Demystifying Conscientization: (Re)discovering Political Orientations in Youth Action Researchers
Kevin Clay

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



The State University of New Jersey

Primary Discipline

In social justice work, marginalized youth are often positioned as change agents; people whose critical awareness can be harnessed in the service of political transformation. However, such work commonly portrays youth as naturally insightful about structural inequality and inclined toward activism, neglecting the true complexity of young people’s political orientations. The purpose of this study is to paint a more nuanced picture of Black and Latinx youths’ political orientations that takes into account the varied and often conflicting discourses espoused by socializing agents and institutions in their lives. I draw on research conducted over the course of a year spent with a group of high school youth as I facilitated youth participatory action research (YPAR). I pay particular attention to their politics on race, class, inequality, and social change as we interrogated local challenges through a curriculum that explicitly framed inequality as structurally rooted. I situate my empirical inquiry and data analysis in interpretivist ethnography, as the aim of my work is to relate students’ voices—in the fullest context of selves that they offer in my presence—to prevailing sociopolitical discourses. My approach to ethnography is embedded in posthumanism which recognizes participant voice as the production of an intra-action of forces beyond what is spoken (or heard). This study reveals the multiple and sometimes contradictory stances young people hold toward inequality, individualism, power, and social change. In doing so, my research endeavors to illustrate why it is imperative that those invested in young people’s critical awareness develop a more comprehensive understanding of youth political socialization.
About Kevin Clay
Kevin Clay is a doctoral candidate in the department of Education Theory, Organization, and Policy at Rutgers University. The inspiration for his doctoral work extends from a deep personal commitment to engage in teaching and research that can move us toward the achievement of transformational equity in Black schools and communities. Between 2011 and 2016, he taught and advised in several pre-college access programs serving mostly Black and Latinx young people in cities throughout the state of New Jersey. In this context, he facilitated youth participatory action research (YPAR) with a group of high school students, where they researched local problems and developed plans of action to make critical interventions in their community. Kevin’s experiences in this setting form the basis of his dissertation research. His dissertation investigates how young people negotiate political orientations on matters of race, class, inequality, and social change. In addition to his research, Kevin teaches both foundations of education courses and courses in African American Studies. He is a graduate executive committee member of AERA’s Division G and a member of the UCEA Graduate Student Council. He is a former fellow in the United Negro College Fund’s Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute and currently serves as a mentor through Project IMPACT (Increasing Male Practitioners and Classroom Teachers), a program at Rowan University’s College of Education which aims to support pre-service teachers of color who are committed to teaching in communities of color upon their graduation.

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