Lacking decent educational, employment and cultural opportunities, globally, generations of young people struggle to cultivate their potential and act upon their dreams for a better future. Those living amidst poverty and violence are particularly exposed to vulnerabilities that limits their ability to escape from exclusion and move up the social ladder. Generally, youth facing marginalization are approached either as a problem to be dealt with through repressive policies or passive objects of social action, rather than subjects, rights-holders, and creators of innovative solutions to contemporary societal challenges. As we consider more inclusive and context-sensitive ways to work for and with young people, emancipatory education offers a relevant framework of theory and practice that can inform efforts to capacitate, empower, and more actively engage youth in local development processes.
Informed by the theoretical lens of critical pedagogy and employing a qualitative case study methodology, this dissertation explores the opportunities and constraints of applying elements of a Freirean emancipatory education in non-formal youth education provisions as an instrument to promote individual and territorial transformation in communities at the margins. Drawing from qualitative and quantitative data from an entrepreneurship program supporting hundreds of youth from the favelas and peripheries of Rio de Janeiro in advancing their own actions for change, the study investigates into three central thematics concerning: the lifeworld of participants and outcomes at the individual level; project creation and community impact; and program methodology vis-a-vis the underlying dimensions of critical pedagogy and applicability lessons.
Following the systematization and linkage of theories, processes, methods and experiences, the study findings demonstrate the program’s relevance to broader opportunity schemes in youth empowerment, youth-led community transformation, and a youth-centered emancipatory education, contributing to a better understanding of critical pedagogy as a platform of possibility for young people in poverty-stricken territories. Together, these practical tools for capacity building, protagonism and participation - which draw from youth’s social history and knowledge - provides an illustration of how young people take part in social action, exercise their agency, and promote their cultural identities, while creating new platforms to challenge exclusion and advance practices of positive social regeneration.