Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cultural Foundations of Education


Steven J. Taylor


Activism, Education, Higer Education, Youth Culture

Subject Categories



This dissertation is a qualitative ethnography of college student activism that examines student activist identity, and the role of social structures and privilege in activism. The study uses data from two years of in-depth fieldwork including over 18 months of participant observation and interviews with 13 key respondents. I took on this research project to better understand how students come to think of themselves as activists, how they speak about and experience activism, how activism--as a cultural text--tells a story about power and privilege, and to explore the role of education in the culture of activism. In this dissertation I argue that student activism is a practice of democratic citizenship that is complicated by the contradictions and complexities of students' uninterrogated privileges. Mobilizing as a collective, students challenge normative notions of youth and youth subcultures through extracurricular activities and practices that include public and self-education. Activist work includes navigating contradictions granted by identity privilege and serves as a contested space where social inequities and relations of power and privilege are rejected, interrogated, and reinforced. Student activism, as a subculture and a lifestyle, becomes informal schooling for privileged youth offering lessons which bridge the gap between the disconnected realities of school, individual experience, and group work in the "real world." In this way, activist work and pedagogy provides students with opportunities to engage with the discomfort of privilege. Even as students are confronted with contradictions of their own privileged identities, their political agenda as anti-racist, anti-oppression allies continually push them to better understand their role as privileged actors in a world of injustice.


Open Access

Included in

Education Commons