Youth Resilience and Social Capital in a Disadvantaged Neighborhood: A Constructionist Interpretive Approach

  • Nancy E. Johnston
  • F. Beryl Pilkington
  • Nazilla Khanlou
  • Wanda MacNevin
Part of the Advances in Mental Health and Addiction book series (AMHA)



How resilience is conceptualized is central to resilience-building interventions. Informed by social constructionism and social capital theory, we explore the meaning of resilience for youth residing in a marginalized neighborhood in Canada’s largest metropolis. Data were gathered through separate focus groups held with male and female youth.


Participants shared viewpoints and experiences on what it means to grow up well (i.e., be/become resilient) in this neighbourhood and how they face challenges and try to keep healthy.


A constructionist interpretive lens supplemented by social capital theory informed key themes of participants’ perspectives and experience, including both conventional and distinctive understandings of resilience. On the one hand, attributes and common-sense strategies generally prevalent among adolescents were articulated, while on the other hand distinctive pathways of resilience in the context of disadvantage and marginality emerged.


Underscoring resilience as a phenomenon embedded in specific contexts and shaped by privilege and disadvantage, we argue for resources to support the resilience of marginalized youth.


Disadvantage Marginalization Racialization Resilience Social constructionism Social capital Youth 


  1. Alcoff, L. M. (2006). Visible identities: Race, gender, and the self. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. America’s Promise Alliance. (2014). Don’t call them dropouts. Understanding the experiences of young people who leave high school before graduation. Retrieved on May 20, 2014 from
  3. American Psychological Association. (n.d.). What is resilience?
  4. Andrews, T. (2012). What is social constructionism? Grounded Theory Review. An International Journal, 11(1).
  5. Bottrell, D. (2007). Resistance, resilience and social identities; Reframing ‘problem’ youth and the problem of schooling. Journal of Youth Studies, 10(5), 597–616. doi: 10.1080/13676260701602662 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bottrell, D. (2009). Dealing with disadvantage: Resilience and the social capital of young people’s networks. Youth and Society, 40(4), 476–501. doi: 10.1177/0044118X08327518 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bourdieu, P. (1986). Forms of capital. In J. C. Richards (Ed.), Handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education (pp. 241–258). New York, NY: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
  8. Galabuzi, G.-E. (2006). Canada’s economic apartheid: The social exclusion of racialized groups in the new century. Toronto, Canada: Canadian Scholars’ Press.Google Scholar
  9. Ginwright, S., Cammarota, J., & Noguera, P. (2005). Youth, social justice, and communities: Toward a theory of urban youth policy. Social Justice, 32(3), 24–40.Google Scholar
  10. Holland, J. (2008). Young people and social capital: What can it do for us? Families & Social Capital Research Group. London: London South Bank University. ISBN 978-0-946-786541. Retrieved on May 20, 2014 from
  11. Khanlou, N., & Wray, R. (2014). A whole community approach toward child and youth resilience promotion: A review of resilience literature. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12(1), 64–79. doi: 10.1007/s11469-013-9470-1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Lin, N. (1999). Social networks and status attainment. Annual Review of Sociology, 25, 467–487.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Luthar, S. S. (2003). Resilience and vulnerability: Adaptation in the context of childhood adversities. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. MacNevin, W. (2008). If I only knew…stories of teen moms. Toronto, Canada: Black Creek Community Health Centre.Google Scholar
  15. Masten, A. S. (2007). Resilience in developing systems: Progress and promise as the fourth wave rises. Development and Psychopathology, 19(3), 921–930. doi: 10.1017/50954579407000442 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Narayan, D. (1999). Bonds and bridges: Social capital and poverty. Policy Research Working Paper 2167, The World Bank, Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Network.
  17. Ostrom, E., & Ahn, T. K. (2003). Foundations of social capital. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing.Google Scholar
  18. Pagliaro, J. (2013, August 31). Jane and Finch: Toronto’s most dangerous place to be a kid? The Toronto Star. Retrieved April 21, 2014
  19. Quillian, L., & Redd, R. (2006). Can social capital explain persistent poverty gaps? National Poverty Center Working Paper Series, #2006-12. Retrieved on May 19, 2014 from
  20. Rich, J., Corbin, T., Bloom, S., Rich, L., Evans, S., & Wilson, A. (2009). Healing the hurt: Trauma-informed approaches to the health of boys and young men of color. Philadelphia, PA: Centre for Nonviolence and Social Justice, Drexel University School of Public Health and Department of Emergency Medicine.Google Scholar
  21. Schwandt, T. A. (1994). Constructivist, interpretivist approaches to human inquiry. In N. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (pp. 118–137). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  22. Social Policy Analysis and Research, City of Toronto. (2014). TSNS 2020 neighbourhood equity index: Methodological Documentation. Toronto: Author.
  23. Spencer, M. B., Fegley, S., & Harpalani, V. (2003). A theoretical and empirical examination of identity as coping: Linking coping resources to the self processes of African American Youth. Applied Development Science, 7(3), 181–188. doi: 10.1207/S1532480XADS0703_9 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Spencer, M. B., Harpalani, V., & Dell'Angelo, T. (2002). Structural racism and community health: A theory driven model for identity intervention. In W. R. Allen, M. B. Spencer, & C. O'Connor (Eds.), African American education: Race, community, inequality, and achievement a tribute to Edgar G. Epps, Advances in education in diverse communities: Research, policy and praxis (vol. 2, pp. 259–282). Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Staff Report for Action on the Toronto Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy 2020. (n.d.). Appendix B. Neighbourhoodequity scores for Toronto neighbourhoods and recommended neighbourhoodimprovement areas. Retrieved April 21, 2014 from
  26. Statistics Canada. (2006). 2006 Census of population. Available:
  27. Stone, W. (2003). Bonding, bridging and linking with social capital. Stronger Families Learning Exchange Bulletin, 4(1), 13–16.Google Scholar
  28. TeRiele, K. (Ed.). (2006). Making schools different: Alternative approaches to educating young people. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  29. Ungar, M. (2004). A constructionist discourse on resilience. Multiple contexts, multiple realities among at-risk children and youth. Youth & Society, 35(3), 341–365. doi: 10.1177/0044118X03257030 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ungar, M. (2006). Nurturing hidden resilience in at-risk youth across cultures. Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 15(2), 53–58.Google Scholar
  31. Ungar, M. (2011). Community resilience for youth and families: Facilitative physical and social capital in contexts of adversity. Children and Youth Services Review. doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2011.04.027
  32. Ungar, M., & Liebenberg, L. (2011). Assessing resilience across cultures using mixed methods: Construction of the child and youth resilience measure. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 5(2), 126–149. doi: 10.1177/1558689811400607 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Wexler, L. M., DiFluvio, G., & Burke, T. K. (2009). Resilience and marginalized youth: Making a case for personal and collective meaning-making as part of resilience research in public health. Social Science & Medicine, 69, 565–570. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.06.022 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Woolcock, M. (1998). Social capital and economic development: Toward a theoretical synthesis and policy framework. Theory and Society, 27(2), 151–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nancy E. Johnston
    • 1
  • F. Beryl Pilkington
    • 1
  • Nazilla Khanlou
    • 2
  • Wanda MacNevin
    • 3
  1. 1.School of NursingYork UniversityTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Faculty of HealthYork UniversityTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Jane/Finch NeighbourhoodTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations