Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Education

First Advisor

Ben Kirshner

Second Advisor

Susan Jurow

Third Advisor

Dan Liston

Abstract

"Idle" is a label applied by policymakers to young people (ages 16-24) who are not employed, attending school, or registered with the military. Youth who are disconnected from education or employment for more than two years are likely to experience a lifetime of social and economic hardships. Although researchers understand the demographic characteristics of this population, few empirical studies examine the contextual factors that contribute to idleness and disconnection. In this dissertation, I used youth participatory action research and ethnographic methods to examine how identities were socially constructed in a rural community located in the western United States. I explore the implications of these identities on youths' trajectories of participation in academic and community life. I found there were two dominant models of identity available to young people: "good kids" and "bad kids." Participants referred to these identities as reputations. Reputations were a powerful force in the lives of youth growing up rural. Reputations shaped social interactions, influenced access to education and employment opportunities, and affected engagement with institutions and programs designed for youth. Young people who were viewed as having a "bad" reputation experienced negative consequences including limited access to learning environments that would help them navigate a route to productive adulthood. In addition, my analysis revealed that youth were not solely responsible for the development of a reputation. Reputations were, instead, created through individual and social processes that were informed by specific characteristics of place and shaped by the social and organizational practices of adults. Programs or interventions aimed at helping youth ultimately reinforced the target population's reputation as "bad kids." Based on the findings of this study, I advocate for researchers, educators, and prevention professionals to expand our understanding about the factors that contribute to idleness and consider new ways to connect youth.

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