On Disconnected Youth, Place, and Nepantla

stacks(Photo by Tara)

The process of place-making also describes a process of identity (re)formation. For young people traversing city spaces and who seek a sense of grounding or ‘permanence’ amongst the “instabilities of motions” (Henry, 1996, p. 262) characteristic of these urban landscapes experience what Glora Anzaldua calls nepantla. As *disconnected or vulnerable youth transition from adolescence to adulthood with limited resources and support they inhabit a threshold of spatio-temporal awareness and place, one described through liminality and in-betweenness.

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Prologue to the Research #RaisingDissertation

#RaisingDissertation.001#RaisingDissertation is a way to keep me sane and connected to the outside world while working, at times in isolation, on my dissertation research. From time to time, and depending on my mood, I will post draft excerpts from my dissertation research to this public blog. I welcome dialogue from subscribers, readers, and lurkers. I acknowledge that ideas belong to the universe. That said, however, if you wish to write about my research elsewhere, you must cite my work here. For those in the press reporting about the media and technology uses among ‘disconnected’ youth, and youths involved in foster care and juvenile justice systems, feel free to contact me directly. I’d love to share my research with you; this should not to be confused with doing your research for you. For others researching in this area, I also welcome your insights here. As always, I’m happy to connect.

The following is an excerpt from an ever-growing dissertation involving the mediated lives of vulnerable or ‘disconnected’ youth in New York City.

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Preview of My Upcoming #RLR2014 Talk

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On Monday, October 14th from 6-8pm I’ll be presenting at this year’s first Racial Literacy Roundtable at Teachers College, Columbia University. I’ll be discussing my current research that involves working with court-involved youth in NYC to develop a mobile platform using participatory design and ethnographic methodologies.

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Pilot Study Bibliography: Participatory Design, CI Youth, & Mobile Tech

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The following is an ever growing alphabetized bibliography (you’re welcome) of my current doctoral research involving participatory design, court-involved youth, and mobile technology.

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Excerpt from my current research on #PD #mobile #youth #justice

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(Photo by Tara L. Conley)

The following is an excerpt from an article draft I’m currently working on about participatory design, mobile text messaging service, and court-involved youth:

During the summer of 2013 amid a controversial mayoral race in New York City[1], mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed legislation that, in part, would create an independent inspector general to oversee the New York City Police Department (Goodman; 2013) and would allow for an expansive definition of individual identity categories under the current law. The four bills, together named the Community Safety Act (Communities United for Policing Reform; 2012), were brought forth by City Council as a result of a legal policing practice called Stop-and-Frisk. This policing practice allows New York City police officers to stop, question, and frisk citizens under reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

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Court-involved youth and social meanings of mobile phones

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photo by Tara L. Conley

“The mobile is the glue that holds together various nodes in these social networks: it serves as the predominant personal tool for the coordination of everyday life, for updating oneself on social relations, and for the collective sharing of experiences. It is therefore the mediator of meanings and emotions that may be extremely important in the ongoing formation of young people’s identities” (Stald; 2008, pg. 161).

“Dependency Court involved youth rarely have access to a computer or cell phone, and even when they do, it is often only for a short period of time” (Peterson; 2010, pg. 7).

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Transcribing data on a Sunday afternoon

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Excerpt of transcribed audio from the first TXT CONNECT youth advisory board meeting on March 12, 2013:

What we’re doing is building a communication platform for these young people. It’s not just mobile text messaging. It’s Facebook–and another thing I was thinking with the Facebook page is to do exactly what you guys are saying and suggesting, which is to build this community online where young people can feel like ‘Okay, I know exactly where I need to go to get information.’ The platform that we’re trying to build–the purpose of it is to connect all of these resources together for young people. It’s like a one-stop shop for [court-involved youth] who want to get information about A, B, or C. They know they can go to whatever it is that we’re calling it.

The First Family and Their Cell Phones

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On January 21, 2013, I sat glued to my television and computer screens while watching the pomp and ceremony of Barack Obama’s 2nd inauguration. Of all the events, I was most drawn to the inaugural parade. For about an hour, I had the pleasure of catching a unique glimpse of the family’s down-to-earthiness. I also got a chance to completely geek out while watching Sasha, Malia, the First Lady, and President Obama use their cell phones.

Though this written observation is retrospective, I was able to look back at YouTube videos, Instagram and Twitter photos to notate the activities and approximate frequency with which the First Family used their mobile devices. It was fascinating to watch Sasha and Malia play on their phones. The Obama girls held their cell phone for most of the parade (which lasted roughly 1 hour long). The cell phone appeared to be an integral part of the family unit. I am reminded of Sharples, et al., discussion about cell phones in that they function as tools or “interactive agents in the process of coming to know” (pg. 7). It can be argued that this moment was a coming to know experience for the Obama girls as they snapped several pics of their mom and dad kissing, and took endearing photos of each other holding up the peace sign and making funny faces.

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Perhaps the most profound takeaway from my observation is recognizing that this humanizing moment between members of the First Family, and as witnessed by the American public, was enabled by a mobile device. While watching the First Family on their cell phones, I couldn’t help but wonder what they were looking at, who they were texting, what apps were they using to edit photos, and also about the security involved in keeping the First Family and the girls’ data ‘safe and private’. I also thought about how fitting it is that Barack Obama is the first wired president in history of the United States. Since 2008, Obama’s campaign has been credited with successfully using social and mobile media for fundraising and organizing. The Obama administration prides itself on connecting with Americans using Twitter, Reddit, and Google Hangout.

While there’s much to celebrate about this unique moment in techno-history, I also wonder about the cultural politics of the First Family and mobile technology. So much is to be said for the relationship between technology and its presence in the lives of vulnerable populations, particularly poor people, young girls, and people of color. The visual representation of the First Family using their cell phones illuminates conversations about what, in fact, it means for a prominent Black family with two adolescent girls to engage with mobile technology during an historical and digitally social moment. There’s much to be analyzed.

References

Sharples, M., Taylor, J., Vavoula, G. (2005). Towards a theory of mobile learning. University of Birmingham. UK.

My NCA Statement on Feminism and Communications

Due to lack of travel funds I am unable to attend NCA (National Communication Association) Conference 2012 this year. Below is my official statement that will be presented on my behalf during Saturday morning’s roundtable session entitled “Critical Perspectives on Feminism and Activism in the Third Wave”.

I’ve spent the last few years grappling with feminist identity. Despite over the years having performed so-called “feminist duties” as an academic and as a political activist, (i.e. earning a MA in Women’s Studies, caucusing for Hillary Clinton in 2008, and volunteering as a hotline operator for a women’s shelter), I realize that my feminism has less to do with declaring a feminist identity and more to do with how my feminism emerges through work and scholarship, both of which almost always reflect a feminist ethic grounded in an inquiry stance. That is, I’m always questioning my-self in relation to Other; always replaying Trinh T. Minh-ha’s mystifying question in my head, “If you can’t locate the other, how are you to locate your-self?”

I worry, however, that feminism as a discipline, as a politic, as a form of activism, and as an idea(l) has become institutionalized within a western moral, ethic, and capitalistic framework that looks more and more like hierarchy, chronology, and characterized by waves (eg. generations). I also wonder about feminism as a capital enterprise. The notion of “professional feminism” troubles me. I realize folks have to make a living off of their work, but the label “professional feminist” conjures up awkward emotions. And no, I’m not referring to the welcomed contradictions of personhood that Gloria Anzaldúa brilliantly theorizes in Borderlands La Frontera, but rather I’m talking about the idea of professional feminism that exist in conflict with how I understand feminist consciousness; that is, something as sacred. Something that cannot be bought or sold. Untouched.

That said, however, I’m happy to see and feel feminist ideas spread throughout our home lives, our governments, our schools, and disseminated by way communication technologies.

To see feminist activism travel throughout time and space has been incredible to witness. With technology we are able recognize the multivalent nature of our potential of doing feminism, and by extension being feminist. Feminists have been able to spread our advocacy projects across time and space, and organize our bodies to protests in cities and neighborhoods across the globe. We have brought together domestic and international partners as we strive for justice and relief. We have called out others and at times we have had to confront ourselves. We have moved our advocacy beyond stationary online and offline spaces.

As we move throughout these spaces and places, I hope we can approach third space consciousness where we fight as much for the preservation of our selves as we fight for the preservation of others.  This movement toward consciousness—born of techno advocacy practices that span across computer mediated and non-computer mediated contexts, is a threshold space of place where we can (I hope!) see ourselves through the eyes of others and by way of panoramic views.

This kind of feminism spreads like sun rays and warms me up everytime I think about it.

Feminist theory and ethnography is peppered throughout the discipline of communications. I know of researchers at my institution who look towards feminist theory and ethnography to inform their work in communications and education, and of course, I have peers who see no use for feminist theory and ethnography. In fact, they may have never heard of feminist theory and feminist ethnography throughout their academic careers. The beauty of academia and research is that we can take multiple approaches to understanding the worlds around us. As a researcher and scholar of both education and communications, I carry with me an understanding of feminist theories and methodologies that I apply to my research on media, Internet/web 2.0, and youth culture. Feminist theory and ethnography are just a few of my lenses, and I don’t expect anyone else to wear them as I do when approaching research. I do, however, expect that the discipline of communications will continue to embrace interdisciplinary approaches. I expect communication scholars to acknowledge and embrace transdisciplinary analyses informed by theoretical approaches that take into account experiences and storytelling at the intersection of gender, class, sex, sexuality, ‘race’, dis/ability, religion, tribe, and ecology.