In the Canadian context of settler colonialism, neoliberal capitalism, and environmental degradation, many in CYC have hurried to act alongside children, youth, families, and communities, uniting politics and relational work. While contemporary theorists and practitioners build on longstanding CYC traditions of striving for social justice and placing individual problems within social contexts, some have also, since the turn of the 21st century, layered in a much more radical politics. I see this loosely connected group – and I count myself as one of them – as using the ideas, practices, and technologies at our disposal to provide care that is accountable and challenges the status quo. This new IJCYFS Review provides us with a technological and communicational jump – via interactive blog posts – into increasingly politicized conversations on CYC and the most pressing issues of our times.
Jennifer White’s inaugural post, Thinking about Borders and Tangled Meshes, echoes her earlier Ethos for the Times in calling for more engaged accounts of the field that recognize our many interdependencies and responsibilities – and provide avenues for response-ability. Janet Newbury, for her part, has invited us to think about a Truth and Reconciliation Informed CYC. This IJCYFS Review is for me about seeding a national and global community invested in social change through direct practice in CYC. My hope is that other academics, practitioners, and grassroots organizers and activists will add their voices to a conversation that inspires politicized CYC praxis. In this entry I share my research on the academic literature of praxis. I look forward to hearing other people’s thoughts, stories, and visions of accountable action in the field.
As a settler who lives on the unceded territory of the Lekwungen and SENĆOŦEN speaking Coast Salish peoples and who is paid as a counsellor and teacher at the University of Victoria, I have come to see my CYC work as inextricably entangled with the catastrophes of colonialism and capitalism. In the thick of economic crises, biotech advances, globalized war, extreme poverty, and climate change, where children and youth inherit and live in increasingly interconnected and precarious worlds, I argue that our theories and practice need to engage, not abscond from, such complexities and tragedies. Nearly a decade ago, Jennifer White defined a praxis-oriented approach to CYC as “ethical, self-aware, responsive and accountable action”. As an undergrad in CYC at the time, praxis provided me with a language to think about the complex, dynamic, active nature of CYC work, which, in her words, always gets expressed “within specific historical, sociocultural, political and institutional contexts”. Praxis continues to circle back and be a touchstone for me in understanding my work as political, bringing together different yet interconnected facets of a politically and socially engaged CYC.
The Concept of Praxis in CYC
Praxis is essentially an orientation committed to joining thought and self-reflection to action in the world. An ancient Greek term, praxis is roughly equivalent to the concept of practice, but also signifies a way of acting that expresses the good. It is not evident, of course, what the good is, particularly in a field like CYC that is replete with dilemmas, ambiguities, and, in White’s words, “competing sets of interests about what constitutes good and right action.” What is innovative with praxis is a call to “reflect this messiness and complexity” in our frameworks and conversations. This is explicitly a call away from standardization and a turn to “the role of values, respect, and dialogue” in negotiating power, knowledge, and collective action. These insights are also indebted to Paulo Freire, who argued that we need to develop people’s capacities to critically perceive the dynamic and oppressive world in which we live, integrate theory and action, and collaborate in the “struggle to create a new social order”.
Marx observed that “philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways”; the point, he argued, “is to change it”. Echoing Marx and building with White’s particularly CYC discernments, Hans and Kathy Skott-Myhre argue that praxis “requires that we not only theorize and reflect, but that our theories allow us new avenues of action that have the capacity to change the world”. Pushing White’s criticism of standardization further, they suggest that the professionalization of competence and assumptions of successful practice draw on and sustain hierarchy, power, and profiteering, thereby depriving youth, and youth work, of their revolutionary political potential. The Skott-Myhres propose that we disrupt the inherent hierarchy in youth/adult relationships by exploring the creative capacities that get expressed in them. They suggest staying closely connected to each other and the material conditions of our lives in a project of mutual liberation whereby neither youth nor youth workers can be exploited or assimilated into the dominant capitalist system. These are the kinds of stories I hope to hear more of in this blog: stories of resistance to dispossession, of love and connection in the face of despair and pain, and of disrupting hierarchies through bold, creative experiments.
Frantz Fanon, himself a Marxist scholar of praxis, said “what matters is not to know the world but to change it”. An anti- or postcolonial theorist, Fanon has been important in helping us think about the complicity of the helping professions in colonization. Unlike many now independent African nations, Canada is still a colonial state: we, the colonizers, have yet to leave or relinquish power. In Canada, many Indigenous children and families suffer in deplorable poverty and experience egregious rates of racialized and gendered violence. Shanne McCaffrey argues that “the tentacles of colonization have insidiously spread out to reach, squeeze, and grasp anything that comes into their path”. Johanne Saraceno names CYC as embedded in a colonial enterprise through processes of assimilation, child removal, and the reproduction of hegemonic norms. She argues that liberatory and socially just forms of praxis begin by deconstructing the dominant theories, values, and structures that shape CYC practice, particularly notions of progress, economic development, and care that are founded on dominant whiteness, masculinity, and colonialism. For their part, Loiselle, de Finney, Khanna, and Corcoran propose a relational praxis that challenges the “values of individualism, rational choice, and self-realization [that] are embedded in capitalist, neoliberal structures”. If our ways of knowing and practicing CYC are inseparably connected with our location and capacity to act in the world, perhaps, following Sandrina de Finney, we need to ask:
What gets lost when we become stuck in the familiar contours of normative theories and practices? What knowledge and ways of being flow outside the overwhelmingly EuroWestern perspectives that so define our field? What critical theories—specifically, anti and postcolonial, Indigenous, feminist, queer, and other analyses of resistance, hope, transformation—can contribute to these discussions, and to a more productive praxis of social change?
Blogging Politicized Praxis
As a person embedded in and committed to changing this world through direct practice, I wonder what confines and possibilities we might explore together through this blog. I want us to fashion a network capable of further addressing settler colonialism, neoliberal capitalism, and other systems of injustice enmeshed with CYC. Recognizing the quickly diversifying demographics of Canadian children and youth, I follow Jin-Sun Yoon in emphasizing the urgency of our need to identify and respond to the Eurocentrism, cultural hegemony, and racism in our praxis. I also agree with Kiaris Gharabaghi and Mark Krueger that we may “have to accept that we perpetuate the status quo by practicing a politics informed by the disempowered categories of collective complacency and bureaucratic process”. This blog thus provides a space to discuss complicity through our own positions in relation to perpetuating oppression. I think we can also highlight resistance and make critical links between structural inequities and the positioning of minoritized individuals and groups as being in need of professional intervention. There is space here for us to witness our world, making our thoughts and actions publicly visible and more open to scrutiny and collaboration. I hope this blog can help us increase activism in the field and encourage more practitioners to speak out about their challenges, hopes, fears, and desires for a different world.
From my location as an instructor, I am curious to know what pedagogical approaches other teachers are using to educate, inspire, and, in the words of Cole Little, “reconceptualize the academic context as a rich site of contesting CYC norms.” As a counsellor, I seek others who are engaging with macro issues at the level of interpersonal engagement. I look forward to conversations that develop conceptual and practice tools that help us – individually and collectively – change out material conditions. The authors I have discussed in this review stress the importance of examining our own complicity – from our theories and teaching practices, to our field’s goals, funders, and services – in the systems that make the lives of so many children and youth unbearable. I believe that further politicizing CYC praxis can move us toward understanding ourselves, our educational centres, and our practice contexts as not only complicit in, but potentially and positively transformative of, the sociocultural contexts that shape the experiences of the children, youth, families, and communities with whom we work.
de Finney, S., Little, J. N., Skott-Myhre, H., & Gharabaghi, K. (2012). Pre-conference roundtable discussion. International Journal of Child, Youth and Family Studies, 3(2–3), 128–145.
Fanon, F. (2004). The wretched of the earth (C. Farrington, Trans.). New York: Grove Press. (Original work published 1961)
Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed (M. B. Ramos, Trans.). New York: Continuum.
Gharabaghi, K., & Krueger, M. (2010). A new politics in child and youth care. Relational Child and Youth Care Practice, 23(3), 27–39.
Little, J. N. (2011). Articulating a child and youth care philosophy: Beyond binary constructs. In A. Pence & J. White (Eds.), Child and youth care: Critical perspectives on pedagogy, practice, and policy (pp. 3–18).Vancouver: UBC Press.
Loiselle, E., de Finney, S., Khanna, N., & Corcoran, R. (2012). We need to talk about it!: Doing CYC as politicized praxis. Child & Youth Services, 33(3–4), 178–205.
Marx, K. (1998). The German ideology. New York: Prometheus Books. (Original work published 1845)
McCaffrey, S. (2010). Kookum knew…Exploring historical contexts: Aboriginal people, the justice system, and child welfare. International Journal of Child, Youth, & Family Studies, 1(3/4), 340–347.
Saraceno, J. (2012). Mapping whiteness and coloniality in the human service field: Possibilities for a praxis of social justice in child and youth care. International Journal of Child, Youth and Family Studies, 3(2–3), 248–271.
Skott-Myhre, K., & Skott-Myhre, H. A. (2011). Theorizing and applying child and youth care praxis as politics of care. Relational Child & Youth Care Practice, 24(1–2), 42–52.
Smith, M. (1999/2011). What is praxis? In The encyclopaedia of informal education. Retrieved from: http://www.infed.org/biblio/b-praxis.htm#praxis
White, J. (2007). Knowing, doing, and being in context: A praxis-oriented approach to child and youth care. Child & Youth Care Forum, 36(5), 225–244.
White, J., Kouri, S., & Pacini-Ketchabaw, V. (forthcoming). Risky attachments: Teaching child and youth care in 21st century settler colonial, environmental, and biotechnological contexts.
Yoon, J-S. (2012). Courageous conversations in child and youth care: Nothing lost in the telling. International Journal of Child, Youth, and Family Studies, 3(2–3), 164–186.
 White, Kouri, & Pacini-Ketchabaw, Risky attachments.
 White, Knowing, doing, and being, 226.
 White, 227.
 White, Knowing, doing, and being.
 See Smith, What is praxis?
 White, 242.
 White, 226
 Freire, Pedagogy of the oppressed, 32.
 Marx, The German ideology, 574. Emphasis in original.
 Skott-Myhre, & Skott-Myhre, Theorizing and applying child and youth care praxis as politics of care, 42.
 Fanon, The wretched of the earth, xviii.
 McCaffrey, Kookum knew…Exploring historical contexts, 343.
 Saraceno, Mapping whiteness and coloniality in the human service field.
 Loiselle, de Finney, Khanna, & Corcoran, We need to talk about it!, 181.
 de Finney, Little, Skott-Myhre, & Gharabaghi, Pre-conference roundtable discussion, 130.
 Yoon, Courageous conversations in child and youth care.
 Gharabaghi & Krueger, A new politics in child and youth care.
 White, Kouri, & Pacini-Ketchabaw, Risky attachments.
 Little, Articulating a child and youth care philosophy, 16.
This article was peer-edited by Rebecca Raby.
Photo by hdwallpapers.im
- Politicizing CYC Praxis: Invitation to a Conversation - October 29, 2015