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Research on Youth and Political Conflict: Where Is the Politics? Where Are the Youth?


  • Brian K. Barber

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Tennessee
    • Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Brian K. Barber, Director, Center for the Study of Youth and Political Conflict, 2110 Terrace Ave., University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37916; e-mail:

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  • Brian K. Barber, Center for the Study of Youth and Political Conflict, University of Tennessee.
  • This article is dedicated to the memory of Ed Cairns, a partner, colleague, mentor, and friend to many of us in this field.
  • I express appreciation to Samuel Benjamin Doty for locating, organizing, and assisting with interpreting the literature.


In this article, I use standards and expectations articulated in the late 1990s by Cairns and Dawes to evaluate research on youth experience with political conflict. The volume and visibility of work on this topic suggest progress in this area, as do research methods and the specification of social ecologies. However, researchers have persistently framed the topic narrowly as the degree to which, and how, exposure to political violence predicts mental and behavioral problems. In this review, I spell out the limits of this approach and articulate the need for taking seriously the political context as well as looking at youth as developing, competent, and engaged individuals. I offer alternative questions for research and design to encourage the field to address these complexities more adequately.

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