Critical consciousness has been linked to a range of positive outcomes, particularly among marginalized youth; yet, evidence on its developmental antecedents remains limited. The current study examines whether arts participation is associated with positive change in critical consciousness, and whether these associations differ by youth’s social group status. The sample consisted of high school youth (N = 2537; 10% Latinx, 7% Multiracial; 4% Black; 5% Asian; 72% White; 2% Other; 53% Female; Mage = 15.69; age range = 10–20). The results showed that youth with higher arts participation demonstrate higher growth in critical reflection and action, adjusting for baseline critical consciousness, other types of extracurricular participation, and demographic characteristics. The association between arts participation and critical action was significantly stronger for youth of color than for white youth, and the association between arts participation and critical reflection was marginally significantly stronger for white youth than for youth of color. These findings suggest that it is crucial to extend opportunities for arts involvement to all students, and to expand the ways in which arts involvement can promote critical consciousness for youth of varying dimensions of oppression and privilege.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Data Sharing Declaration
The datasets generated and/or analyzed during the current study are not yet publicly available but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.
Aldana, A., Bañales, J., & Richards-Schuster, K. (2019). Youth anti-racist engagement: conceptualization. Development, and Validation of an Anti-racism Action Scale. Adolescent Research Review, 4(4), 369–381.
Bañales, J., Marchand, A. D., Skinner, O. D., Anyiwo, N., Rowley, S. J. & Kurtz-Costes, B. (2020). Black adolescents’ critical reflection development: Parents’ racial socialization and attributions about race achievement gaps. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 30, 403–417.
Bell, L. A., & Desai, D. (2011). Imagining otherwise: connecting the arts and social justice to envision and act for change: special issue introduction. Equity & Excellence in Education, 44(3), 287–295. https://doi.org/10.1080/10665684.2011.591672.
Bentz, J., O’Brien, K., Iles, A., & Milkoreit, M. (2019). ART FOR CHANGE: Transformative learning and youth empowerment in a changing climate. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene, 7, 52.
Boal, A. (1979). Theatre of the oppressed. New York, NY: Theatre Communications Group.
Bowen, D. H., Greene, J. P., & Kisida, B. (2014). Learning to think critically: a visual art experiment. Educational Researcher, 43(1), 37–44.
Bowen, D. H., & Kisida, B. (2019). Investigating causal effects of arts education experiences: experimental evidence from Houston’s Arts Access Initiative. Houston Education Research Consortium Research Report for the Houston Independent School District, 7(4), 1–28.
Brown, T. A. (2015). Confirmatory factor analysis for applied research. Guilford publications.
Burson, E., & Godfrey, E. B., Ibrahim, D. A., Poteat, V. P., Calzo, J. P., Yoshikawa, H. Extending critical consciousness to sexual and gender minority populations. Manuscript in preparation.
Catterall, J. S., Chapleau, R., & Iwanaga, J. (1999). Involvement in the arts and human development: general involvement and intensive involvement in music and theater arts. Champions of change: The impact of the arts on learning, 1, 1–18.
Catterall, J. S. (2012). The Arts and achievement in at-risk youth: findings from four longitudinal studies. Research Report# 55. National Endowment for the Arts.
Chan, R. C. & Mak, W. W. (2020). Liberating and empowering effects of critical reflection on collective action in LGBT and cisgender heterosexual individuals. American Journal of Community Psychology, 65(1-2), 63–77.
Christens, B. D., & Peterson, N. A. (2012). The role of empowerment in youth development: a study of sociopolitical control as mediator of ecological systems’ influence on developmental outcomes. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 41(5), 623–635.
Clark, S., & Seider, S. (2017). Developing critical curiosity in adolescents. Equity & Excellence in Education, 50(2), 125–141.
Dewhurst, M. (2014). Social justice art: A framework for activist art pedagogy. Harvard Education Press.
Diemer, M. A., Rapa, L. J., Park, C. J., & Perry, J. C. (2017). Development and validation of the critical consciousness scale. Youth & Society, 49(4), 461–483.
Diemer, M. A., Rapa, L. J., Voight, A. M., & McWhirter, E. H. (2016). Critical consciousness: a developmental approach to addressing marginalization and oppression. Child Development Perspectives, 10(4), 216–221.
Diemer, M. A., & Rapa, L. J. (2016). Unraveling the complexity of critical consciousness, political efficacy, and political action among marginalized adolescents. Child Development, 87(1), 221–238.
Diemer, M. A., & Li, C. H. (2011). Critical consciousness development and political participation among marginalized youth. Child Development, 82(6), 1815–1833.
Diemer, M. A., & Blustein, D. L. (2006). Critical consciousness and career development among urban youth. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 68(2), 220–232.
Diemer, M. A., Kauffman, A., Koenig, N., Trahan, E., & Hsieh, C. A. (2006). Challenging racism, sexism, and social injustice: support for urban adolescents’ critical consciousness development. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 12(3), 444.
El-Amin, A., Seider, S., Graves, D., Tamerat, J., Clark, S., Soutter, M., & Malhotra, S. (2017). Critical consciousness: a key to student achievement. Phi Delta Kappan, 98(5), 18–23.
Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed (MB Ramos, Trans.). New York: Continuum, 2007.
Godfrey, E. B., & Burson, E. (2018). Interrogating the intersections: how intersectional perspectives can inform developmental scholarship on critical consciousness. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 2018(161), 17–38.
Godfrey, E. B., & Grayman, J. K. (2014). Teaching citizens: The role of open classroom climate in fostering critical consciousness among youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 43(11), 1801–1817.
Goessling, K. P. (2020). Youth participatory action research, trauma, and the arts: designing youthspaces for equity and healing. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 33(1), 12–31.
Gosine, K., & Tabi, E. (2016). Disrupting neoliberalism and bridging the multiple worlds of marginalized youth via hip-hop pedagogy: Contemplating possibilities. Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 38(5), 445–467.
Greene, S., Burke, K. J., & McKenna, M. K. (2018a). A review of research connecting digital storytelling, photovoice, and civic engagement. Review of Educational Research, 88(6), 844–878.
Greene, J. P., Erickson, H. H., Watson, A. R., & Beck, M. I. (2018b). The play’s the thing: Experimentally examining the social and cognitive effects of school field trips to live theater performances. Educational Researcher, 47(4), 246–254.
Heberle, A. E., Rapa, L. J., & Farago, F. (2020). Critical consciousness in children and adolescents: a systematic review, critical assessment, and recommendations for future research. Psychological Bulletin, 146(6), 525.
Herek, G. M., & Garnets, L. D. (2007). Sexual orientation and mental health. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 3, 353–375.
Hope, E. C., Skoog, A. B., & Jagers, R. J. (2015). “It’ll never be the white kids, it’ll always be us” black high school students’ evolving critical analysis of racial discrimination and inequity in schools. Journal of Adolescent Research, 30(1), 83–112.
Kline, R. (2011). Principles and practice of structural equation modeling. The Guilford Press.
Lampert, N. (2011). A study of an after-school art programme and critical thinking. International Journal of Education through Art, 7(1), 55–67.
Muthén, B., & Kaplan, D. (1992). A comparison of some methodologies for the factor analysis of non‐normal Likert variables: a note on the size of the model. British Journal of Mathematical and Statistical Psychology, 45(1), 19–30.
Muthén, L. K. and Muthén, B. O. (1998-2017). Mplus User’s Guide. Eighth Edition. Los Angeles, CA: Muthén & Muthén.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019). The promise of adolescence: realizing opportunity for all youth. National Academies Press.
Ngo, B. (2017). Naming their world in a culturally responsive space: experiences of Hmong adolescents in an after- school theatre program. Journal of Adolescent Research, 32(1), 37–63.
Poteat, V. P., Godfrey, E. B., Brion-Meisels, G., & Calzo, J. P. (2020). Development of youth advocacy and sociopolitical efficacy as dimensions of critical consciousness within gender-sexuality alliances. Developmental Psychology, 56(6), 1207.
Putnick, D. L., & Bornstein, M. H. (2016). Measurement invariance conventions and reporting: The state of the art and future directions for psychological research. Developmental Review, 41, 71–90.
Rabinowitch, T. C., Cross, I., & Burnard, P. (2013). Long-term musical group interaction has a positive influence on empathy in children. Psychology of Music, 41(4), 484–498.
Rapa, L. J., Diemer, M. A., & Bañales, J. (2018). Critical action as a pathway to social mobility among marginalized youth. Developmental Psychology, 54(1), 127.
Schellenberg, E. G., Corrigall, K. A., Dys, S. P., & Malti, T. (2015). Group music training and children’s prosocial skills. PLoS One, 10(10), e0141449.
Seider, S., Tamerat, J., Clark, S., & Soutter, M. (2017). Investigating adolescents’ critical consciousness development through a character framework. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 46(6), 1162–1178.
Shin, R. Q., Ezeofor, I., Smith, L. C., Welch, J. C., & Goodrich, K. M. (2016). The development and validation of the contemporary critical consciousness measure. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 63(2), 210.
Shin, R. Q., Smith, L. C., Lu, Y., Welch, J. C., Sharma, R., Vernay, C. N., & Yee, S. (2018). The development and validation of the contemporary critical consciousness measure II. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 65(5), 539.
Thomas, R. J., & McFarland, D. A. (2010). Joining young, voting young: The effects of youth voluntary associations on early adult voting. CIRCLE Working Paper# 73. Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).
Torres-Harding, S. R., Siers, B., & Olson, B. D. (2012). Development and psychometric evaluation of the Social Justice Scale (SJS). American Journal of Community Psychology, 50(1–2), 77–88.
Vasudevan, L., Stageman, D., Rodriguez, K., Fernandez, E., & Dattatreyan, E. G. (2010). Authoring new narratives with youth at the intersection of the arts and justice. Penn GSE Perspectives on. Urban Education, 7(1), 54–65.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1980). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Harvard University press.
Watts, R. J., Diemer, M. A., & Voight, A. M. (2011). Critical consciousness: current status and future directions. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 2011(134), 43–57.
Watts, R., & Guessous, O. (2006). Sociopolitical development: The missing link in research and policy on adolescents. In S. Ginwright, P. Noguera, & J. Cammarota (Eds.), Beyond resistance! Youth activism and community change: new democratic possibilities for practice and policy for America’s youth. New York: Routledge.
Watts, R. J., Griffith, D. M., & Abdul-Adil, J. (1999). Sociopolitical development as an antidote for oppression— theory and action. American Journal of Community Psychology, 27(2), 255–271.
Watts, R. J., & Abdul-Adil, J. K. (1998). Promoting critical consciousness in young, African-American men. Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community, 16(1–2), 63–86.
Wernick, L. J., Woodford, M. R., & Kulick, A. (2014). LGBTQQ youth using participatory action research and theater to effect change: Moving adult decision-makers to create youth-centered change. Journal of Community Practice, 22(1–2), 47–66.
Westheimer, J., & Kahne, J. (2004). What kind of citizen? The politics of educating for democracy. American Educational Research Journal, 41(2), 237–269.
Zimmerman, M. A., Ramirez-Valles, J., & Maton, K. I. (1999). Resilience among urban African American male adolescents: a study of the protective effects of sociopolitical control on their mental health. American Journal of Community Psychology, 27(6), 733–751.
We would like to acknowledge those who contributed to this research study, including all the participants who dedicated their time, the Principal Investigator, Paul Poteat, the Co-Investigators, Jerel P. Calzo and Hirokazu Yoshikawa, and the GSA Research Consortium team.
Research reported in this publication was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities of the National Institutes of Health under award number R01MD009458 (Principal Investigator: V. Paul Poteat; Co-Investigators: Jerel P. Calzo and Hirokazu Yoshikawa). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare no competing interests.
The study was approved by the Institutional Review Board at Boston College and was performed in accordance with the ethical standards as laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Ibrahim, D.A., Godfrey, E.B., Cappella, E. et al. The Art of Social Justice: Examining Arts Programming as a Context for Critical Consciousness Development Among Youth. J Youth Adolescence 51, 409–427 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-021-01527-8