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Dueling Banjos: Shifting Economic and Cultural Contexts in the Lives of Youth


by Lois Weis & Greg Dimitriadis — 2008

Background/Context: As the economy grows ever more tight, the school (K–16) is increasingly important in relation to life choices and outcomes, and researchers who focus on youth culture, often in and out of school contexts, can no longer afford to ignore such traditional educational institutions. If school credentials do not “guarantee” social mobility, they are certainly the sine qua non of such mobility in the New Economy.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: In this article, we put these concerns into dialogue with recent work (including our own) that valorizes out-of-school settings and popular texts as sites for the production of authentic and vibrant youth identities. We find ourselves less and less able to read youth practices as removed from the structural realities of schooling and the economic context within which this all plays out. This means that we can no longer valorize youth practices as disconnected from their broader context because the linkage between “success” in school (defined in particular ways such as test scores, attainment, and so forth) and economic and social possibility is becoming tighter than ever. The consequences of what we often theorize as vibrant youth identities as produced in out-of-school sites, then, must be examined and theorized as part of a long-term intellectual project that explores such identities in school spaces and beyond.

Research Design: For this article, we critically interrogated and synthesized extant research in three key areas: the New Economy and globalized capitalism; the production of youth identities through popular culture and out-of-school learning settings; and qualitative research and multi-sited ethnography.

Conclusions/Recommendations: We offer reconceptualized multi-sited ethnographic approaches as one potential set of responses to this central challenge now facing educational researchers: bridging concerns around the attenuation of economic opportunities for youth and current work on the vibrancy of youths’ cultural lives.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 110 Number 10, 2008, p. 2290-2316
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15195, Date Accessed: 10/17/2017 6:34:24 PM

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About the Author
  • Lois Weis
    University at Buffalo, SUNY
    LOIS WEIS is SUNY Distinguished Professor of Sociology of Education at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. Weis has written extensively about the current predicament of White and minority working-class and poor youth and young adults, and the complex role that gender and race play in their lives in light of the contemporary dynamics associated with deindustrialization, new patterns of emigration, and the movement of cultural and economic capital across national borders. Her most recent books are Class Reunion: The Remaking of the American White Working Class (Routledge), and Working Method: Research and Social Justice (Routledge) coauthored with Michelle Fine.
  • Greg Dimitriadis
    University at Buffalo, SUNY
    E-mail Author
    GREG DIMITRIADIS is Associate Professor of Sociology of Education at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. Dimitriadis has written extensively on the potential value and important contribution of nontraditional educational curricula, programs, and institutions in the lives of disfranchised youth. In addition, he has written widely on qualitative research methodology and theory in education. His most recent books are On Qualitative Inquiry (Teachers College Press) and Theory for Education (Routledge), both coauthored with George Kamberelis.
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