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What’s Goin’ On with Youth?

May 01,2017

Working with young people to investigate youth culture

An internationally recognized expert, Dr. Shirley Steinberg stresses the importance of empowering youth to lead dialogue and social action - rather than talking ‘at’ youth. By listening to youth, supporting youth, and opening spaces for young people to act with agency, youth are better able to address their own needs. Dr. Steinberg is critical of only hearing the voices of adults when it comes to matters of youth.

In her work in cultural studies, particularly youth culture, Werklund Research Professor of Critical Youth Studies Dr. Steinberg engages ideas of critical youth empowerment, identity, acceptance, and self-efficacy. Along with her work with youth, she also engages issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, and media literacy, often working with marginalized populations and communities.

Research in action

More than simply writing about youth, Dr. Steinberg connects her research to local communities and current challenges in everyday life. By working in communities and with grassroots organizations, Dr. Steinberg aims to capture the narratives and stories as told by youth - what they see, experience, and hope for. In a few of her recent projects, Dr. Steinberg has worked with musicians, schools, and local agencies to further the dialogue on youth culture.

From 2013, Dr. Steinberg has worked with the Robb Nash Project. Nash is an award-winning Canadian artist, whose project engages young people in discussing mental health, suicide, and addiction. Through music and storytelling, Robb and his band present on the importance of positive choices and decision making across the country. Dr. Steinberg led a research team who travelled with the band to study the need to inspire conversations on mental health that engage young people, and how these dialogues can be adapted for culturally diverse audiences. Dr. Steinberg was particularly interested in how to promote a safe and accepting world, which allows all to flourish, while still maintaining their unique identities.

Based on her expertise in media and youth culture, Dr. Steinberg is currently speaking in schools alongside viewings of the film Screenagers - a documentary that depicts the use of technology, digital devices, the internet, and video games among modern teens. Dealing with concerns about youth, and as a pressing topic for parents, Dr. Steinberg brings the discussion to consider our awareness of technology use, but for both young and old. She encourages parents to reflect on their own past, and how concerns over technology may parallel concerns their own parents had about the activities of youth. Advocating for the importance of media literacy, particularly in the information era, Dr. Steinberg encourages everyone to consider technology use, but also go further and to think about what is on the screens. The message and content youth interact with is also critical in this discussion.

Close to home, Dr. Steinberg works with the Syrian Refugee Support Group to get youth involved in informal learning opportunities. Dr. Steinberg’s work serves as a bridge for young newcomer Canadians, encouraging them to feel connected and comfortable in Western education. Modelled after a program she organized at Maison des Jeunes in Montreal, the youth visit the university and attend programs and workshops. Directly connected to her work on diversity and multiculturalism, Dr. Steinberg hopes to make a community link with school-age students, and to promote the university as accessible to the newcomers.

Working with youth

Dr. Steinberg sees her work as ongoing. Her connection with youth empowerment initiatives leads to a continued evolution of her work, finding narratives that help to frame our understanding of youth culture, identities, and communities. Her newest project involves starting the new International Journal of Critical Youth Studies. The journal will emphasize the importance of writing ‘with’ and in collaboration with youth, rather than just research ‘about’ or ‘on’ youth. By working alongside youth, Dr. Steinberg hopes to promote the voices of youth in an academic setting to further youth agency.

Hear Dr. Steinberg discuss youth empowerment in Werklund’s 2016 Distinguished Lecture