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Child & Youth Services
ISSN: 0145-935X (Print) 1545-2298 (Online) Journal homepage:
The need for critical scholarship
Kiaras Gharabaghi & Ben Anderson-Nathe
To cite this article: Kiaras Gharabaghi & Ben Anderson-Nathe (2017) The need for critical
scholarship, Child & Youth Services, 38:2, 95-97, DOI: 10.1080/0145935X.2017.1327692
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Published online: 02 Jun 2017.
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The need for critical scholarship
have come to sound somewhat predictable. A few theoretical frameworks and
conceptual ideas have become deeply entrenched in how we approach scholarship
and research about the complex and multi-layered contexts in which young people
live their lives. We hear a great deal about attachment, resilience, trauma, and
various evidence-based practices aiming to mitigate, and sometimes cure, the
implications of these concepts. As much as one tries to expand the conversation, the
research keeps reinforcing existing ideas, so much so that before long, these ideas
become ‘truths’ of their own. Perhaps this is the consequence of research funding
approaches that are based on promising practices and interventions backed by
previous research. Perhaps it is the consequence of a social order in which binary,
normative, and generally individualistic ideas are given value than more nuanced,
less judgmental, and much more social ideas. Whatever the cause of this reduction-
ism, the consequences to the young people subject to that research are worrisome.
While there is much activity in the child and youth-focused academic sectors,
there is not much evidence that the lived experience of young people facing adver-
sity is improving much. Quite the contrary, we seem to be investing ever-increasing
resources to demonstrate our ‘truths’ while ignoring the voices and experiences
of young people, their families, and sometimes their communities who are not
nding our research reective of their lives. Having diagnosed just about every
young person living in a residential service, a homeless shelter, or on the streets
as attachment-disordered in some way, we seem intent on producing knowledge
about the depth of this decit and the unfortunate limitations of child and youth
services to address such lifespan misfortune. The emergent identities of young
people who may have experienced attachment outside of the ideal models con-
structed long ago become largely irrelevant and any activities or behaviors they
exhibit outside of the norm are simply attributed to their attachment problems.
When young people do well in spite of having faced considerable adversity, they
are deemed resilient. In this way, we can explain their success within our normative
constructs of right and wrong, good and bad, success and failure. Furthermore,
the range of behaviors deemed resilient often includes only those actions labeled
pro-social or otherwise normative. Harm reduction, for instance, is seldom consid-
ered indicative of resilience; it is instead further demonstration of a young person’s
persistent pathology. And nally, the industry growing up around trauma and
trauma-informed care has obscured the lines between and among daily life stress,
manageable psychological distress, and trauma. In the process, as all young people
become interpreted through the lens of trauma, the very construct of trauma risks
©  Taylor & FrancisGroup, LLC
losing its meaning, and its real and legitimate manifestations are minimized by
their association with non-traumatic stressor events and responses.
These kinds of simple explanations for the diversity of context and identity among
young people seem just a little too convenient; for one thing, talk of attachment and
trauma maintain an entire industry of psychologists, psychiatrists, and of course the
pharmacological innovators. They also provide order and purpose for the child and
youth serving sectors seeking to frame their activities around the latest evidence
and research. And they maintain the status quo in our elds by oering go-to “obvi-
ous” responses and diagnoses to circumstances that actually demand more critical
inquiry. But what else are the consequences of this?
In the process of reducing peoples lives to rhetorical references, and of position-
ing otherness at the margins of social relations, we reinforce and indeed, reproduce,
relations of power and inuence, as well as relations of exclusion and oppression.
Research, held up as the ultimate wisdom, takes the form of scholarship that is inac-
cessible to those the research pronounces as ‘other’. The objectication of research
subjects, often young people as seen through professionally generated case les, con-
tinues unabatedly. The multiplicity of identities in the context of gender, race, sexual
orientation, disability, citizenship, religion, body shapes, sizes, and contours, and
a host of other factors is reduced to a series of controlled variables in nomothetic
epistemologies. The results of this research are then disseminated through academic
articles that highlight ndings but often stop far short of genuine discussion (includ-
ing informed speculation) about their signicant implications for the actual lives
of young people and their communities. The experience of life, with its relational,
and outcomes targeted toward others in the research and scholarly communities.
As editors of a major journal, we are of course interested in research; this is why
we continue to promote research in all its forms. Like all journal editors, however,
we have a unique vantage point on how research is produced, valued, and dissem-
inated. We see a lot of research, and we can readily identify the patterns. We know
that what we read every day is subject to many dierent motivational dynamics that
include passion for the betterment of the world, but also career building, respon-
siveness to funders, and a not insignicant level of conformity to real or perceived
expectations of the scholarly community. We even encounter reviews that appear to
promote thought-policing over critical evaluation of the context, method, and qual-
ity of the scholarship itself. Given these varied elements in the motivational context
of producing scholarship, we are not surprised that orthodox research, designed to
t the categorizations and normative context of the global north, is the dominant
form that comes across our desks or laptops. We are grateful for all the research we
are privileged to review and often publish. But we also want to be clear that we are
open to – and indeed our eld demands – something else.
Critical scholarship is not a commonly used term in academia. Critical perspec-
tives may be common, but they often don’t make it into the research journals that
systems seek to conform. Critical scholarship is less an approach and more an
invitation; it is a way of thinking about research as a form of resistance. While
resistance is usually associated with the politics of the day, with tangible forms of
oppression or with nuanced forms of manipulation, we believe that we must balance
the production of the orthodoxy with resistance to system-preserving truths. And
so we invite you to submit your scholarship that is critical not in its conclusions
but in its starting points: Is attachment really the framework in which we must
see the entire life form of youth? Is trauma a universal concept? Does resilience
explain something in particular or is it a way of identifying the economic, social,
and cultural processes that re-produce a colonial, white, heterosexist, ableist social
Are we religious or atheist? Are we rich or poor? Are we perpetrator or victim?
Critical scholarship can perhaps be characterized in another way. It is a way of
approaching knowledge that is inherently not certain, always uid, rooted in the
lived experienced of people with multiplicity of life-contexts and informed by dia-
logue, relationship, and connection with those who have a stake in the knowledge
being generated. Critical research is not out to create truth; it aims to consider the
moment and looks forward to a way of seeing that moment in ways we could not
have imagined. Finally, it invites into the research process an active identication of
and engagement with power, with the social systems and structures, ideologies and
paradigms that uphold the status quo.
We need critical scholarship. We need this because and in spite of the evidence
tions of power in global society have turned decidedly one way. And we need this
because we have come to accept that the world has children and youth who can be
saved because they t the paradigms, and it has other children and youth who can-
not be saved because they are dierent, or they live in Yemen, or they are dying in
South Sudan, or their spirit, identity, or way of life won’t build our careers.
Kiaras Gharabaghi and Ben Anderson-Nathe
... In a recent edition of the Child and Youth Services journal, the editors made a plea for more 'critical scholarship' in the field of child and youth studies (Gharabaghi and Anderson-Nathe, 2017). This they suggest, is work that sees research as a form of resistance against the dominant 'truths' reproduced by adherence to the evidence orthodoxy, and is needed both 'because of and in spite of' the evidence-based approaches so caught up in studying young people and services through the lens of psychology. ...
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