Calling Out Injustice: Youth from Differently Privileged Backgrounds Narrate About Injustice

Abstract

Our perceptions of the world are lastingly shaped by our sociocultural and political place in the world. Social positionalities provide epistemic means through which social processes are perceived, experienced, and articulated. This paper explores how the contrasting social worlds in which adolescents from differently advantaged positions within a society live, inform, and shape their sense-making about social justice. Sixty-four adolescents from multiple neighborhoods around New York City partook in the study. Participants were invited to read a hypothetical vignette describing an ambiguous social situation that plausibly involves instances of unfairness. Upon reading the vignette, they were invited to retell the story multiple times from the positions of the self, of the likely victim, and the perpetrator of unfair deeds. Adolescents’ narratives were analyzed by looking at the way they understood the situation described (e.g., as an instance of exclusion, or misunderstanding, or else) and at how explicitly they narrated about injustice. Findings indicate that youth from less privileged backgrounds were more likely to see unfairness happening in the story they read, when compared to their more privileged counterparts. Additionally, less privileged youth narrated more openly about unfairness, using the language that is more saturated with expressions addressing exclusion, lying, and deception. The findings support the notion that people coming from backgrounds that carry less power in society (e.g., being of color, poor, immigrant) are more likely to have access to more sophisticated and articulated narratives of social conflict, endowing them with a more critical perspective over situations involving power dynamics.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Of the nine adolescents recruited from the South Bronx, they reported the level of education of 14 parents/guardians in total (the demographic survey offered to check the level of education of two parents/guardians), which means that some teens reported the level of education (and type of profession) for two parents/guardians, and some only for one. Of the 14 parents for which I have data on the highest levels of education, six of them have not completed high-school, five have a high-school diploma or equivalent, and 3 have “some college.”

  2. 2.

    An important note that applies to this and other tables in the paper is that the number of coded segments can be lower or higher (although seldom) than the number of participants since not all narratives could sometimes be coded for a particular coding category or more than one code from the same coding category could sometimes be applied to the same narrative segment.

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank a dear colleague of mine, Dr. Jennifer Pipitone, for her ever thoughtful and careful reading of my work in progress.

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Appendix

Appendix

Plot analysis of a Personal Story narrative.

Personal Story Narrative
I once had a similar situation where we had to decide who to sit with in a classroom. The classrooms were structured in a way where only two people can sit in one desk, and my friend and I both wanted to sit with our friend Simon. Simon really didn't want to choose between us so he decided to leave the decision to us. My friend and I decided to play rock, paper, scissors for it, and I ended up winning. However, the next day when we showed up to the classroom, my friend was sitting right next to Simon. When I reminded him that I was the one that won the game yesterday, he told me that he came to the classroom first. I really felt betrayed and left out as they sat together and chatted while I had to sit four seats behind them all alone
Plot element Narrative excerpt
Setting In school one day
Characters First-person narrator; Simon; unnamed friend
Initiating action (trouble) my friend and I both wanted to sit with our friend Simon
Complicating action(s) The classrooms were structured in a way where only two people can sit in one desk
High point (climax) the next day when we showed up to the classroom, my friend was sitting right next to Simon
Resolution strategy(ies) - My friend and I decided to play rock, paper, scissors for it, and I ended up winning
- When I reminded him that I was the one that won the game yesterday, he told me that he came to the classroom first
Ending I really felt betrayed and left out as they sat together and chatted while I had to sit four seats behind them all alone
Moral Not applicable to this narrative
Narrator stance/narrator’s point n/a

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Jović, S. Calling Out Injustice: Youth from Differently Privileged Backgrounds Narrate About Injustice. Hu Arenas (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42087-021-00207-0

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Keywords

  • Perceiving injustice
  • Adolescents
  • Demographics of privilege
  • Narrative