Hope and Healing in Urban Education: How Urban Activists and Teachers are Reclaiming Matters of the Heart by Shawn Ginwright/ Routledge, 2016

What is the text “about” -- empirically and conceptually?
What modes of inquiry were used to produce it?
How is the text structured and performed?
How can it circulate?

What is the text about – empirically?

What phenomenon is drawn out in the text?  A social process; a cultural and political-economic shift; a cultural “infrastructure;” an emergent assemblage of science-culture-technology-economics?

This book uses ethnographic case studies of the work and programming of a variety of educators to explore different approaches to promoting healing and wellbeing for marginalized youth. The author developed detailed profiles of different organizations to understand the processes and practices that they employ to advance healing in these spaces. 

Where is this phenomenon located – in a neighborhood, in a country, in “Western Culture,” in a globalizing economy?

The different case studies are located in neighborhoods within the larger Bay Area of California, in the early 2010’s. Within each neighborhood discussed, there is a specific focus on one program. Specific sites include healing circles for young men on probation in Alameda County, a healing zone initiative in Bayview Hunters’ Point, a youth development organization in the South of Market neighborhood, a violence prevention project in Richmond, and a social services organization in Stockton, California. 

What historical trajectory is the phenomenon situated within?  What, in the chronology provided or implied, is emphasized -- the role of political or economic forces, the role of certain individuals or social groups?  What does the chronology leave out or discount?   

The book opens by situating itself within the different movements over the past few decades for equality in the United States, starting with the civil rights movement of the ‘60’s and discussing the work of other social justice leaders like Malcom X. The specific phenomenon it is exploring is focused on the 2000’s to early 2010’s, with chronology provided about crime rates, school laws, and mental health statistics for the population of interest. The role of political forces is discussed, with particular focus on the work of organizers, who had won campaigns for new legislation. The role of individuals is also mentioned, with major cases like Trayvon Martin’s death in 2013. The chronology is does not explore the broader political climate, rather highlighting certain specific incidents and laws.

What scale(s) are focused on -- nano (i.e. the level of language), micro, meso, macro? What empirical material is developed at each scale?  

The book is focused on the meso scale, in that it is examining organizations and neighborhoods, with special attention paid to key individuals within each organization studied. The majority of empirical material developed is through observations of organizational programming, and interviews with the key individuals. Neighborhood maps are also created, and quantitative government data is utilized to offer additional community context about crime and poverty rates. 

Who are the players in the text and what are their relations?  Does the text trace how these relations have changed across time – because of new technologies, for example?

Because this book uses ethnographic case studies of five organizations, each organization has its own players and relations. Each case study focuses on the organizational leader or leaders, and their relationship to the community with which they work. This involves exploring both their relationship to the place and to the people. On occasion, other organizational staff members are also discussed in a similar way. Additionally, in some case studies, specific program participants are explored in detail, as well as their relationship to the programming. The text does trace how these relationships change over the course of the programming, often highlighting its impact. 

What is the temporal frame in which players play?  In the wake of a particular policy, disaster or other significant “event?”  In the general climate of the Reagan era, or of “after-the-Wall” globalization? 

The text is set in the early 2010’s, in the wake of what the author would call increased hopelessness in certain “disadvantaged communities” as a result of poverty, crime, and trauma, compounded with societal oppression. 

What cultures and social structures are in play in the text?

The organizational leaders come from different cultural orientations- some are Black and discuss spirituality, including Ubuntuism and the role of Black churches, others are Native American and utilize Indigenous practices, others are Latinx, and another is Filipino. The social structures discussed include the public school system, government social services, and the criminal justice system. 

What kinds of practices are described in the text?  Are players shown to be embedded in structural contradictions or double-binds?

The text focuses on healing justice practices and transformational organizing. The participants do discuss the contradiction of some individuals who are working for healing for the youth in their programming, but still struggling with trauma and not being healed themselves. 

How are science and technology implicated in the phenomenon described?

The approaches used for healing justice and transformational organizing utilize modern technology (like cell phones) as a part of their practice. 

What structural conditions– technological, legal and legislative, political, cultural – are highlighted, and how are they shown to have shaped the phenomenon described in this text?

The structural conditions that led to the current state of these neighborhoods (gentrification, loss of jobs due to changing economies, increased awareness of racism in the criminal justice system, rise and spread of certain drugs, and punitive school discipline approaches) are all highlighted and are shown to have created the current culture of hopelessness many youth in these neighborhoods struggle with.    

How – at different scales, in different ways – is power shown to operate?  Is there evidence of power operating through language, “discipline,” social hierarchies, bureaucratic function, economics, etc? 

Power operates within a number of ways. The organizational leaders and sometimes staff are shown to have power in the community through their deep roots to the neighborhood and strong relationships with its’ inhabitants. Power is also explored through political power built collectively through organizing. There is also evidence of bureaucratic power in government organizations and grant makers, which the organizations must appeal to for funding. 

Does the text provide comparative or systems level perspectives?  In other words, is the particular phenomenon described in this text situated in relation to similar phenomenon in other settings?  Is this particular phenomena situated within global structures and processes? 

While the text does discuss different organizations, these organizations are not compared to each other. However, the practices explored are situated in contrast to traditional approaches to education and youth development that do not typically facilitate such healing. For example, in one neighborhood, an ineffective teacher is explored in contrast to a more effective teacher, who is affiliated with one of the organizations. 

What is the text about – conceptually?

Is the goal to verify, challenge or extend prior theoretical claims? 

The goal is to show how educators are utilizing healing strategies in communities facing difficulties, challenging existing notions of what educational strategies should be adopted to support struggling students.  

What is the main conceptual argument or theoretical claim of the text?  Is it performed, rendered explicit or both? 

The book argues that healing needs to be a central focus of educational strategies to improve the lives of those living in “disadvantaged communities” and highlights how this can be done through its’ ethnographic case studies. 

What ancillary concepts are developed to articulate the conceptual argument?

Collective well-being, trauma and its impact on communities, and social justice practice are all developed to further the conceptual argument of the importance of healing.  

How is empirical material used to support or build the conceptual argument?

Observations of healing practices in action, interviews with the facilitators and participants in such healing practices, and observations of programming that is not aligned with this healing approach. 

How robust is the main conceptual argument of the text?  On what grounds could it be challenged?

Through exploring different neighborhoods and organizations in the same geographic area and with similar goals, the argument is bolstered, showing that despite different settings and specific practices, the approach of healing is impactful in these communities. The research for this book took place over the course of three years, so the main conceptual argument could be challenged on the basis that the data collected was not longitudinal in nature, so the long term impact of these practices is not known. 

How could the empirical material provided support conceptual arguments other than those built in the text?

Multiple of the ethnographic case studies highlight the importance of the work of transformative organizing across ethnic groups. This empirical material could provide support for a conceptual argument about the possibilities for political change when working to build solidarity across ethnic groups. 

 Modes of inquiry?

What theoretical edifice provides the (perhaps haunting – i.e. non-explicit) backdrop to the text?

Being a person of color and a resident of the Bay area himself, the author uses the specific language and slang of the communities he is studying not just in his quotations of participants, but also when describing the visual setting, which leads to the descriptions feeling more vivid and personal. 

 What assumptions appear to have shaped the inquiry?  Does the author assume that individuals are rational actors, for example, or assume that the unconscious is a force to be dealt with?  Does the author assume that the “goal” of society is (functional) stability? Does the author assume that what is most interesting occurs with regularity, or is she interested in the incidental and deviant? 

The author assumes that the goal of youth development work should be informed by the community norms within which the young people live. Specifically, Ginwright assumes the importance of survival and healing as the main goals, rather than goals that may be more normative, such as college degree attainment or a high paying career. 

What kinds of data (ethnographic, experimental, statistical, etc.)  are used in the text, and how were they obtained?

The author spent time in each community organization, obtaining ethnographic observational notes of both programming and neighborhood practices. Ethnographic interviews are also conducted. Some statistical data about the neighborhood’s crime and poverty rates are also included. 

If interviews were conducted, what kinds of questions were asked?  What does the author seem to have learned from the interviews?

The organizational leaders are asked about their approaches to their work, their perspective on the community with which they work, their feelings about doing this work, their views of fairness and injustice, what they believe constitutes healing, how they feel healing is achieved, their own political activities over the past couple of years, and their own experiences growing up. Programming participants are asked about their perspective on the community, their experience of participating in this programming, and their life experience thus far. These interviews offer the author insight into what informs these healing practices and how they impact the participants.  

How was the data analyzed?  If this is not explicit, what can be inferred? 

In the Methodological Appendix, the author gets more explicit about how data was analyzed. The research team reviewed the qualitative data to develop analytic codes and then these codes went through an iterative process of review until finalized. Data was triangulated and then memos were written. Once this was completed, the team looked for patterns and similarities amongst the different cases, as well as comparing and contrasting them. 

How are people, objects or ideas aggregated into groups or categories?

The book is organized around the different organizations, so the people and communities are organized by geographic location, though the book closes by drawing connections across the places. 

What additional data would strengthen the text? 

I think additional historical data (possibly through more maps) about the various neighborhoods could strengthen the understanding of the different geographic places discussed.

Structure and performance?

What is in the introduction? Does the introduction turn around unanswered questions -- in other words, are we told how this text embodies a research project? 

The introduction introduces the problem facing “disadvantaged communities” and asserts the three ideas that the book seeks to advance (that structural oppression harms hope, that healing is a critical component in building hope, and that building hope is important political activity). The author then goes on to provide a short literature review providing evidence for these claims and situating this problem within education. 

Where is theory in the text?  Is the theoretical backdrop to the text explained, or assumed to be understood? 

Some theory is explicitly introduced in the introduction, like Prilleltensky’s theory of well-being, while others are weaved throughout the ethnographic case studies when applicable, like Anzaldúa’s theory of spiritual activism. 

What is the structure of the discourse in the text?  What binaries recur in the text, or are conspicuously avoided?

Since the book is organized around the different ethnographic case studies, the discourse mainly occurs per chapter, when discussing one community. There is some showcasing of contradictions between the participants’ perspectives and those of others in the community, as well as other current events happening in the community. 

How is the historical trajectory delineated?  Is there explicit chronological development?

The book is organized by the different community organizations it highlights and in each case study, a brief historical background is offered of the neighborhood and how the organization of focus came to be. From there, the chapter has a linear chronological narrative following the organization over the course of the fieldwork. 

How is the temporal context provided or evoked in the text?

The author illustrates changes over time both to the community, as well as to the individuals’ participating in or leading the program. This highlights the way these practices can create change internally, interpersonally, and community wide. 

How does the text specify the cultures and social structures in play in the text?

In each chapter, the author provides an overview of the neighborhood in which the community organization is placed, illustrating the culture(s) present, often focusing on ethnicity and the influence of different social structures (often government systems or public schools) on the community. This provides greater context for the setting the community organization is placed within. 

How are informant perspectives dealt with and integrated? 

The participants (or informants) are a key component of the analysis, providing additional data to the observational data, and offering the insight that is used to answer the research questions. 

How does the text draw out the implications of science and technology? At what level of detail are scientific and technological practices described?

The text is not focused on science and technology, though some of the factors that the communities deal with are influenced by science and technology (such as the introduction of certain drugs, or the loss of particular jobs). 

How does the text provide in-depth detail – hopefully without losing readers?

Despite exploring five different community organizations, the text provides rich detail both on the history of the community and the history of the community organization, through in depth interviews with the leaders in that community. The combination of this observational and interview data creates a rich picture of each setting. 

What is the layout of the text?  How does it move, from first page to last?  Does it ask for other ways of reading? Does the layout perform an argument?

The text begins with an introduction, followed by a chapter offering additional literature review about trauma and the different practices included within healing justice. Then, it moves into the chapters on the different community organizations, and closes with a chapter concluding the book that highlights similarities and reinforces the overall argument. This layout is both easy to follow for the reader, providing sufficient prior research, and also compellingly argues Ginwright’s point. 

What kinds of visuals are used, and to what effect?

In the literature review chapter, tables are used to differentiate between different approaches to healing justice and showcase certain theoretical models. In the chapters on the community organizations, maps are included and there is an occasional photo of the neighborhood. When quantitative data about the neighborhood is included, it is typically shown in a graph. 

What kind of material and analysis are in the footnotes?

The footnotes primarily provide additional context for quotes or terms used in the text. 

How is the criticism of the text performed?  If through overt argumentation, who is the “opposition”? 

In the text, the author addresses the seemingly intangible and “touchy feely” nature of the practices these organizations employ, but then uses that to lead into evidence of their impact in the community. The opposition might be those who do not believe youth development has the same goals as what Ginwright assumes. 

How does the text situate itself?  In other words, how is reflexivity addressed, or not?

Ginwright is reflexive throughout the text, opening the introduction with a note on his own lived experience, and throughout the ethnographic case studies, expanding on his relationship to the community and his own perspective on his observations. 


Who is the text written for?  How are arguments and evidence in the text shaped to address particular audiences?

The text is written for those interested in educational improvement for marginalized youth, but through approaches that are trauma informed and culturally relevant. The arguments in the text repeatedly draw on this idea that these things are important in improving the lives of youth. While written for a more academic audience, the writing is accessible, making it something non academics could read as well. 

What all audiences can you imagine for the text, given its empirical and conceptual scope?

I think this text could also be read by teachers, principals, teacher candidates getting their MAT, youth workers, social workers, and therapists. 

What new knowledge does this text put into circulation?  What does this text have to say that otherwise is not obvious?

That healing justice approaches can be impactful for community change, even in communities where this a great amount of difficulty and such approaches may seem futile. 

How generalizable is the main argument?  How does this text lay the groundwork for further research?

The text is made more generalizable because it examines five different settings, though they are all in the greater Bay area. However, all the community organizations are led by those with deep community roots. This text lays the groundwork for further research on such practices by those who are not as rooted within the communities they now work. 

What kind of “action” is suggested by the main argument of the text? 

For educators and community leaders to put more resources into healing practices for “disadvantaged communities”, to address collective trauma, and to implement practices that facilitate well-being and healing. 

Other modes of expression? 

Describe how the material and arguments of this text could be presented in a form other than that of a conventional scholarly book -- as a graphic novel, museum exhibit, activist stunt, or educational module for kids, for example?

I think the material of this book could be made into a professional development session for teachers and counselors. The healing practices could be described or even role played to groups of educators, followed by quotes from the interviews used to highlight the impact of such practices.


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Contributed date

October 13, 2019 - 6:51pm

Critical Commentary

This sketch was done for UCI Anthro 215A, Ethnographic Methods, Fall 2019.