Youth, Social Movements, and Activism Syllabus
This course provides an undergraduate level introduction to the study of youth political socialization and political activism. Young people are the backbone of most social movements from the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements to more contemporary examples like Black Lives Matter, #Occupy, and the anti-gun violence movement. The first half of the course presents an overview of theories of youth political socialization, political participation, and their role in social movements. The course specifically explores concerns about the state of youth political participation and the realities of participation, theories regarding how youth are socialized to participate in politics (and the impediments to participation), the history of youth in social movements (specifically why youth and college campuses are so important). The second half builds on this structure to review areas where youth are bringing new energy to political participation. The syllabus includes discussion in how youth have updated tactics, continue to redefine what counts as political, and incorporate new (intersectionality) and old (economic inequality) concerns into movements. The course is built around a midterm and final exam, as well as a research paper on a youth-oriented social movement that is broken up into several smaller “proposals” throughout the semester. Students are also assessed on their participation in class discussion over the substantive issues. The course serves as a point of connection between courses on youth and society, political sociology, political communication, and social movements.
The syllabus with usage notes and learning outcomes are available on the TRAILS website.
An un-gated link to Youth & Activism syllabus is available here.
Additional material are available here.
This is a short (3-4pg) assignment that you may use as a part of the youth, social movements, and activism course.
Additional material are available here.
A link to a word version of this post is available here
Assignment: Youth Political Participation Interview Study
Overview: In class we have discussed, or will be discussing, how youth learn to be politically involved, perceptions of youth political involvement (particularly adults’ perceptions), and how youth may “avoid” being perceived as political. We have also discussed the realities around the diverse ways that youth are politically active. For this assignment, you will conduct one-on-one interviews (they should be at least 20-30 minutes, but you are encouraged to talk longer if it is going well) with THREE people you know or perhaps do not know so well regarding such themes. These can be friends, parents, family members, neighbors, strangers, etc. During your interview, like any sociologist, you want open and honest answers, and so you should make sure that they are comfortable sharing their beliefs, experiences, and perspectives. You should ask them the following questions. The goal is to get in-depth answers, and so you are encouraged to ask follow up questions (i.e. tell me more about that). It is okay if you do not get to all of the questions.
- What were you taught about politics and activism growing up from your family, friends, and teachers? Did you have conversations about political issues at home or with friends?
- Do you see yourself as politically active? What do you do that you would consider political? What would you consider activism?
- Why do you engage in these forms of politics and activism? [If they do not participate in any activism or politics, as them why they choose not to participate]?
- What do you think of politics in general? What do you think of people who are politically active? What would you think if someone referred to you as politically active or an activist?
- Who do you talk about politics with? What do you talk about, and how often?
- What sorts of issues do you think are worth getting active in response to?
After you have completed your interviews, you will write a research report on what you have found. Your report will be organized. It will have an introduction, conclusion, and a central conceptual focus (i.e. you should be able to summarize what you learned from your interviewees in one or two sentences). The body of the paper should be divided into several sections. The middle three sections should each receive equal weight in your write-up:
- An Introductory section that introduces the issue, broad research question, and the central conceptual focus of your paper.
- A Description and summary of your interviews. Describe who the THREE people you interviewed were, who they are to you, and when you interviewed them. Summarize their responses. What did you learn from them that you never thought about, or realized? What were the common themes and patterns of experiences that you saw across all of the interviews?
- An analysis and interpretation of these observations using one (no more than two) of the concepts developed in the text and class. Integrate your interview materials with lecture and text pertaining to political socialization, political participation, and political avoidance. Overall, you should demonstrate an awareness of some of the varied ways that engage with or avoid political participation. Make sure that you are not just defining the class concepts, but applying them. In other words, your paper should explain the concept, identify a couple of examples from you interviews, and then explains why they are examples of the concept.
- A reflective discussion about your own political socialization and participation. Have you ever thought about your political beliefs and actions? How did you learn “proper” political behavior, and do you express your political beliefs in culturally acceptable ways? Can you recall moments of ambiguity or tension, or peer pressure or policing, in your own development? Would you say that you generally conform your political beliefs to your friends and families’ beliefs or do you see yourself as challenging their political expectations? How and why?
- A conclusion paragraph that summarizes the main findings from your interviews and how they connect with the class concepts you selected.
Materials for Teaching about Youth and Activism
Jennifer Earl & Thomas V. Maher
We have created a suite of materials for teaching about youth, political socialization, and activism as a part of the MacArthur Foundation-funded Youth Activism Project. We present this blog post as a centralized way to share these materials with the broader social movements community. Here, we include a syllabus on youth and activism, a series of one week modules that you might consider adding to your courses on social movements, political sociology, or political communication, annotated readings and discussion questions for those are unfamiliar (or who would like to get reacquainted) with parts of the literature, focus questions (to be used in conjunction with the syllabus), links to online materials including interviews with young people about politics, and a short assignment that asks students to interview three people that they know about political participation. We are producing more assignments and materials, and we look forward to sharing them when they are finished.
One Week Modules & Suggested Readings
Focus Questions & Annotated Readings
Short assignment: Perceptions of Politics Assignment
Seminar/Project Idea: Research Paper on Youth Activism
Everyone intuitively knows it, but few will say it—either because they don’t want to be a grump, or because they haven’t connected the theoretical dots. But I am willing to be that grump, and I have connected the dots, so I’ll say it: there’s no such thing as a Millennial.
The earlier responses to this essay prompt on generations and social movements are full of insights on activism today so I will focus on the generation angle: What would it mean if new youth activism were truly a generational phenomenon? The answer to this question requires that we drop the Millennial label and the theoretical baggage that comes with it because the very idea of a Millennial falls squarely on the wrong side of a paradigmatic divide in generational theory. Smuggling that discredited generational mythology into our activism and research distracts us from the reality of generational change. Continue reading
In a June 2014 segment on network neutrality, John Oliver encouraged his viewers to “turn on caps-lock and fly my pretties” in an effort to encourage the Federal Communications Commission to uphold the principle of network neutrality and an open internet. In a 20-minute segment that launched a thousand ships, Oliver’s remarks motivated the public to post millions of comments within the FCC online commenting system- ultimately overwhelming and crashing the system. For many journalists, Oliver’s call for action was a success and the motivation for the 2015 decision to uphold Network Neutrality. Continue reading
Two years ago I focused my ASA Presidential address on social movements led by Millennials, building on Karl Mannheim’s classic treatise on “The Problem of Generations.” As the first generation of “digital natives,” and the one most directly impacted by the economic precarity that emerged from the neoliberal transformation of the labor market, the Millennial generation has a distinctive life experience and worldview. Disappointed by the false promises of racial and gender equality, and faced with skyrocketing growth in class inequality, Millennial activists embrace an explicitly intersectional political agenda. Continue reading
The new millennium began with widespread hand-wringing about the retreat of youth from political engagement, with low voter turnout and a lack of faith in political leaders as the main metrics. These commentaries directed our attention to the future health of our democracies, urging us to consider the ways in which a presumed adult “we” can best socialize youth into politics. For many observers, the concern with youth political engagement (or lack thereof) was important insofar as this engagement determines the future vibrancy of our political system. These dominant discourses and anxieties about youth apathy reflect a narrow focus on youth as “citizens in the making” instead of political forces in and of themselves. Although youth are important as the future bearers of a democratic society, they are undeniably political forces in the present moment; both inside and outside of electoral politics.
Generational change and youth involvement hold special importance within social movement studies. Historically, young people have been deeply involved in the most important social movements in the United States and the World, such as the US Civil Rights Movement, the 60’s student movement in Europe and Latin America, the transnational LGBTQ movement, and many others. Millennials have perhaps been more socially and politically involved than other recent generations. They have engaged in traditional forms of political participation ranging from the conservative (e.g. the Tea Party) to the liberal (e.g. Obama’s two presidential campaigns). Recently, Millennials have also shown their involvement in less traditional forms of political engagement, such as their participation in #NeverAgain, #MeToo, the Women’s March, and other national and transnational social movements. It is clear then that millennials are not only decidedly engaged in the social and political issues that affect them, but also that they are clearly expressing their dissatisfaction through activism. Furthermore, there is evidence that this generation might be engaging in both traditional and innovative ways, expanding the repertoires of contention of previous generations. This dialogue invited social movement scholars and activists to reflect on the roles that millennials have played in recent social movement activity and the implications of their involvement for both our discipline and policy.
Thanks to our second group of contributors on this topic.
Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, Guillermo Trejo
When Parkland students began their press for gun control, public reaction varied from inspired, to surprised, to dismissive. Critics charged that the students didn’t have enough experience or knowledge to be involved in the presumptively adult-oriented world of politics, although others were simply surprised because they bought into the idea that young people are not that engaged. But, for people who have been studying youth political engagement, their activism was less surprising than it was to see adults actually pay attention to it.
Whenever I read yet another commentary that purports to describe the characteristics of millennials I can’t help but sigh and roll my eyes a bit. How will they be characterized today, I wonder? Self-absorbed? Socialists? Apathetic? Entrepreneurial? Fragile? Resilient? Unfortunately, the tendency to generalize about generations, especially when that generation’s members are in their youth or young adulthood, is pervasive. While I firmly believe that sociologists should engage with the vital question of how a group’s shared experiences growing up in a particular historical and social context shapes their identities, including their political identities, the nuances often get lost and oversimplified when generational thinking is deployed in news and popular culture. So it is with some serious hesitation that I enter into this dialogue about millennials and activism.