STS.080 | Spring 2016 | Undergraduate

Youth Political Participation


Weekly Discussion Questions

Each week you must email 2–3 discussion questions to the instructor at least 24 hours in advance of our class meeting time. This insures you are keeping up with course readings, and will help the instructor adapt classroom discussion time to the materials of greatest interest to the group.

Student Presentations

Depending on course enrollment you will be assigned to one or more small groups responsible for conducting additional research outside of class on an assigned topic. The topics are listed on the syllabus by week, and presentation must address the question(s) posed. On your assigned week your job is to share your findings with the class in a presentation (minimum 15 minutes, more if you like), and pose three questions for further discussion. Web-surfing alone is not sufficient; please spend some time in the library to find outside readings to support your work.

Presentation Topics

  • Young men’s voluntary associations. Alexis de Tocqueville, one of the most famous foreign observers of the United States, was struck by American’s passion for joining associations. Young men’s voluntary associations were common in many cities, offering opportunities to discuss politics, literature and culture; many provided forums for young men to produce magazines as well. Please prepare a presentation on some of the activities of these groups, both the majority which served white men and those that served free African Americans. For the latter see Craig Wilder’s In the Company of Black Men, which identifies some groups with active youth affiliates. Discuss the extent to which technology played a role in the activities of these groups.
  • Young people’s participation in World War One. The Great War witnessed a relaxation of social norms that increasingly pushed American youth out of participation in the nation’s labor force and political life. From Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, to the US Garden Army, to the Boys and Girls Working Reserve, numerous young people played a role in the war effort. Please report on the varied forms this participation took. Identify the specific populations of youth who participated, any subversive activities in which young people engaged, and assess how technology mattered to wartime youth.
  • College radio. After radio became a broadcast medium, many college students became interested in its on-campus uses. Come to class prepared to discuss the function of radio in this period. Who ran radio stations? What did they broadcast? Was this an example of political media production? You are also encouraged to obtain Hugh Slotten’s book, Radio’s Hidden Voice, from and look for what he says about student involvement in early radio history; the instructor can also give you a copy of Louis Bloch, The Gas-Pipe Networks: A History of College Radio 1936–1946.
  • The invention of the “teenager” as a social category. Although the idea of “adolescence” had been around since the turn of the century, the growth of peer culture and marketing catalyzed new interest in the phenomenon of teenagers in the postwar period. Discuss the meaning of this social category with respect to music, radio, television, fashion, hi-fi stereos, transportation, and any other technologies. Discuss in particular the mass white culture, which we will compare to the minority youth cultures described in other readings.
  • Conservative youth movements. Much of the focus in this class is on liberal youth movements, for two reasons. The first is that more youth movements have been liberal. The second is that there has been very little scholarly research about conservative youth movements. Make use of John Andrew, The Other Side of the Sixties: Young Americans for Freedom and the Rise of Conservative Politics (online at library website) and other sources to tell us something about the history of conservative youth movements in US history, with special attention to the 1960s. Did they use media and other technologies in ways that mirrored their liberal counterparts?
  • Relationships between cultural and political expression. As we have already touched on in class, artistic and musical expression has long been linked to political expression—for example in the periodicals of young men’s voluntary associations or the magazines produced by “factory girls” in Lowell and elsewhere. The rise of rap and hip hop music at the close of the 20th century made links between culture and politics especially prominent. Please familiarize your classmates with the political themes of artistic products created by youth in this period, and the extent to which this phenomenon merely expands on modes of participation we’ve already seen or offers something truly new. What difference can cultural expression make in the public sphere?
  • Youth political participation without technology. Although recent scholarly and public attention has focused your generation’s widespread use of new media and technology in its political activism, there are still many ways that young people have tried to make a difference without making technology central to their work. Please prepare a presentation that details some of these examples, and discusses the advantages and disadvantages of eschewing technology. Hint: Start by looking at the positive youth development activities described by Barry Checkoway (week 1 reading) and collaborators, the work of Dana Mitra and collaborators, as well as the range of youth organizations profiled in Youth Organizing: A New Generation of Social Activism and Youth Acts: Community Impacts.

Course Info

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