Book Review – Youth Work, Early Education, and Psychology: Liminal Encounters

January 11, 2017

by — Posted in Peer Edited Submissions


Youth Work, Early Education, and Psychology: Liminal Encounters

Palgrave, MacMillan, 2016

Hans Scott-Myhre, Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw and Kathleen Scott-Myhre (Editors)


Reviewed by James P. Anglin


The title of this book alerts the potential reader to an unusual scope of disciplines dealt with in one volume; youth work, early childhood education and psychology.  But this list of disciplines is still too narrow a set of terms to encompass the variety of perspectives explored within the dozen chapters.  In brief, the writers draw upon “the pedagogical affordances of liminal approaches founded in immanence” (back cover).  If this summary of the book’s orientation is crystal clear to you, you may (or may not) find the contents reaffirming and perhaps complementary to your own approach to understanding reality and society. If, as was my case, the meanings in these phrases are rather opaque, you may find some of the writing challenging to fully comprehend. What is certainly clear is that all of the authors join with the editors in “attempting to offer an alternative theoretical frame” (p. 17) for the disciplines and professions of early childhood/child and youth care and psychology.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I need to clarify that five of the authors or co-authors of chapters in this text are faculty colleagues or graduate students/graduates of the School of Child and Youth Care at the University of Victoria. However, all of them are writing and researching in areas quite distinct from my own, and none of them has been a co-researcher or co-author with me.

The editors “argue that the traditional modes of civil society designed to integrate and shape young people as functioning members of society, such as education, the family, modes of psychotherapy, as well as orphanages and other forms of residential care, are in various stages of crisis and reconfiguration” (back cover). To borrow from the book title, I think my own reading of this book could be classified as a “liminal encounter” in that I was crossing over a number of new thresholds by engaging with many of the chapters. This is not a text for the narrow minded or the intellectually unadventurous.

While I must admit to struggling with some of the “post human” explorations and “schizoanalyses”, I agreed to review this volume because I wanted to be challenged and to grapple with some less-than-familiar streams of post-modern thought. Child and youth care as a discipline may still be emerging, as Myhre asserts (p. 17), but it has already grown through a number of developmental stages.  (I should note that “stage theories” are not necessarily embraced by all authors in this book.)  As I see it, one can understand the historical development of child and youth care as crossing a series of historical and mindset thresholds, such as from pre- to post-Constantine, or pre- to post- Rousseau, or pre- to post-Modern eras, depending upon one’s historico-epistemological perspectives.  This volume may represent the crossing of yet another threshold, yet it is probably premature to try to assign a label to it.  Suffice to say, the contributions to this text deserve to be read by all scholars of child and youth care, and any practitioners who seek to think and explore outside much of the current curricular and practice vernacular.

I will not seek to summarize each chapter, as this would be quite challenging (for me, at least) to do. Rather I will offer a broad overview of the contents in terms of two broad categories, as explained below.

In his opening chapter, Hans Scott-Myhre asserts that “for most of us, much of what we know as common sense is provided not by our firsthand encounters, but through reported evidence from experts.” Accordingly, many of the perspectives in this text seem to rely on the reports of post-modern experts.  Some of the experts quoted quite frequently in this text include Foucault, Guattari, Deleuze, Haraway, and Braidotti (with tributes to Spinoza), but there is a wide range of experts referred to throughout the various chapters, many of whom are definitely worth exploring if the reader is not yet familiar with them.

The chapters vary considerably in terms of the balance between “firsthand encounters” and “reported evidence”, even though all of the authors seek to draw from, and be relevant, to praxis (i.e. reflective and informed practice). My preference is for those chapters which spend less time paying homage to the work of others and more time exploring personal encounters. I found the chapters by Marsh and White on suicide prevention, Kind and Pacini-Ketchabaw on experimentation in early childhood contexts, Nxumalo on encountering a community garden, Kathleen Scott-Myhre on youth as pilgrimage, Morris on early onset schizophrenia, and Friedman on problematizing mindfulness especially well grounded in the praxis of child and youth work, early education or psychology, and thereby particularly able to engage and speak to practitioners.

The remaining chapters, to my mind, place heavier emphasis on the philosophical explorations and grappling with ideas about praxis as opposed to exploring personal encounters (although I suspect some of the authors might take issue with my characterization). One could say that reading this book is a series of personal encounters, thus my assessment perhaps simply reflects my own manner of engagement with the material. The remaining chapters include Hans Scott-Myhre on encounters of young people and adults, Kouri and Smith on street analysis, Land on riddled embodiments, Hodgins on care pedagogies, Kalfleish on ontological curriculum, and Malone on Lacanian psychoanalysis. To some degree, the accessibility of the various chapters will depend upon one’s own educational and practice background, and the degree to which one has explored the critical and post-critical authors drawn upon in the myriad analyses.

In summary, this is a book for adventurers – of the mind, of ontologies, of epistemologies, and of various innovations in pedagogy and praxis. Given its diversity of content, influences and allegiances of the authors, this text is likely to open up new windows and doors for any reader on working with, and thinking about, children, youth, families and communities. In terms of child and youth care literature, it is definitely post-Maier/Krueger/Fox/Garfat/VanderVen/Brendtro/Anglin/etc.

This review was peer-edited by Dr. Kim Snow

About James P. Anglin

James P. Anglin is a professor in the School of Child and Youth Care at the University of Victoria.

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