Representing Youth: Methodological Issues in Critical Youth Studies

Representing Youth: Methodological Issues in Critical Youth Studies

Representing Youth: Methodological Issues in Critical Youth Studies

Representing Youth: Methodological Issues in Critical Youth Studies


From youth culture to adolescent sexuality to the consumer purchasing power of children en masse, studies are flourishing. Yet doing research on this unquestionably more vulnerablewhether five or fifteen- population also poses a unique set of challenges and dilemmas for researchers. How should a six-year-old be approached for an interview? What questions and topics are appropriate for twelve year olds? Do parents need to give their approval for all studies?

In Representing Youth , Amy L. Best has assembled an important group of essays from some of today's top scholars on the subject of youth that address these concerns head on, providing scholars with thoughtful and often practical answers to their many methodological concerns. These original essays range from how to conduct research on youth in ways that can be empowering for them, to issues of writing and representation, to respecting boundaries and to dealing with issues of risk and responsibility to those interviewed. For anyone doing research or working with children and young adults, Representing Youth offers an indispensable guide to many of the unique dilemmas that research with kids entails.

Contributors include: Amy L. Best, Sari Knopp Biklen, Elizabeth Chin, Susan Driver, Marc Flacks, Kathryn Gold Hadley, Madeline Leonard, C. J. Pascoe, Rebecca Raby, Alyssa Richman, Jessica Taft, Michael Ungar, Yvonne Vissing, and Stephani Etheridge Woodson.


I begin with a researcher's parable. Several years ago, I undertook a qualitative study examining youth and the high school prom (Best, 2000). I was interested in understanding the intersection of youth identity formation, schooling, and popular culture and the dynamic ways race, class, sexuality, and gender come to bear on these social forms and collective practices. I drew on a range of materials for analysis—in-depth interviews, participant observation of four public high schools, prom narratives written by college students, archival documents, and various media—to explore the rich meanings and subtle complexities of the prom as an iconic social event for today's American youth. of the four schools I studied, two had significant immigrant student populations. in one of the schools, nearly 20 percent of the students were either immigrants or descendants of immigrants. I noted in my field notes, though only in passing, that one of the schools did not require students to have a prom date to attend the prom; students were permitted to go “stag.” in my field notes I wrote that this was because a number of the students were Muslim or Hindu and their parents forbade their dating. Wanting all students to be able to participate in this “great coming-of-age American ritual,” school administrators adjusted what had once been a hard-and-fast rule of the prom, the senior faculty adviser explained to me. in my field notes from my investigation of the second school, I noted that the Hmong student population was nearly absent from the prom, even though they represented well over 10 percent of the school's student body. the year I visited, only two Hmong students attended the prom.

These two facts, both remarkable, received only passing mention in the book I wrote, and one only as a footnote. Somehow these two points had fallen outside my purview, slipping off my radar screen only to become . . .

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