Troublemakers: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

    • Lucca November 2017
    • Presentation speakers
      • Tyler Denmead, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, UK


    A new consensus about the role of youth in American urban life is coalescing in the early twenty first century, a consensus that interpenetrates how youth is lived, experienced, and defined. The struggle for this consensus, which is oriented around two polar representations of youth, has been key to the recent reconfiguration of American cities. This reconfiguration has favoured the cultures and upward mobility of affluent, and often, White people. To put it simply, American cities, according to this schema, feature youth as “good troublemakers” and youth as “bad troublemakers.” Good troublemakers are expected to disrupt the outdated and outmoded, recessionary and rearward, ways of urban life, which have been framed as the causes of urban decline and stagnation. Bad troublemakers are framed as if they are running interference on capital’s ability to do its job in the city, providing capital investment based on the promise of return, which, in turn, creates entitled economic opportunities for the native-born and the upwardly mobile. These two polar representations of youth are, of course, racialized, with bad troublemakers constructed as the Black and Brown id to the White superego. The basic premise of my talk is that summoning young people towards the dominant position of the “good troublemaker” is reproducing uneven symbolic and material effects in the lives of young people, and more broadly, urban life. In particular, I demonstrate how these representations of youth are key to manufacturing new urban consumer economies that traffic in the look and feel of youth, which privilege the aesthetic preferences of upwardly mobile consumers being hailed back to the city. I rely upon years of biographical and ethnographic data collected in Providence, Rhode Island, USA to make this case.