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Homies Theorizing Back: Reclaiming the Right to the Word and the World


This dissertation responds to a critical call to challenge the “over-theorizing” and the pathologizing of marginalized youth, a phenomenon plagued with voyeurism, epistemological and ontological violence, and gross miss-representation that further benefits those who “theorize.” Through “theorizing-back,” a critical research methodology that honors the humanity, knowledge, and power of those whose lives are grounded in struggles, this dissertation documents how The Homies—a community of marginalized and system impacted youth—interrogate the theories that have sought to explain those who leave, are pushed out, give up on, or resist school, i.e., “them.” Born out of the relationships and insights that arose from a space of praxis, this project took place over a 2-year span in a youth re-entry center in Los Angeles. The study generated two primary domains of findings. The first critically documents the normalized and naturalized silencing, violence, exploitation, and dispossession that marginalized young people have to deal with as part of “normal life.” Through architectures of entanglement, (a conceptual framework theorized by the youth), the Homies documented how carceral geographies change, migrate, and transfigure, both ideologically and materially, institutions that often operate under a guise of neutrality and benevolence—including schools. In direct response to those who frame “out-of-school youth” as a national emergency, the Homies declared, loud and clear, that the systems of whiteness, colonialism, and capitalism—all for which schools are a critical component—are the national emergency. The second major domain of findings focuses on theorizing back and chronicles the development of a “refuge”; a humanizing, transformative, counter-hegemonic, and healing community of praxis. In this community, the Homies not only ended up interrogating and deconstructing the questions and findings from prior research, but denounced the “self-serving truths” stubbornly reproduced by the ways in which scholars ask questions and look for answers and their inability to see the humanity of their “subjects.” Reclaiming their right to the word and the world, the Homies leave us with a set of questions and insights that should be central to those trying to do critical research in a context of deep and growing injustices.

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