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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Pedagogy of Agency: Examining Participatory Action Research as a Tool for Youth Empowerment and Advocacy

  • Author(s): Bautista, Mark
  • Advisor(s): Morrell, Ernest
  • et al.

It is argued that social toxins present in urban environments often stunt the growth of youth living in those areas (Gabarino 1995). And because of a deficit perspective of urban youth of color, some research has tried to argue that young people coming from those upbringings both perpetuate their own demise, academically and socially, and lack the desire to change their situations (Ogbu 1978, 1991). Although this may seem to be the grim reality of young people in urban areas, similar to scholars (Solorzano and Bernal 2001; Duncan-Andrade and Morrell 2008; Cammarota and Fine, et al. 2008), I argue that low-income youth of color in urban areas actually are resilient and find ways to cope with if not transform inequitable conditions that they face on a daily-basis. In this dissertation research, I focused on the ways in which five students from a large urban high school in Los Angeles participating in the Freedom Scholars Program developed their sense of agency and advocated for themselves and their community by conducting participatory action research, a research methodology that positions young people as critical sociologists and experts of their own experiences (McIntyre 2000; Morrell 2004). I address these following questions with this research: 1. How do urban youth negotiate/mediate cultural deficit perceptions engrained in dominant society? 2. How does their participation in a youth research program shape and influence their development as active agents in their school and community? 3. How are urban youth utilizing research as a pedagogical tool to a) resist deficit perceptions, b) teach others of their schooling experience, and c) actually transform inequitable social conditions?

Through a mixed-method, ethnographic, participatory action research design, this project examined how these five students over the 2010-2011 school year theorized and acted upon this concept of agency. As second-year continuing participants of the Freedom Scholars Program, they utilized the space and learning opportunities in this college access program to develop critical youth participatory action research (YPAR) projects that focused on pertinent issues in their schools and surrounding community. I argue in this dissertation study that in their processes of enacting their agency, the five students moved from doing research about their schooling experience to teaching and influencing others to change their schooling conditions, which I refer to as a pedagogy of agency. In building their pedagogy, these five students developed the potentials and capabilities as legitimate experts who presented their work to members of their community, as well as decision-makers as part of their efforts to transform their existential experiences in and out of schools.

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