UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Citizen youth : culture, activism, and agency in an era of globalization Kennelly, Jacqueline Joan


This thesis seeks to uncover some of the cultural practices central to youth activist subcultures across three urban centres in Canada: Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. I undertake this work within the context of rising moral and state claims about the apparent need for ‘good citizenship’ to be exercised by young people, alongside a late modern relationship between liberalism, neoliberalism, and Canada’s history of class- and race-based exclusions. The theoretical framework bridges cultural and political sociology with youth cultural theory. It also draws heavily upon the work of feminist philosophers of agency and the state. The main methodology is ethnographic, and was carried out within a phenomenological and hermeneutic framework. In total, 41 young people, ages 13-29, were involved in this research. Participants self-identified as being involved in activist work addressing issues such as globalization, war, poverty and/or colonialism. The findings of this study suggest that the effects of the historical and contemporary symbol of the ‘good citizen’ are experienced within youth activist subcultures through a variety of cultural means, including: expectations from self and schooling to be ‘responsible,’ with its associated burdens of guilt; policing practices that appear to rely on cultural ideas about the ‘good citizen’ and the ‘bad activist’; and representations of youth activism (e.g. within media) as replete with out-of-control young people being punished for their wrong-doings. Wider effects include the entrenched impacts of class- and race-based exclusions, which manifest within youth activist subcultures through stylistic regimes of ‘symbolic authorization’ that incorporate attire, beliefs, and practices. Although findings suggest that many young people come to activism via a predisposition created within an activist or Left-leaning family, this research also highlights the relational means by which people from outside of this familial habitus can come to activist practices. Taken together, findings suggest that youth activism must be understood as a cultural and social phenomenon, with requisite preconditions, influences, and effects; that such practices cannot be disassociated from wider social inequalities; and that such effects and influences demand scrutiny if we are to reconsider the role of activism and its part in expanding the political boundaries of the nation-state.

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