By Jenna Somers
How do young people develop an understanding of societal and systemic injustices, and how are they compelled to challenge those injustices? These questions lie at the center of new research published in Child Development that illuminates the interplay between youth participation in community-based activism and the development of critical action, critical reflection, and critical motivation, the three dimensions of critical consciousness often catalyzed through contentions with systems of injustice and oppression.
“This study is the first to longitudinally examine the development of critical consciousness among youth involved in community-based activist organizations,” said Andres Pinedo, assistant professor of human and organizational development at Vanderbilt Peabody College of education and human development. Pinedo is first author on the study, which he conducted as a graduate student at the University of Michigan.
Pinedo and his team found that youth involved in community-based organizations grow in their critical consciousness at rates greater than observed in different contexts. They argue that consciousness-raising systems, or contexts that embrace values and practices consistent with critical consciousness, are essential to facilitate its development.
Interestingly, the researchers found that while youth involved in community-based organizations demonstrated significant growth in critical reflection and action over time, the same did not hold true for critical motivation, which remained constant. That said, youth who join such organizations tend to demonstrate high levels of critical motivation at the start; thus, Pinedo was impressed to see youth maintain those levels of critical motivation over the course of the study.
“This study’s findings suggest that community-based activist organizations can play a key role in equipping young people to navigate the social world,” Pinedo said. “Youth gain important competencies and theories of change within this context that empower them to take action to address issues relevant to their communities. These contexts can spur a cyclical process in which youth improve conditions that are then developed more holistically by future young activists, a process of iterating positive change. However, for these contexts to be effective, they must respect young people as experts of their lived experiences and provide them sufficient opportunities to lead. Importantly, youth-serving organizations also need support from the broader community and society to continue supporting youth.”