Success on the margins: Exploring what success means to marginalized youth in neoliberal times

  • Author / Creator
    Sheloff, Sydney
  • Marginalized youth must negotiate a neoliberal ethos in which they are expected to make ‘responsible’ decisions and work hard to become independent people, but at the same time experience social oppressions and structural inequalities that limit their ability to achieve success. As a result, many struggle with homelessness, poverty, addiction, abuse, and criminal justice involvement, and are constructed as ‘failures’ by society and themselves. This study addresses the following questions: how do marginalized youth define success? How do those definitions compare to dominant, neoliberal definitions of success? How and why do youth accept neoliberal definitions? How and why do youth challenge them?. I conducted 9 semi-structured interviews with marginalized youth. Interviews were analyzed using a largely inductive approach that started in the lived realities of my participants, paying attention to the intersections of gender, age, class, and racial oppressions. First I analyzed youth’s basic definitions of success, and second, I analyzed what achieving these goals would mean to youth on a deeper level. I analyzed the ways in which youth challenged and accepted neoliberal definitions within their own. These youth often understood how structural barriers limited their ability to achieve success, but ultimately believed it was up to them to overcome those barriers and achieve success. I conclude by reflecting on why youth bought into neoliberalism, and the effects that doing so has on their ability to achieve success. This research suggests several ways to empower youth to achieve their dreams that both respects their beliefs and challenges the systems that hold them back. Especially in an era of reduced social services and policies that discriminate against young people, it is critical to highlight the perspectives of young people who face the harshest effects of these processes. I will argue that doing so can challenge structural barriers and oppressions and empower these youth to achieve their ambitious dreams.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2020
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
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