, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 123-154

Constructing Meaning About Violence, School, and Community: Participatory Action Research with Urban Youth

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Abstract

In this paper, I describe how a group of young adolescents negotiate their daily lives within the seeming permanence of a toxic environment, limited social services, poverty, crime, drugs, and inadequate educational resources. The world that the young people described in this paper inhabit is a world of despair and hope, chaos and silence, violence and peace, struggle and possibility—a world in which they spend a good deal of time surviving violence while negotiating the psychosocial, economic, raced, gendered, classed, and sociocultural borders that inform and influence their lives.

Through the use of participatory action research and community photography, we are problematizing those borders and creating spaces for young urban youth to engage in processes that position them as agents of inquiry and as “experts” about their own lives. As the data reveal, by listening to young people's stories, by giving them the opportunity to speak about their lives, and by collaborating with them in designing plans of action to address their concerns, we can more effectively frame research questions and teaching pedagogies around their understandings of violence and urban life. As important, by examining their lives via participatory action research, young people are provided with opportunities to take deliberate action to enhance community well-being.