June 6, 2024

Scholars' conference explores the 'unruly and irreverent' in youth

UCalgary hosts Association for Research in Cultures of Young People June 6-8
A group of people sit on a table
From left: Derritt Mason, Jessalynn Keller, Pallavi Banerjee, Catherine Burwell, Kimberly Lenters. Satoko Onada, Faculty of Arts

UCalgary researchers who study children and youth are welcoming researchers from across North America and the U.K. to campus June 6 to 8 for Youngsters 3, the third conference of the Association for Research in Cultures of Young People (ARCYP). 

The interdisciplinary conference looks at “the unruly, the irreverent, and the defiant” in young people, as well as youth studies’ “unusual or undisciplined place in the academy,” says Dr. Derritt Mason, PhD. “It's something of an unruly discipline in that it defies traditional disciplinary categories,” says Mason, associate professor in the Department of English in the Faculty of Arts and president of ARCYP. 

Dozens of scholars from fields including English, education, media studies, child and youth studies, sociology and health studies will take part in two days of discussions, including panels and keynote speakers, including artist Vivek Shraya, associate professor in the Department of English in the Faculty of Arts. Several other UCalgary faculty are presenting on panels.

“Some folks will be talking about their research on children's literature or media that's created for children,” says Dr. Catherine Burwell, PhD, conference co-chair and associate professor in the Werklund School of Education

“Others will speak about media that children or youth produce themselves, starting from the understanding that young people play a significant role in creating culture. There are people talking about what's happening in classrooms and about questions of identity, sexuality and race. And because our conference is focused on discipline and responses to being disciplined, youth activism is also a relevant topic.” 

The conference will spur “important interdisciplinary conversations” among researchers who can sometimes feel “a little bit isolated in their own disciplines,” she says. Participants will also discuss the ethics involved in research for, with and about young people. 

“There are a lot of ethical issues in research with young people,” says Burwell. “Many scholars at the conference will address new directions for participatory research that are more firmly rooted in young people’s own experiences and concerns.”

The conference was initially scheduled for 2021 but was postponed several times due to COVID. “The murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests of the summer of 2020 very much influenced our theme thinking about how young people are activists and resist the various forms of discipline they're often subject to,” says Mason. Other events, such as governments introducing or musing about policies regarding medical rights for trans youth as well as discipline around Indigenous and racialized youth further informed the theme, he says. 

“Events on campuses in Canada and around the world have made our conference theme even more timely. It speaks to how young people are using their agency and are feeling empowered to make change in the world they are struggling against and trying to resist in many cases,” says Mason. 

The ARCYP conference “brings together scholars from so many different disciplines and offers so many opportunities for us to learn from one another,” he says. 

Here a few of the UCalgary scholars who will be talking about their work at Youngsters 3 (quotes edited for length):

Dr. Pallavi Banerjee, PhD 

Associate Professor and UCalgary Research Excellence Chair
Department of Sociology, Faculty of Arts

“I have been leading a transdisciplinary coalition — Youth and Anti-Racist Integration (YARI) Collective — that includes researchers from UCalgary, newcomer youth of colour and four Calgary-based resettlement agencies (CCIS, CIWA, CFN, CBFY). I'm a sociologist and the project co-lead, Dr. Pratim Sengupta, PhD, is professor of learning sciences at the Werklund School of Education.

“Along with graduate students from various backgrounds and the newcomer youth, our critical, intersectional, community-based project transcends disciplinary boundaries by centring the curiosity, questions, and experiences of newcomer youth as they identify and respond to their experiences, feelings, and perceptions of race and racism during their resettlement process in Canada. 

“The youth engaged in critical and creative storytelling about their migration experiences by co-designing documentary films, animations, computational simulations, music, murals, spoken words and a community garden. For the youth who came from previously colonized or war-torn countries, these creations hold hope, loss, pain and solidarity — emotions that are visceral to  forced migration but are silenced during migration. 

“The project explored how we can develop anti-racist practices and programming within the resettlement agencies from the newcomer youths’ perspective.”

Dr. Jessalynn Keller, PhD

Associate professor, Department of Communication, Media and Film, Faculty of Arts

“My research in girls’ media studies looks at girls as political actors within digital cultures, specifically how girls engage with feminism and social justice activism. Instead of being viewed as victims of online culture, which is how we often talk about girls in relation to the internet, it's shifting the discourse to talk about girls as being critical internet citizens.

“Back in the early 2010s, I focused primarily on girls as feminist bloggers. More recently I’ve studied how girls are challenging everyday sexism and gendered violence in their lives through the use of social media. I interview girls to try to get how they feel about and experience the internet as feminists.

“Rather than saying, okay, there are harms online and we need to ban social media or not let girls use it — we know that that doesn't work — my research shows the need to advocate for girls to develop critical skills, while also understanding that sometimes they already have these skills. They don't necessarily need us to ‘give’ them those skills. In fact, as adults, we can often learn a lot about the internet from girls. 

“That's the disruption that I see in this idea of undisciplined. It is being unruly. It's about pushing back against those traditional ideas about girls and girlhood.”

Dr. Kimberly Lenters, PhD

Professor and Canada Research Chair in Language & Literacy Education (Tier 2)
Werklund School of Education

“My work seeks to animate the kinds of capacities children have for literate endeavour and issues a plea for recognizing engagements with literacy that exceed or step outside of what they are tasked with on a day-to-day basis. When a lot of people hear literacy learning, they think about those basic skills of learning to read and write — learning the alphabet, learning the sounds that the alphabet makes, learning to string those together into words and then into sentences, et cetera.

“Those pieces are important, but they're not the only parts of literacy instruction. We need to attend to literacy’s role in collective and connective exploration, creativity, conversation, and critical thought, to name just a few of literacy’s social and material practices.

“One aspect of deep literacy involves kids in using literacy for thinking critically, for getting at the heart of a problem, exploring it, and taking creative action to address it. These aspects of critical literacies really get squeezed out by a focus on literacy’s minutiae I worry that in our current context, with its almost singular focus on the basic skills of literacy, we won't be creating young people who are trained to think about how to use literacy expansively.

“The bright side to this issue is the more we discipline literacies, the more that we try to schedule them, the more that kids will do on the sidelines. That sort of space for open exploration is valuable time. Kids will find ways."

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