New book sheds light on youth in Canada

Brock University professor Rebecca Raby is not surprised that young people across the U.S. are carrying out demonstrations to protest gun violence and remember the victims of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

As one of the co-editors of the recently published volume, The Sociology of Childhood and Youth in Canada, Raby, a Professor in the Department of Child and Youth Studies, had access to the most recent research into youth activism and engagement.

“There are many, many examples of young people today mobilizing around social issues, especially those that connect to their high schools,” says Raby. “To do so, they are activating social media in a way that blurs distinctions between online and offline worlds.”

The Sociology of Childhood and Youth in Canada, co-edited by Xiaobei Chen, Rebecca Raby, and Patrizia Albanese, was published this winter by Canadian Scholars’ Press.

She further notes that while some adults express concerns that young people are disengaging from formal politics, “in other arenas, we can see young people engaging directly with political questions.”

The book examines several examples of youth confronting issues that are important to them, from young people creating gay-straight alliances at their schools, to racialized youth in Toronto engaging in citizenship as a practice, to the topic of Raby’s own chapter, co-authored with Associate Professor Shauna Pomerantz, on dress code protests between 2000 and 2016.

“Especially in 2014 and 2015, there was a growing concern about how dress codes and their enforcement largely police and shame girls around sexuality,” Raby says. “The students quoted about the protests in the Canadian press articulated clear, feminist politics about gendered inequalities in how dress codes are presented and enforced.”

The backlash against young people using their voices is also explored in the book.

“Adults sometimes conceptualize young people in ways that discount their views and participation, framing them as incompetent, immature and naïve,” says Raby. “But many researchers are challenging this way of thinking about children and youth, noting the value of listening to young people’s views, highlighting their competencies and reminding us that they have a right to say in decision-making about them, outlined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

The book also highlights the value of conducting research with, rather than on, children.

“The collection emphasizes what it means to think about children’s rights, the importance of attending to the lived experience of diverse children, including children with disabilities, and how young people are attempting to change the world around them for the better,” says Raby.

In addition to looking at youth citizenship and social justice, The Sociology of Childhood and Youth in Canada also includes chapters on a range of topics, from ethnography and creative visual methods in research with children, to representations of race and gender in children’s books, to how young people engage with consumer culture, to settler colonialism and Indigenous children in Canada.

Several researchers and graduate students from Brock’s Department of Child and Youth Studies and the MA in Social Justice and Equity Studies, have work featured in the book, alongside scholars from across the country who hope to expand this under-represented field of research in Canada.

“The sociology of childhood has grown into a robust field elsewhere, most notably in England, Scandinavia and Australia, but in Canada the scope of research into the sociology of childhood has been much more scarce, with a focus on the family, youth subcultures or youth at risk,” says Raby.

“Generally speaking, there is less focus on children’s rights in Canada, perhaps because we are so influenced by the U.S. — the only nation that still has not signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

The new volume will help draw attention to the growth in research and scholarship in the field.

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