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Navigating Conflict

How Youth Handle Trouble in a High-Poverty School

Navigating Conflict

How Youth Handle Trouble in a High-Poverty School

Urban schools are often associated with violence, chaos, and youth aggression. But is this reputation really the whole picture? In Navigating Conflict, Calvin Morrill and Michael Musheno challenge the violence-centered conventional wisdom of urban youth studies, revealing instead the social ingenuity with which teens informally and peacefully navigate strife-ridden peer trouble. Taking as their focus a multi-ethnic, high-poverty school in the American southwest, the authors complicate our vision of urban youth, along the way revealing the resilience of students in the face of carceral disciplinary tactics.

Grounded in sixteen years of ethnographic fieldwork, Navigating Conflict draws on archival and institutional evidence to locate urban schools in more than a century of local, state, and national change. Morrill and Musheno make the case for schools that work, where negative externalities are buffered and policies are adapted to ever-evolving student populations. They argue that these kinds of schools require meaningful, inclusive student organizations for sustaining social trust and collective peer dignity alongside responsive administrative leadership. Further, students must be given the freedom to associate and move among their peers, all while in the vicinity of watchful, but not intrusive adults. Morrill and Musheno make a compelling case for these foundational conditions, arguing that only through them can schools enable a rich climate for learning, achievement, and social advancement.


"This wonderfully accessible book is a welcome alternative to gloom-and-doom narratives of school violence. Morrill and Musheno draw upon a rich repository of detailed ethnographic stories to illustrate the potential of school environments to defuse conflict by fostering trust instead of suspicion, mobility instead of containment. It is a vital message for anyone concerned about schools and youth today."

Torin Monahan, co-editor of Schools under Surveillance: Cultures of Control in Public Education

"Navigating Conflict is a tremendous accomplishment."

American Journal of Sociology

Table of Contents

List of Cases

One / Rethinking Youth Conflict
Two / Anchored Fluidity and Social Trust
Three / Trouble
Four / “Workin’ It Out”
Five / “Puttin’ ’Em in Their Place”
Six / “Dealing with the System”
Seven / Safe Schools
Eight / Youth Conflict in a Contested School that Works

Appendix A. Additional Notes on Data Collection, Analysis, Writing, and Generalizability
Appendix B. Trouble Issue and Response Aggregate Data

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