by Sunaina Maira
The keyword “youth” bears a potent and overdetermined symbolism that has made it both central to cultural studies and significant, if relatively marginal, in American studies. Critical conversations about youth span anthropology, sociology, psychology, education, history, and geography and cross over into interdisciplinary areas such as cultural studies, American studies, feminist studies, queer studies, and ethnic studies. Across these fields, the word “youth” is used in myriad ways, generally as a signifier of a developmental stage, a transition to adulthood, or a moment of socialization into or rejection of social norms. A universalizing notion of youth as a period of development that everyone experiences coexists with a particularized understanding of youth as subjects-in-the-making who are always embedded in specific historical and social contexts. This tension underlies the significance of the keyword and its appearance and disappearance in scholarly and political debates.