Uncivil Youth

Race, Activism, and Affirmative Governmentality

Uncivil Youth

Book Pages: 184 Illustrations: 3 illustrations Published: April 2013

Author: Soo Ah Kwon

Activism, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian American Studies

In Uncivil Youth, Soo Ah Kwon explores youth of color activism as linked to the making of democratic citizen-subjects. Focusing attention on the relations of power that inform the social and political practices of youth of color, Kwon examines how after-school and community-based programs are often mobilized to prevent potentially "at-risk" youth from turning to "juvenile delinquency" and crime. These sorts of strategic interventions seek to mold young people to become self-empowered and responsible citizens. Theorizing this mode of youth governance as "affirmative governmentality," Kwon investigates the political conditions that both enable youth of color to achieve meaningful change and limit their ability to do so given the entrenchment of nonprofits in the logic of a neoliberal state. She draws on several years of ethnographic research with an Oakland-based, panethnic youth organization that promotes grassroots activism among its second-generation Asian and Pacific Islander members (ages fourteen to eighteen). While analyzing the contradictions of the youth organizing movement, Kwon documents the genuine contributions to social change made by the young people with whom she worked in an era of increased youth criminalization and anti-immigrant legislation.


“Kwon's work gives us a powerful framework to analyze the way any number of progressive folk... seek to problem-solve black youth.” — Lester K. Spence, Lester Spence blog

“In this definitive text examining youth engagement among Asian American youth, Kwon (Univ. of Illinois) takes readers on an ethnographic journey to explore afterschool initiatives and other community-based projects, and shows how these initiatives serve as protective factors against juvenile delinquency. . . . Highly recommended.” — D. E. Kelly, Choice

“This book would be very well placed on advanced undergraduate or Masters’ programmes’ reading lists—as much for the substantive content as for Kwon’s approach, style and appreciative analysis. The latter will doubtless generate excellent student discussions. For the rest of us, and particularly those interested in subjectification processes, the concept of citizenship or youth justice, this is definitely one to read.” — Jo Phoenix, British Journal of Criminology

“Kwon’s investigation is an elegantly reasoned, well supported, and exceedingly timely intervention into contemporary scholarship on activism and youth. Her smart historicization of the state’s interest in youth and her interdisciplinary exploration of systems of power and youth organizing make this book an important critique of and addition to bodies of scholarship invested in examining activism, neoliberalism, citizenship, race, and social justice.” — Anne Mai Yee Jansen, Journal of Asian American Studies

“As an academic, theoretical work, Kwon’s book is excellent. It is extremely well-grounded in literature from a variety of social sciences and raises provocative questions that we, as a society, should be asking ourselves. How do we view youth of color? How do we define at-risk youth, and why? What are the ethics around current immigration law, and how does this impact the next generation? And, ultimately, are we truly preparing all youth to become good citizens in a democracy or are we leading them into activities that will leave them prematurely jaded about the process?” — Edward Janak, Journal of American Culture

"With this slender volume, Kwon makes important empirical and theoretical contributions.... Ultimately, her work helps us to better understand and appreciate the struggles of youth organizers to improve their communities and to question why they should have to take on this fight in the first place." — Jerusha Conner, Peace and Justice Studies

“Soo Ah Kwon peppers her book with evocative contentions that invite expansion, and as she closes, readers can only hope that her final lines offer the first glimpse of a subsequent work” — Leah S. Stauber, PoLAR

"Providing a model of activist ethnographic research, Soo Ah Kwon constructively engages with the activism of the youth of color whom she studies without oversimplifying the contradictory circumstances within which they work. Kwon respects their intellectual analyses and political contributions. At the same time, she demonstrates that youth organizing is often shaped by the very discourses that it seeks to resist. Uncivil Youth is a compelling examination of the intersections of youth organizing, governmentality, and the 'nonprofit industrial complex.'" — Andrea Smith, author of Native Americans and the Christian Right: The Gendered Politics of Unlikely Alliances

"This is a wonderful ethnographic study of Asian and Pacific Islander youth activism in Oakland and the youth organizing movement that has been likened to a 'new civil rights movement.' Soo Ah Kwon astutely uncovers what makes possible the 'power of the youth' at a moment when grassroots organizing has been reshaped by nonprofit organizations and neoliberal governance. The book interrogates how the category of 'youth of color' has been absorbed into depoliticized programs for self-help, as well as how young activists challenge the state's discourse of democratic citizenship and the criminalization of immigrant and refugee youth. This is a must-read for scholars, students, youth workers, activists, and general audiences alike." — Sunaina Marr Maira, author of Missing: Youth, Citizenship, and Empire after 9/11


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Price: $24.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Soo Ah Kwon is Assistant Professor of Asian American Studies and Human and Community Development at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1. Civilizing Youth against Delinquency 27

2. Youth Organizing and the Nonprofitization of Activism 45

3. Organizing against Youth Criminalization 73

4. Confronting the State 95

Conclusion 121

Notes 131

References 149

Index 165
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5423-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5405-5
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