The Liberation of Young People Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Glaser, Amy
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Philosophy
  • Youth liberationists call for an end to oppression, specifically adultism, the oppression of youth by adults. Notions of equality have played an important historical role in liberationist efforts to dismantle oppressive systems. The equality of young people has seemed by some to be an absurd contention, undermined by the “obvious” incapacities of at least very young children to make their own choices. Against this view, I argue that people of every age are equal not only in their interests (their similar interests matter equally), but also in their agency: where adults and children are relevantly similarly situated – and they often are – they have an equal claim to make their own choices. I look carefully at arguments against youth liberation, and claim that these anti-liberationist arguments wrongly attack children’s equality of agency on the basis of adultist notions of rationality and moral development. I argue for replacing traditional liberal notions of rational autonomy with notions that recognize the context-sensitivity of agential efficacy, and I claim that this brings to light young people’s unique strengths and skills, which are often overlooked. I consider research that challenges adults’ self-perception as reason-responsive wills unto ourselves, as well as research that examines children’s relatively greater capacities for learning, open-mindedness and imagination, all of which are core human virtues. I move on to describe adultism at length, insisting that oppression has a macroscopic structure and is thus difficult to recognize. Drawing on literature from the new childhood studies, a burgeoning interdisciplinary field, I explain the construction of childhood, children’s marginalization and powerlessness within an adult-centric world, and their subjection to violence and economic deprivation, the totality of which constitute the oppression of young people. Finally, I seek to make the aims of the youth liberation movement more plausible by looking at particular institutions and areas of our lives, and imagining what kind of practices and policies a liberationist approach might recommend. Children, who know better than anyone else the hazards and frustrations of living in an adultist culture, ought to be the leaders in the task, incumbent upon all of us, of finding a better way.
Date of publication
Resource type
  • Walker, Rebecca
  • Worsnip, Alex
  • MacLean, Douglas
  • Weston, Anthony
  • Stone, Lynda
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2018

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