Youth aspirations in exile: Participatory action research in Kakuma Refugee Camp

Lecture Series: Children and Youth on the Move
Monday, April 22, 2019
6 PM
Sulzberger Parlor, Barnard Hall

Michelle Bellino
University of Michigan

Drawing on ethnographic and participatory methods, this study examines schooling as a lens into daily experiences of (non)citizenship in Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp, where youth lack legal status and experience habitual threats to inclusion, but nonetheless comprise members of civil society with agency and rights to uphold. As youth navigate precarious openings for education, work, and migration, the choices they make underscore economic and social status considerations, while working to be seen by others as productive nation-builders in exile. Set within these constraints, youth researchers employed the tools of youth participatory action research (YPAR)—not to challenge systemic inequality, but to reinforce meritocratic scripts. Initially, youth designed a research inquiry that upheld narratives of education as a vehicle towards upward mobility. Following secondary school completion and confronting the gap between their aspirations and the opportunity structure, they developed critiques about how opportunities were distributed locally, nationally, and globally. Yet even as they began to make claims on the global community for more equitable access to educational opportunities, youth co-researchers strategically reasserted the logic of educational meritocracy, rationalizing that ranked systems benefitting a few to the exclusion of the majority were reasonable and just in contexts of scarcity. In line with the culture of personal advancement promoted in schools, they reasserted aspirations to become individual exceptions within a system of schooling that sorted, selected, and excluded the vast majority. The study illustrates the ways that globally circulating ideologies such as individualized competition, embedded in imported Western models of schooling, impeded our capacity to forge a collective identity as Kakuma youth.

Children and Youth on the Move

This series focuses on the experiences of children and youth living on the move. Across three different contexts, speakers engage questions of how young people’s lives are shaped by experiences of economic distress, violent political conflict, and different forms of juridical status. Of equal import, the speakers ask how young people act upon and shape these contexts in turn. Finally, these talks ask how research and education might be engaged in the service of inclusion and justice for children and youth on the move.

Lecture One: “Speech or Silence?: Citizenship and Childhood in Contemporary Schooling
Professor Ariana Mangual Figueroa (Rutgers)
February 12, 2019

Lecture Two: “Youth Migration, Education, and Mega Cities: Promise and Peril in Karachi
Professor Dana Burde (NYU)
March 27, 2019

Lecture Three: “Youth aspirations in exile: Participatory action research in Kakuma Refugee Camp
Professor Michelle Bellino (University of Michigan)
April 22, 2019


Apr. 22, 2019 - 6:00 PM