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Youth Researching Youth: “Trading On” Subcultural Capital in Peer Research Methodologies

by Karen Nairn, Jane Higgins & Judith Sligo - June 09, 2007

Background/Context: Historically, research about children and young people was done by proxy, by talking to their parents and teachers. In recent decades, researchers have developed ways to collect data directly from children and young people. More recently still, there have been attempts to collaborate with young people in the conduct of research, including youth researching youth, often referred to as peer research. The Clark and Moss article “Researching With: Ethical and Epistemological Implications of Doing Collaborative, Change-Orientated Research With Teachers and Students,” published in Teachers College Record in 1996, was a catalyst for this article.

Focus of Study: Using the concepts of cultural and subcultural capital, we seek to provide a theoretical framework for understanding some of the successes and limitations of a peer research methodology. Reporting on our experiences of this methodology across three research projects, we show how youth researchers’ subcultural and cultural capitals were assets to research teams that included adult and youth researchers.

Setting: We report from three research projects in which we employed young people to conduct research with their peers. The research about young people’s participation in local government was conducted in shopping malls, schools, youth conferences, and local government offices. The research about high school students’ rights was conducted in four different high schools. The research about post–high school transitions was conducted in and outside school spaces.

Participants: A total of 15 peer researchers participated across the three studies. All were young adults in their last year of high school or had recently finished high school.

Research Design: The article is based on data collected via debriefing interviews with 15 peer researchers. We present a theoretical framework for understanding the successes and limitations of a peer research methodology and draw on our data to make four distinct theoretical arguments about the employment of young people as researchers.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Our four theoretical points are: (1) peer researchers’ subcultural capital enabled the establishment of rapport with their interviewees; (2) peer researchers also have cultural capital (like adult researchers); (3) adult researchers might overlook subcultural capital because of its subcultural (and often invisible) status; and (4) there are limits to advantages accruing to a project that trades on the subcultural capital of peer researchers. We conclude by arguing that the theoretical concepts of subcultural and cultural capitals provide a rationale for constituting research teams on the basis of different capitals and knowledges, and a way of acknowledging young people’s contributions as researchers of their peers.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: June 09, 2007
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14515, Date Accessed: 5/13/2021 6:16:10 PM

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About the Author
  • Karen Nairn
    University of Otago
    E-mail Author
    KAREN NAIRN is a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Education at the University of Otago, New Zealand. She is a coinvestigator (with Jane Higgins and Judith Sligo) on a 3-year project entitled “In Transition”: How the Children of the Economic Reforms Articulate Identities at the Child/Adult Border. More broadly, her research focuses on processes of exclusion in education shaped by gender, sexuality, and race. Recent publications include, with J. Higgins, “‘In Transition’: Choice and the Children of New Zealand’s Economic Reforms,” British Journal of Sociology in Education (2006); and, with J. Higgins, B. Thompson, M. Anderson, and N. Fu, “‘It’s Just Like the Teenage Stereotype, You Go Out and Drink and Stuff’: Hearing From Young People Who Don’t Drink,” Journal of Youth Studies (2006).
  • Jane Higgins
    Lincoln University
    JANE HIGGINS is a senior research fellow at Lincoln University, New Zealand. Her research explores the experience of young people in transition between school and postschool worlds. She has a particular interest in the dynamics of the youth labor market and youth (un)employment. Recent publications include, with K. Nairn, “Choice and the Children of New Zealand’s Economic Reforms,” British Journal of Sociology of Education (2006); and, with P. Dalziel, “Pareto, Parsons and the Boundaries between Economics and Sociology,” American Journal of Economics and Sociology (2006).
  • Judith Sligo
    University of Otago
    JUDITH SLIGO is a research assistant who has worked on several projects working with young people and their families. She is currently working on two long-term projects, one that investigates young people’s identities at the end of their compulsory schooling, and another that focuses on parents’ experiences of parenting their preschool children. Recent publications include, with C. Freeman and K. Nairn, “Professionalising” Participation: From Rhetoric to Practice, Children’s Geographies (2003); and, with J. Belsky, S. Jaffee, L. Woodward, and P. Silva, “Intergenerational Transmission of Warm-Sensitive-Stimulating Parenting: A Prospective Study of Mothers and Fathers of 3 Year-Olds,” Child Development (2005).
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