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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Re/narrating youth : a critical qualitative study of learning in an activist organization Goessling, Kristen Parker


This critical qualitative research investigated the meaning making practices of a group of 10 youth activists in a youth-driven social justice organization, called Think Again, located in Vancouver, BC. An overarching goal of this study was to contribute to scholarship concerned with how young people, as cultural producers, re/narrate what it means to be a young person in a neoliberal society. To this end, I explored the ways in which contemporary youth narratives, such as the “millennial youth” narrative, afford and constrain learning opportunities for specific groups of young people. My research questions were as follows: (1) In what ways can Think Again be described as a community of practice?; (2) What forms of participation are encouraged at Think Again?; (3) How does youths’ participation at Think Again support and/or challenge the broader social narratives of youth? and; (4) How do participants narrate their lived experiences and participation at Think Again? These questions allowed me to explore the potential disconnect between contemporary youth narratives and youths’ activist narratives to better understand how youths perceive of themselves and their lives within an evolving community of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991). Analysis of the qualitative data was conducted at three levels in order to identify and examine: (1) narratives across the data, (2) traces of participation across youths’ constructions of knowing, being, and valuing, and (3) participation as future-making. This study resulted in four key findings. The first is a set of more nuanced counternarratives of what it means to be a “youth” today. The second attends to how thinking about learning as participation, a holistic endeavor, also entails changes in knowing, being, and valuing. The third outlines local opportunities for youth participation that generate the conditions for a “politics of possibility” (Holland & Gómez, 2013) as essential to personal and social transformation. The fourth addresses the changing face of youth activism in the contemporary neoliberal context. This study advances the fields of youth engagement, learning as participation, and qualitative methodologies by deploying narrative accounts of young people’s lived experiences.

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