Research Study Evaluation

Susan Lee

The core question at the heart of Vanita Sundaram’s monograph “Preventing Youth Violence: Rethinking the role of Gender in Schools” is how we improve upon the traditional framework of violence prevention work currently aimed at youth by changing the gender-bias in current violence prevention work. The key answer is involved is presenting their case (violence prevention by altering gender norms in terms of thinking and behavior in relation to violence) directly in an educational setting via schools. Rather than child abuse or crime-related violence, the violence in question is relationship in nature – domestic violence between youth.

The introduction defines and discusses the importance of violence prevention, the conceptual framework and key concepts defining violence and youth, the role of schools, and the important of redefining gender roles in schools in preventing youth violence. The first chapter argues that the perspective of youth themselves is important in research regarding youth violence prevention. Current existing literature regarding the topic is also reviewed. The second chapter re-established the link between gender and violence via seminal and recent research on the link between gender and violence. The chapter also focuses on how gender influences young people’s views on violence and how important it is to violence prevention.

The third chapter describes the methodology, approaches and techniques specifically, on seeking youth perspectives on violence for the author’s study. The author also discusses the implications of the research resulting from her methodology. The fourth chapter focuses on how youth understand and conceptualize violence, problematic characterizations, and any mediating factors affecting their views. The fifth chapter focuses on the assertions that young people make regarding expectations about gender and normative gender behavior through their storytelling about violence. The sixth chapter addresses the important part that schools can play in violence prevention by creating school-based initiatives and literature, and the challenges that face schools in dealing with the topic of violence. The seventh and last chapter further delves into the detailed issue of schools in preventing youth violence. The author argues that youth’s understanding of violence is intrinsically tied to the preventability (or un-preventability) of violence, and whether or not youth believe that schools can address violence prevention adequately.

The third chapter is the one that is heavy in methodology and research methods. Sundaram conducted thorough focus groups with youth between the ages of 14 and 17, carefully selected from six different schools in the United Kingdom. She discusses the results as well as performs a literature review on current research and studies. Her findings work to argue for a broader focus on youth perspectives of relationship violence and dispelling the myths regarding violence among youths. Resulting interviews from focus group participants allow for youth storytelling to reveal and affirm both expectations and norms about youth violence. Due to the emphasis on constructing meaning in the study, Sundaram uses group discussions and interviews rather than surveys. To open up discussions, she utilized vignettes, photographs, and short statements about violence.

Sundaram also discusses ethical considerations and procedures that were utilized since she was working with teenagers and the sensitive topic of violence. She made sure to use British Educational Research Association (BERA) guidelines during the research and study process as well as when approaching schools and the teens’ parents with proper documentation including consent forms. She used qualitative analysis on the narratives related by the youth, viewing them through a phenomenological lens for interpretation and analysis. The narratives produced were not easy to dissect or interpret. Sundaram recognized a need to prevent bias, emotion, show too much authority to the youth, or imparting an analytical agenda to the participants.

Sundaram used a coding template to categorize and analyze the narrative data generated from focus group discussions to allow for an iterative approach. The template was fluid, changed as new and unanticipated themes popped up. Sundaram uses the “I” voice which personalizes the study but makes it seem not as professional. Although she attempts to be impartial, a secondary researcher or observer may have been helpful. She also didn’t seem to have another researcher or impartial observer during interviews.

She doesn’t mention if she recorded the sessions for documentation or ethical concerns. Instead of summarizing or providing larger details, she peppers quotes from various youth throughout the paper, identifying them by first names only and their schools. This might not allow for total anonymity for participants though. Due to the nature of the study, there is no single or overarching ‘truth.’ The narrative depictions of violence are based on experience and interactions that can be altered over time.

Although heavy in politics, Farthing’s article on youth participation makes the same case as Sundaram for including youth to help improve upon youth policies and services. It can both empowers the youth by relaying their voice and encourages them to participate by analyzing current theory. Farthing cautions against adult researchers not allowing the youth to have a voice or overpowering them with their own agenda. Sundaram seemed to take this point to heart during her focus group discussions.

Soep and Chavez’s article on youth radio shows that the use of youth media in an educational setting can rejuvenate and inspire teens in mandatory school curriculum. The use of media production to encourage teens to share their stories via audio and images to create individual meaning can be related to Sundaram’s proposal to use schools to combat youth violence as well as educate them about gender roles in conceptualizing violence. Radio, photography and film can be powerful mediums when employed correctly.

Sundaram is careful not to present participants as a stereotype or impart too much personal data beyond statistics, age, grade, or gender. Recalling Rothbauer’s article on youth representations, the participants in Sundaram’s study are not treated as research subjects or simply students or teens. They are encouraged to interact among each other and share their experiences instead of just checking boxes on a survey, and allowed to parlay their experiences in words through direct quotes peppered throughout her book. They’re not treated as an unknown or ‘other’ with no agency despite the fact that they still required parental consent for participation.

Sundaram’s book was well-written and thorough. It is easy to follow and understand. She conveys both passion and knowledge for the topic (youth violence prevention). The intended audience appears to be other researchers in her field, educators and those who unfortunately deal with youth violence on a regular basis. It’s not intended for teens or youth per se. Her purpose is to combat youth violence, educate youth on gender roles against stereotypes, and encourage schools to participate in youth violence prevention and education. Her argument is that schools are reluctant or too challenged to do so but she does not delve into why or provide counterarguments. She does use primary sources well and interweaves them throughout the book.

I was able to locate Sundaram’s monograph through the San Jose State University King Library Online Catalog. I selected online books only and limited by year. The key words I used were “youth services” and “school.” I was able to locate Sundaram’s book. I first attempted to locate a monograph through the San Diego Public Library but the few search results generated were over five years old. Most were from the 1990s. The King Library search generated many more recent results.

Works Cited

Sundaram, V. (2014). Preventing Youth Violence: Rethinking the Role of Gender in Schools. London: Palgrave Macmillan.