Annual Research Review: The experience of youth with political conflict – challenging notions of resilience and encouraging research refinement

Authors

  • Brian K. Barber

    Corresponding author
    1. Center for the Study of Youth and Political Conflict, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, USA
    • Center for the Study of Youth and Political Conflict, University of Tennessee, Knoxville TN USA

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  • Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared.

Abstract

Aims and method

Drawing on empirical studies and literature reviews, this paper aims to clarify and qualify the relevance of resilience to youth experiencing political conflict. It focuses on the discordance between expectations of widespread dysfunction among conflict-affected youth and a body of empirical evidence that does not confirm these expectations.

Findings

The expectation for widespread dysfunction appears exaggerated, relying as it does on low correlations and on presumptions of universal response to adversity. Such a position ignores cultural differences in understanding and responding to adversity, and in the specific case of political conflict, it does not account for the critical role of ideologies and meaning systems that underlie the political conflict and shape a young people's interpretation of the conflict, and their exposure, participation, and processing of experiences. With respect to empirical evidence, the findings must be viewed as tentative given the primitive nature of research designs: namely, concentration on violence exposure as the primary risk factor, at the expense of recognizing war's impact on the broader ecology of youth's lives, including disruptions to key economic, social, and political resources; priority given to psychopathology in the assessment of youth functioning, rather than holistic assessments that would include social and institutional functioning and fit with cultural and normative expectations and transitions; and heavy reliance on cross-sectional, rather than longitudinal, studies.

Conclusions

Researchers and practitioners interested in employing resilience as a guiding construct will face such questions: Is resilience predicated on evidence of competent functioning across the breadth of risks associated with political conflict, across most or all domains of functioning, and/or across time? In reality, youth resilience amidst political conflict is likely a complex package of better and poorer functioning that varies over time and in direct relationship to social, economic, and political opportunities. Addressing this complexity will complicate the definition of resilience, but it confronts the ambiguities and limitations of work in cross-cultural contexts.

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