Latino youth, as well as immigrants. Among the consequences of such shifts are the ways in which youth activists organize and respond to local political and economic processes. This paper highlights the complicated ideological and political terrain that they must navigate, as well as the multifarious decisions they make in attempting to reject a suburban version of “englightened capitalism.” 

Becoming Change Agents: Comparing Youth Organizers and Youth Commissioners
Jerusha Conner (Education, Villanova)

Although youth have long been at the forefront of social change, the last two decades have seen an upsurge in the number of organizations, agencies, and governmental bodies dedicated to supporting the idea of youth voice in public policy. Youth are becoming more involved in advocating for legislative priorities through youth councils, organizing coalitions, new media forums, and other youth development programs. Drawing on in-depth individual interviews with 46 youth in one major urban center, this study compares how participation in differently positioned political activities influences participants’ views of the most effective mechanisms for social change and their civic or political visions for themselves. Specifically, this research compares youth involved in a government sanctioned Youth Commission, developed to advise policymakers, with youth involved in a community-based youth organizing group, focused on educational reform. The study considers the extent to which being positioned as a systems-insider versus a systems-outsider shapes participants’ beliefs about the process of social change and their civic commitments, sense of political or civic efficacy, and sociopolitical identities. Findings highlight the complex nature of youth participation in public policy and suggest that in addition to positioning, the quality of their experience strongly informs participants’ thoughts about how social change happens and how they might be involved in such efforts in the future.

Youth Solidarities and Cultural Production: Toward a Decolonizing Approach
Ruben Gaztambide-Fernández (Education, University of Toronto)

There has been a rise of interest in youth solidarity movements across the globe. Even the United Nations has established a fund to support the development of youth-led initiatives that “promote long-term constructive relationships between people from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds.” This presentation will offer a reflection on some of the trends of youth solidarity work, with particular attention to the role of cultural production. It will consider the implication of this work for how we think about various kinds of solidarity, particularly across youth groups in colonial contexts, taking into account diasporic dynamics and transnational cultural flows. The presentation will pay special attention to the question of the possibilities for solidarities between indigenous and immigrant youth.  

From the Barrios to the Barricades
Maurice Rafael Magaña (University of California-Los Angeles)

This paper considers social movement temporality vis-à-vis youth activism. Based on ethnographic research, this paper examines how participation in the Oaxacan social movement of 2006 has impacted the ways in which youth from marginalized neighborhoods reimagine and reconfigure urban space and the social fabric of their city. Drawing on the case of contemporary Oaxacan youth activism, this paper argues that current parameters for assessing social movement temporality and success or failure may be too narrow for analyzing the everyday impacts that movements have on local actors.