On Disconnected Youth, Place, and Nepantla

stacks(Photo by Tara)

The process of place-making also describes a process of identity (re)formation. For young people traversing city spaces and who seek a sense of grounding or ‘permanence’ amongst the “instabilities of motions” (Henry, 1996, p. 262) characteristic of these urban landscapes experience what Glora Anzaldua calls nepantla. As *disconnected or vulnerable youth transition from adolescence to adulthood with limited resources and support they inhabit a threshold of spatio-temporal awareness and place, one described through liminality and in-betweenness.

Nepantla is a period of struggle, but also a reflective place of possibility where transformation can occur. While experiencing nepantla one is confronted with conflicting realities and questions. This threshold moment breaks down boundaries, whether material or metaphorical. Familiar ways of identifying no longer work. Categories rupture. Place dwellings destabilize. A young person not attending school is no longer considered a student. So she asks, what am I learning? A young adult without a job is no longer a worker, and so she asks, who do I work for?

The tingling consequence of a capitalism is not ignored here; this system is prone to crisis and relentlessly intent on redefining social organization. Capitalism manifests ‘instabilities of motions’. But the young person transforms despite this systematic betrayal because now she exists “between worlds, between realities, between systems of knowledge” (Keating, 2000, p. 268). She resides at a crossroads, a metaphorical fork in the road that reveals a new way of perceiving the world and her place in it.

Through this anxiety-inducing process of discerning and questioning, disconnected youth experience a "perpetual perishing" of place ( (Henry, 1996, p. 261). A re-dying of permanence with which they once identified.

*Disconnected youth are characterized as teens and young adults, ages 16 to-24 years old who are not working or attending school (Mastin, Metzger, and Golden, 2013).


Harvey, D. (1996). Social justice and the geography of difference. London: Blackwell.

Keating, A. (2000). Interviews/entrevistas. New York: Routledge.

Mastin, Metzger, and Golden (2013). Foster care and disconnected youth. Report.

#RaisingDissertation is a way to keep me sane and connected to the outside world while working, at times in isolation, on my dissertation research. From time to time, and depending on my mood, I will post draft excerpts from my dissertation research to this public blog. I welcome dialogue from subscribers, readers, and lurkers. I acknowledge that ideas belong to the universe. That said, however, if you wish to write about my research elsewhere, you must cite my work here. For those in the press reporting about the media and technology uses among ‘disconnected’ youth, and youths involved in foster care and juvenile justice systems, feel free to contact me directly. I’d love to share my research with you; this should not to be confused with doing your research for you. For others researching in this area, I also welcome your insights here. As always, I’m happy to connect.