Summary of Henry Giroux’s “Youth in a Suspect Society: Coming of Age in an Era of Disposability” by Julie Verreault


giroux henryIn the United States, after the 2008 economic recession, neoliberalism was not put in question and instead returned in force. The gap between rich and poor continue to increase. Because of a lack of political knowledge from middle and low classes, the blame for this situation is put on social costs.  In consequences common good and social protections are dismantled, public servants denigrated and public services led to deteriorate and are more and more privatized.

Corporations can now invest unlimited funding in political parties and the state has become a tool to defend and promote financial interests of a few while exercising coercion over the rest of society.  Giroux talks of a war against democracy as privatization of schools, health care, prisons, the militaries, and public lands weakens civil liberties.

War on poverty has transformed to war against the poor, and budgets for prisons surpass the ones for higher education.  In the collective imagery, youth has come has come to be equated with criminality: Young people have become a problem rather than people who face problems.  The political discourse toward youth is a disciplinary one as young people are seen as a treat rather than a future.

Giroux then talks about his own youth and how, thanks to his race and gender favoring him, and because there was less disparity between the poor and the rich then, he was able to get an education and take an active role in society.  Today, youth faces what he calls the survival-of-the-fittest ethic and, citing sociologist Zygmunt Bauman “Politics has become an extension of war” and popular culture reproduces meritocratic ideology through reality TV shows.

Children face two kinds of war: the soft war, where children are treated as another commodity and consuming subjects, and the hard war, where a growing crime-control complex controls poor minority youth.  This poor minority youth is not only excluded from “the American Dream” but also becomes a by-product of society, a necessary reject of no value. These youths are not seen as disadvantaged by structural inequalities but as “flawed consumers and civic felons.”  To support his assertions, Giroux mentions that while 20% of American children live in poverty, 60% of corporations did not pay taxes in 2010.  Even more disconcerting, nearly half of all US children and 90% of black youngsters will eat from a food bank at some point during childhood.  25% of male African American drop-outs end in prison.

Those young people are seen as lazy and uneducated instead of poor and ill-served by public schools.  Punishment focus policies drain resources from intervention programs toward the prison system.  Giroux provides several examples of violence against youths in prisons but also in schools.  The public accepts this repression without outrage.

Giroux advocates for a change in discourse and policies for youth and calls for a “discourse of possibilities”. On a more concrete basis, Giroux argues to “get security forces out of schools, reduce spending for prisons and wars and hire more teachers, support staff and community people to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline.”