Politicizing CYC Praxis: Invitation to a Conversation

October 29, 2015

by — Posted in Peer Edited Submissions

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.[1] Nearly a decade ago, Jennifer White defined a praxis-oriented approach to CYC as “ethical, self-aware, responsive and accountable action”[2]. 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”[3]. 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.[4] An ancient Greek term, praxis is roughly equivalent to the concept of practice[5], 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.”[6] What is innovative with praxis is a call to “reflect this messiness and complexity”[7] in our frameworks and conversations. This is explicitly a call away from standardization and a turn to “the role of values, respect, and dialogue”[8] 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”[9].

Marx observed that “philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways”; the point, he argued, “is to change it”[10]. 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”[11]. 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”[12]. 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[13] argues that “the tentacles of colonization have insidiously spread out to reach, squeeze, and grasp anything that comes into their path”. Johanne Saraceno[14] 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”[15]. 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?[16]

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[17] 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”[18]. 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[19], 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[20], “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.

[1] White, Kouri, & Pacini-Ketchabaw, Risky attachments.

[2] White, Knowing, doing, and being, 226.

[3] White, 227.

[4] White, Knowing, doing, and being.

[5] See Smith, What is praxis?

[6] White, 242.

[7] ibid.

[8] White, 226

[9] Freire, Pedagogy of the oppressed, 32.

[10] Marx, The German ideology, 574. Emphasis in original.

[11] Skott-Myhre, & Skott-Myhre, Theorizing and applying child and youth care praxis as politics of care, 42.

[12] Fanon, The wretched of the earth, xviii.

[13] McCaffrey, Kookum knew…Exploring historical contexts, 343.

[14] Saraceno, Mapping whiteness and coloniality in the human service field.

[15] Loiselle, de Finney, Khanna, & Corcoran, We need to talk about it!, 181.

[16] de Finney, Little, Skott-Myhre, & Gharabaghi, Pre-conference roundtable discussion, 130.

[17] Yoon, Courageous conversations in child and youth care.

[18] Gharabaghi & Krueger, A new politics in child and youth care.

[19] White, Kouri, & Pacini-Ketchabaw, Risky attachments.

[20] Little, Articulating a child and youth care philosophy, 16.


This article was peer-edited by Rebecca Raby.

Photo by hdwallpapers.im


About Scott Kouri

Scott Kouri is a PhD student in the School of Child and Youth Care (CYC) at the University of Victoria, Lekwungen territory. He practices as a clinical counsellor, sessional undergraduate instructor, and youth worker. His master’s thesis critically engaged conceptualizations of subjectivity, identity, and the self in CYC undergraduate curriculum. He has co-authored “Catastrophe: A transversal mapping of colonialism and settler subjectivity” with Hans Skott-Myhre, “Thinking the Other Side of Youth Suicide: Engagements with Life” with Dr. Jennifer White, and “What’s under the dirt? Wondering as a transformation of self” with Jeff Smith.

5 thoughts on “Politicizing CYC Praxis: Invitation to a Conversation

  1. Scott,

    I am drawn immediately to your perspective. In my own blundering way across four decades of work with young people I have aspired to a radical praxis. And it is always uplifting to hear and meet with workers with the same commitment. And yet we cannot just be in a critical dialogue with one another. A fundamental question is how we do relate to practitioners, who are complicit in the imposition of neo-liberal ways of seeing the world, not because they are bad folk, but because neo-liberalism is the common-sense of our age? How can we challenge in a way that draws the incorporated towards us rather than drives them further into the arms of the status quo? Best Wishes and solidarity.


    1. Hi Tony,

      I have followed your In Defence of Youth Work project for some time now and appreciate your commitment to critical and socially just praxis. You have honored me by reading and responding to my work, thank you. Allow me to please respond to your reflections as I find the question of who ‘we’ are perplexing yet enduring in our field.

      In my piece I tried to stay away from bifurcating our field into camps of radicals and conformist, theorists and practitioners. This attempt is forever a failing one for me but I keep at it anyways. One way I tried to do this in this particular post was to situate myself well within neo-liberalism and settler colonialism. I live on stolen land, work for an increasingly corporatized institution, and prepare the young people I work with and my own children for work and a life of continued occupation of this territory. While there are points of resistance in my life and great dreams and aspirations for social justice, the overall trajectory is clear and not all that revolutionary.

      That is to say that while I agree that neo-liberalism is the common-sense of our age and we must resist it, it is hard for me to locate myself outside of it. While I like to hope that there is a ‘we’ that is challenging the status-quo and the many machines that destroy life on this planet, my reality is that any break with capital that I am involved in is quickly reappropriated by it.

      Conversely, I find that folks who, as you say, are ‘complicit in the imposition of neo-liberal ways of seeing the world’ repeatedly (and perhaps unconsciously) breaking with the status-quo through acts of care, love, pleasure, creativity, experimentation, and enjoyment. Every effort I make seems to be outflanked by capitalism and colonialism, while every person fully caught up in the trap seem to be perpetually creating (momentary) alternatives to it.

      I situated myself as complicit in neo-libearalism and settler colonialism and called for others to make visible their experiences of collusion as to not bifurcate ‘us’ into groups. I think this was my gambit for bringing more voices into the conversation. I definitely think stories of resistance, critical engagement, and solidarity are paramount, but I also worry about righteousness or the illusion that some of us have it right while others have it wrong. We are all in this together and, more than anything, and I think we agree here, we need to be calling more people in and making those connections with one another if sustainable alternatives are ever going to win out.

      Thanks again.

  2. Hello Scott,

    I was connected with your post via Hans Skott-Myhre, via the International Child and Youth/Social Workers Collaborative, a Facebook group that I introduced via the CYC-net to bring thoughts and ideas from around the world to our own practices, communities and relationships.
    You’ll notice I overused the word via in my introductory run on sentence. I meant to, to highlight how truly far-reaching one page, one site, one comment or idea can be.
    One thing truly does lead to another and the ripple effect should not be underestimated! I already let Hans know that reading your post literally gave me goosebumps because I felt as if synchronicity had happened, hit me….occurred.
    I recently created and launched MattersMag.com, an interactive community resource blog whose goal is to link readers with information, validation, understanding and advocacy. I envision this happening via (there it is again) informational posts from the world of CYC work, as well and equally (if not a little more important..) as through the insights, thoughts and feedback from children, youth and their families themselves.
    As I finish the third and final year of CYC studies, I am working on building a network, both at home and abroad in order to learn, create and prepare to change things for the children, youth and families that I will meet, both at home and beyond. The blog gives me the chance to connect globally and locally all at once. I feel as if I can really begin to put theory into practice by learning the most important lessons of CYC work of all……listening to the community and it’s individuals…our friends, family, neighbours, co-workers and fellow citizens.
    I metaphorically see the global and professional network as the earth (cradle/foundation/shelter)….the individuals we reach, the roots (planted/growing/reaching/secure and free to branch out above) and the eventual empowerment of each, the sun and the rain and the air (sustenance for self and others around them)
    I wanted to write to let you know that while the purposes of our blogs differ, I believe that this is a most important part of collaboration, progress and change. Creating a web of varied and diverse information and resources creates a wholesome and wraparound source of professional and personal development and interventions/opportunities for our youth.
    Please visit http://www.mattersmag.com for more information! 🙂

    1. Thank you for bringing my attention to this amazing website and resource page. I hope to stay connected and perhaps contribute some time if I can.

      Hope you are well.

  3. Thanks for articulating a very nuanced but clear call for both reflection and action. I hope that your call for a conversation opens a dialogue here as to how we might move forward with this kind of work.

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