Halfway Houses for Democracy: Mapping Sociopolitical Learning and Development in the Context of Mass Incarceration
David Knight

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Chicago

Primary Discipline

Over the years, civic and political engagement in youth has become a central topic of concern in the field of education and other areas including psychology and political science. Scholars across these fields have constructed theories to understand how sociopolitical learning and development are and can be further cultivated, especially among young people in marginalized settings. These political and civic skills and engagements are critical for realizing equity and democracy. Yet very little is known about what sociopolitical learning and engagement mean and look like among young people along the carceral continuum, even though these systems structure the lives, learning, and development of hundreds of thousands of youth and young adults every year. This project uses these concerns as its point of departure, asking the following questions: First, what role does the carceral continuum serve as a context for civic and political learning and development? Second, in what ways do youth and young adults in these systems enact and develop new strategies and spaces of learning and reflection? To address these questions, this project utilizes mixed, multi-sited fieldwork involving youth and young adults, parents and caregivers, teachers and service providers, and judicial officers and public officials. These multiple lenses will shed light on a critical yet rarely studied context in which millions of young people learn and come of age.
About David Knight
David J. Knight is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago, where he is also a fellow in the Interdisciplinary Training Program in the Education Sciences. Before coming to Chicago, David was a certified public school teacher in Boston and San Francisco. This experience teaching and engaging youth in urban communities profoundly informs his research and public engagement. David is broadly interested in political socialization, race and ethnicity, adolescence to early adulthood, and social movements. His current research examines how public policy shapes young people's sociopolitical development and transitions to adulthood across a variety of unequal settings?namely, criminal punishment, urban schooling, and housing. Originally from the New Orleans area, David received a bachelor's degree in history from Dartmouth College, trained as a teacher at Stanford University, and began his research career as a master's student at Harvard University.

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