Studies of Global Youth Activism are Rare

Many large global studies of youth are conducted for marketing research (i.e., Don Tapscott surveyed youth from 12 countries but most of his references to the Digital Generation are North Americans, mainly his children), Habbo and InSites Consulting virtual world surveys, Martin Lindstrom’s BRANDchild, and Elissa Moses). The lead researcher of a global marketing survey of kids aged six to 12 replied to my question, “The survey was an online study, which means that respondents in all of the countries have sufficient income to have a computer/mobile device and internet service. Also, our research vendor screened out the lowest incomes, because the consumer group we are interested in marketing to is not at poverty level.” In contrast, this book includes slum dwellers in Rio de Janeiro, rural youth in China, India and Tanzania, etc.

Surveys are also conducted by non-government agencies like UNICEF or Fondation Pour L’Innovation Politique whose findings are not available in books. Many of these global youth surveys are about tobacco use or other health issues.

The Journal of International Women’s Studies (free online articles) and the Women’s Studies International Forum publish articles, without much coverage of youth. Youth Studies are published in The Journal of Youth and Adolescence since in 1972, followed by Youth Studies in 1998, the Journal of Youth Studies in 2000, Youth Voice Journal about international issues since 2010, and others.[i] Youth Studies Australia ceased publication in 2013 but back issues are available. Universities like the University of Minnesota offer a major in Youth Studies, but “youth-centered definitions of their lives remain largely absent. Young people have not been enfranchised by the research conducted on their lives.”[ii] Youth studies have analyzed developmental stages in the transition to adulthood, with the more recent concept of “emerging adulthood,” as young people delay marriage and careers.

An online journal called Interface: A Journal For and About Social Movements aims for movement relevant knowledge. An online magazine ROAR provides current information but not specifically about youth. The online journal Interface: A Journal For and About Social Movements is one of the few scholarly journals to discuss the recent uprisings. The three British editors began publishing the journal in 2009; two are academics. An exception is Social Movement Studies published an issue on Occupy in 2012.[iii] Looking at all the issues from 2011 on, only one included youth in the title, but it focused on organization rather than young people—“’Young People Took to the Streets and All of the Political Parties Got Old’: the 15 M Movement in Spain” (2011). Other social movement publications are Mobilization since 1996 and its blog Mobilizing Ideas.[iv] Current Sociology published an issue on “From Indignation to Occupation” in 2013 reporting on the 2011 uprisings but without focus on youth.[v]

A scan of the Journal of Youth Studies from 2011 found only 26 titles on youth activism or political attitudes out of 224 articles and 10 of the titles were about youth attitudes towards traditional politics.[vi] Surprisingly, not one article was about the uprisings of 2011 to 2014 discussed in this book. A similar search of the Journal of Adolescence found only one issue on political engagement but not rebellions (June 2012), with no other such articles in other issues.[vii]

Much of the generational research is done in the US and the UK. Psychologist Jeffrey Jensen Arnett points out that the study of adolescence began in the US early in the 20th century and the study of US adolescents still dominates the field.[viii] He reports that most of the scholarly journals devoted to the age group 10 to 25 are mostly from the US with an occasional European researcher. The Journal of Youth Studies includes studies from Canada, Australia, Germany and Sweden, as well as the US and the UK.

Other books describe the characteristics of American youth—many of the books about Generation Y are how to manage them in the US workforce, so this book focuses on other countries where most young people live. However, Most of the academic books on global youth are anthologies of specialized ethnographies about small groups of young people in various regions without much connection between chapters. For example one such book includes chapters on Thai makeup saleswomen, former child soldiers in Sierra Leone, Latino use of political graphic art, a Sri Lankan refugee, etc.

Searching through 15 pages of books listed under “global youth,” I found anthologies, youth ministry, how to market to youth, deviant behavior, by country (such as youth in China), or unemployment, but no overviews of global youth activism. The only books specifically about youth and the Arab Spring are Maytha Alhassen and Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, editors, Demanding Dignity: Young Voices from the Front Lines of the Arab Revolutions, 2012; Alcinda Honwana, Youth and Revolution in Tunisia, 2013; Juan Cole, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East (2014), and Ahmed Tohamy Abdelhay, Youth Activism in Egypt: Islamism, Political Protest and Revolution, 2015 ($104).

An anonymous academic who reviewed this book attempted to list books about global youth activism, but all were written before the recent uprisings or don’t include them (I added the dates), nor do any of them feature the role of young people.

There are several other books out right now that address the issue of youth and contemporary activism. Marina Sitirin’s Everyday Revolutions [2012, about Argentina only, while her 2014 book with Dario Azzellini, They Can’t Represent Us expands to look at the development of democracy in various countries, with a focus on process but not youth, similar to Maeckelberg] is one, as is Marianne Maeckelberg’s The Will of the Man [2009, about the alterglobailzation movement. She explains, In contrast to previous social movements, the alterglobalisation movement’s forms of organization is its ideology.] Both also address the rise of horizontalist politics. Jeffrey Juris has written about youth activism, technology, horizontalism, in the context of the alter-globalization movement and Occupy. [Juris co-edited Insurgent Encounters, 2013, an ethnography anthology about the global justice movement and World Social Forum. Youth are mentioned in less than 10 pages.] David Graeber’s Direct Action [2009], about the global justice movement] also involves some fairly sustained consideration of the links between direct democracy, new radical politics, history, and youth culture [outdated].



Five books published from 2012 to 2014 cover the global uprisings but not with analysis of the role of young people: Paul Mason, Why It’s Still Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions; an anthology by Anya Schiffrin and Eamon Kircher-Allen, From Cairo to Wall Street: Voices From the Global Spring including activists in their 20s and 30s; and an Internet ebook by Werner Puschra and Sara Burke, eds., The Future We the People Need: Voices from New Social Movements, also about various ages of activists. They wrote another pertinent book available online, World Protests 2006-2013. The 2014 books are They Can’t Represent us! Reinventing Democracy from Greece to Occupy by Marina Sitrin; Dario Azzellini and Cristina Flesher Fominaya’s Social Movements and Globalization: How Protests, Occupations and Uprisings are Changing the World; and Occupy! A Global Movement (2014), a $150 anthology edited by Jenny Pickerill, et al. In Youth Rising? (2015) Mayssoun Sukarieh and Stuart Tannock do focus on the portrayal of youth in global uprisings, but acknowledge that they too do not include their actual voices. Their thesis is that although youth played a vital part as activists, their role is exaggerated in order to benefit the interests of neoliberal elites who don’t want consideration of the structural problems in the existing capitalist system.

Two books interviewed urban youth activists in the Americas before the global uprisings: Jessica Taft, Rebel Girls: Youth Activism and Social Change Across the Americas, 2010, and Maria De Los Angeles Torres, Irrene Rizzini, and Norma Del Rio, Citizens in the Present: Youth Civic Engagement in the Americas, 2013. Taft reported in Rebel Girls that, “Despite their activism, girls are rarely considered and written about as significant political actors. They appear but do not speak.” They’re left out of academic research on girls’ studies and on youth movements. Taft says that the focus is on college students rather than teenagers. To be more accurate, researchers must change the common practice of ignoring youth or presuming to speak for them without including their voices.

[i] Geraldine Pratt and Victoria Rosner, eds. The Global and the Intimate: Feminism in Our Time. Columbia University Press, 2012, p. 3.

[ii] Ibid, p. 21.

A list of journals about youth is available online, compiled by the Canadian Association for Research in Cultures of Young People and Youth Policy



[v] DOI:10.1177/0011392113479748


Following are the topics and date posted online: Greek youth’s protests in 2008 (January 2011), theories of youth resistance (June 2012), Canadian youth activism for people with disabilities (June 2012), a student occupation of their university in 2010 (November 2012), University of Ottawa students’ political engagement (June 2012), youth involvement in politics in Scotland (June 2012), how to involve young Canadian women in provincial public police development (August 2012), Peruvian youth activism for sexual health (November 2012), Spanish youths’ attitudes towards politics—based on interviews (November 2012), British youth’s political participation (September 2013), Australian girls’ attitudes towards women leaders (January 2013), youth protests in Africa (march 2013), Australian teens political interests (May 2013), young men’s political participation in an English town (September 2013), influences on British youth’s political participation (September 2013), theories of youth agency (September 2013).

Alcina Honwana. Youth and Revolution in Tunisa. Zed Books, 2013.

Ahmed Tohamy Abdelhay. Youth Activism in Egypt: Islamism, Political Protest and Revolution. Library of Modern Middle East Studies, 2014. ($104)

Linda Herrera, editor. Wired Citizenship: Youth Learning and Activism in the Middle East. Routledge, 2014

Jessica Taft. Rebel Girls: Youth Activism and Social Change Across the Americas. New York University Press, 2011.

Maria de los Angeles Torres, Irene Rizzini and Norma Del Rio. Citizens in the Present: Youth Civic Engagement in the Americas. University of Illinois, 2013.


[viii] Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, ed. Adolescent Psychology Around the World. Psychology Press, 2012, p. IX.

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