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Detours through Youth-Driven Media. Backseat Drivers Bear Witness to the Ethical Dilemmas of Youth Media

Lora Taub-Pervizpour and Eirinn Disbrow

Scholarship on youth media in the last decade has done much to identify the social justice dimensions of youth media practices and cultural productions. While youth media production varies in relation to the social, cultural, political, and economic contexts in which it occurs, social justice frames much of this field of activity.1 There are diverse and clear social justice issues at stake in providing media education and technology resources to young people who are systematically silenced and excluded, and whose stories confront the unjust representations of youth in corporate consumer culture. At the most basic level, the very work of providing access to the technologies and practices of media making to young people who are systematically marginalized and silenced in or by commercial media is social justice work. Most youth media programs are local grassroots efforts waged by advocates who aim to redress the exclusion of youth voices from the public sphere.2 As one practitioner notes, “Those of us who come to this field have done so because we know at our core that working with young people, identifying issues of relevance for them, and guiding their media productions to be powerful tools of change is unmistakably a radical and essential movement in education.”3 Then there are

The voices of many community partners informed this research and the authors acknowledge in particular the Healthy Youth Peer Education (HYPE) teens who share their perspectives through media production, HYPE codirector Jenna Azar, HYPE intern Sylvia Boateng, faculty from the Departments of Media and Communication and Political Science at Muhlenberg College, and HYPE founders Abby Letcher, MD, and Roberta Meek. The authors recognize the generous support for HYPE from Muhlenberg College and the Dorothy Rider Pool Health Care Trust.

the unmistakable questions of social justice at the heart of media content produced by marginalized young people. Across a range of media—radio, video, and Internet—young people are producing stories that document sufferings, losses, and traumas based on class, race, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality that they directly experience or witness within their communities.4

This qualitative study is broadly interested in the media practices and productions of Latino and African American youth participating in Healthy Youth Peer Education (HYPE), a summer program for urban, minority high school students in Allentown, Pennsylvania. In their young lives, these teens already have extensive lived experience of everyday injustices—in their schools, their neighborhoods, and their homes. This chapter considers the social relationships between young media producers and the adults who ally with them in their cultural productions and organize the resources and conditions for their making. While a burgeoning scholarship pays close attention to digitally mediated texts produced by at-risk youth and, in particular, to issues of voice, identity, and agency forged through new media tools, the social relationships that support these cultural productions constitute an important and largely overlooked site for analysis in the context of media and social justice. Documentary fieldwork conducted with HYPE over a year underscores the important fact that providing young people access to new technologies and practices will have limited potential or meaning unless participants intentionally construct social relations more just and humane than the inequities that frame adult-youth relations in the community and culture at large. In their cultural productions, HYPE youth have documented those inequities as they play out in their mistreatment by local police, school authorities, neighborhood residents, and commercial mass media. But at another level, HYPE youth remind us of the imperative to build healthier, more just and equitable relationships within the activity of youth media production itself.

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