« Fragment: Limits of the "Civil Rights" Model | Main | The History of Youth Liberation »

October 13, 2005

Outline: What is Youth Liberation?

My current project is envisioned as a brief booklet (30 pages?) titled "What is Youth Liberation?" I want to give the most basic answer to this question, therefore excluding discussion about different types of Youth Liberation. ...That's a much more complicated topic -- possibly one that I would take on after the "What is Youth Liberation?" booklet.

I want to make a distinction between "defining" YL and "characterizing" it. A definition, as I understand it, is going to set down boundaries so that you can decide whether a particular thing falls within the category of "Youth Liberation" -- or whether it does not. Characterizing, in contrast, only attempts to identify the most important features of a thing. It describes the heart of a thing, rather than its boundaries.

At present, I see three key features that will need to be discussed:

  1. Inspired by / descended from the seminal work of adult writers John Holt ("Escape from Childhood") or Richard Farson ("Birth Rights") -- or the youth-led activist group "Youth Liberation of Ann Arbor".

  2. Advocates youth being given the right to vote.

  3. Young people are themselves included as activists in the struggle for social change.

To an extent, I will also need to discuss a taxonomy of Children's Rights / Youth Liberation...

Youth Liberation is a subset of Children's Rights. At present, it looks like there are two main threads within Children's Rights: protectionism / paternalism which seeks to defend youth without enabling them to independently access their rights, and Youth Liberation which emphasizes autonomy and youth being granted civil rights on an equal basis as adults. At this point I don't know to what extent there are more radical and more conservative versions of autonomy-based Children's Rights. My suspicion is that even among those who advocate youth autonomy (rather than dependence upon adult protectors), Youth Liberation's inclusion of youth activists still sets it apart.

So if there are a number of branches underneath the heading of "Children's Rights", there are also a number of branches of thought underneath the heading of "Youth Liberation". I've written about the main trains of thought elsewhere -- Youth Power, Youth Equality, and Youth Culture. However, I need to mention that there are further flavors. There are those that arise out of the struggles of a particular minority group -- e.g. youth rights being championed by girls, black youth, queer youth, street kids, etc. There are also flavors of YL that arise from schools of political thought -- e.g. anarchism and libertarianism. [Most YL thought draws upon liberal political thought, whether or not it realizes it... There's also plenty of room for flavors of YL to arise out of Marxism or Socialism.]

...Oh, I suppose there's also room for psychotherapeutic flavors of YL. Co-counseling is the strongest variety for that -- but Shulamith Firestone and Alice Miller might arguably be presenting Freudian versions of YL. [Sort of like how Nancy Chodorow presented a Freudian vision of Feminism, or Luce Irigaray presented a Lacanian vision (Lacan merely being a disciple of Freud, I suppose).]

Although I specifically don't want to go into discussing all these varieties of YL, I feel that it's important to at least mention that there is a diversity of schools of thought.

Another reason why I need to mention this taxonomy is in order to explain a discrepancy: I use the term "Youth Liberation", but most contemporary youth activists are using the term "Youth Rights". Minimally I need to point out that YL is not a consensus umbrella term. I'll probably justify myself by pointing to the term "Youth Liberation" as a historical touchstone. ...I'm tempted to go into an in-depth explanation of how the "civil rights" and "oppression/liberation" models differ from each other -- but this is best saved for a the booklet on different types of YL. [Still, I think the time for writing at least of an exploration of "Why YL instead of YR" is just about upon me. At least so I have something down on paper to return to later.]

...As you can see, the taxonomy section of the booklet is giving me the most grief.

I've been figuring that I would structure the booklet around the three characterizing features of YL. That means four essays, thus:

  1. Introduction / overview of the three characterizing points.

  2. Inclusion of youth activists. YL does not equal Children's Rights. A bit of history about Children's Rights? YL as the Children's Rights movement that is owned by youth themselves. Youth objections to the word "children" in the name of the movement. A call for power, rather than protection. Holt and Farson being included as seminal voices, even though they were adults writing... The profound difficulty pre-internet of finding and preserving youth-written YL essays. [Avoid going too in-depth into criticism of the term "rights". Focus on where youth participation has existed within the Children's Rights framework. ...This leads to researching "youth participation" in two ways: (a) youth as individuals accessing rights, and (b) youth as activists instigating institutional change.] Explain how writing can still be considered YL if it is not created by youth themselves. ...Is YL ideology, or a living movement? Adults can advocate YL -- but unless they're attached to youth themselves in some way, it's just theory and YL doesn't really exist. [A distinction between a live movement vs. belief system that exists only in theory?]

  3. A history of YL. It has seminal authors back in the 70s. There have been several national organizations that are youth-led. ...Local organizations that are working from a YL ideology and pushing the agenda forward?

  4. A consensus agenda, based on looking at several manifestoes and comparing the similarities/differences.

Perhaps I need to add an additional essay on political taxonomy, simply so I can get it out of the way, rather than trying to avoid it. I might be able to do a two page essay saying more or less what I've said here: YL is a sub-variety of Children's Rights, and YL itself has sub-varieties of its own; "YL" is not a consensus term -- but neither would anyone from the Youth Rights camp deny that they're for YL. This would allow me to get into "YL's relationship to Children's Rights" (or place within Children's Rights) in-depth in the next essay. ...Thus:
  1. Introduction / Overview

  2. Political taxonomy of Children's Rights branches. YL's position within Children's Rights. An overview of branches of Children's Rights thought.

  3. Youth participation and the Children's Rights movement.

  4. A history of YL authors & activists.

  5. A consensus agenda.

...Perhaps what I'm struggling to articulate here is a fourth characterizing point: YL is a "movement". It is a movement within other movements, which has internal currents of it's own. It's not simply an ideology, nor an isolated individual spearheading a youth-related cause. There have been YL organizations, and there is a YL program for social change. If there aren't organizations and agendas, it's hard to point to a movement. To say that YL is a "movement" is even more basic than saying that youth participation is critical. It lets me say that YL is, honestly, a fringe movement. And that there is an important distinction between abstract thought about youth (e.g. in Plato's "Republic") vs. actually trying to put your ideas into action.

And with that, I think I have a working outline that I'm comfortable pursuing now:

  1. Introduction / Overview

  2. A movement with organizations and manifestoes.

  3. Youth participation (a) in adult rights and (b) in the process of social change.

  4. A history of YL authors & activists.

  5. A consensus agenda.

Posted by Sven at October 13, 2005 02:10 PM


Post a comment

Remember Me?