"Pushed Out" and Pulled In: Girls of Color, the Criminal Justice System, and Neoliberalism's Double-Bind
White, Elise M.
Corbin Sies, Mary
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This ethnography of court-involved girls in New York City argues that the last three decades have been a period of accelerating transformation of the juvenile and criminal justice systems, and of their encroachment into the lives of urban, low-income girls of color. These processes are inextricably related to a broader set of economic and cultural changes referred to as neoliberalism. Shifts in the material conditions in these girls' communities, largely through the withdrawal of public interest in favor of competition and efficiency, have been accompanied by an ideological framework that instructs girls to be "independent," entrepreneurial, and individually accountable. This discourse of "empowerment" masks important unexamined assumptions imported from previous juridical, sociological, and criminological constructions of girls as deviant: first, that the appropriate epistemological foundations for the study of girls lie outside them; and second, that girls are discrete variables--sites of pathology or victimization, but not of agency or critical capacity. Rather than reduce these girls to a set of pathologies or present them as individual actors making "bad choices," I ground my analysis in girls' narratives and analytic frameworks, tracing the cultural and economic inflections of neoliberalization in their family, community, and institutional lives. I explore the physical and psychic violence being perpetrated against court-involved girls on a daily basis. For these young women of color, the net result of neoliberalization in New York City is a series of double-binds: pairings of violent or threatening message and context that directly contradict one another, and where to acknowledge the disjunction itself provokes further, punitive violence. These double-binds underlie and perpetuate the system of penality and punishment. While a discursive legacy of individual pathology still colors the construction of these girls in the cultural dreamwork, I argue that it is the system itself that has become pathological, contributing in essential ways to the production of girls as delinquent and deviant. This dissertation explores this production, alongside girls' methods of coping, resisting, and sometimes perpetuating, neoliberal narratives. It concludes with recommendations arising from the dramatic re-envisioning of urban girls of color as civic actors and central members of our communities.