Jessica K. Taft

Jessica Taft Centre for Urban Youth Research

Jessica K. Taft is an Associate Professor of Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of California Santa Cruz. She completed her PhD in Sociology with an emphasis in Feminist Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara.

Dr. Taft’s research agenda focuses on the political lives of children and youth in North and South America. More specifically, she writes about youth activism and the ways that girls, children, and youth participate in social movements.

Theoretically, she draws from intersectional feminism to illuminate how age functions as an axis of power and inequality in complex relation with other social differences.

Her work explores how discourses about what it means to be a child, or a youth, or an adult shape the ways people experience and navigate these categories. Building on the important contributions of Latin American social movements and critical approaches to childhood, she challenges the naturalization of adults’ power over children and furthers our understanding of how young people can (and should) be included in democratic social and political life.

Dr. Taft’s first book, Rebel Girls: Youth Activism and Social Change Across the Americas (NYU Press, 2011), introduces readers to a diverse and vibrant transnational community of teenage girl activists in the San Francisco Bay Area, Mexico City, Caracas, Buenos Aires, and Vancouver. It explores how teenage girls construct activist identities, rejecting and redefining girlhood and claiming political authority for youth in the process.

Her second book, The Kids Are in Charge: Activism and Power in Peru’s Movement of Working Children (NYU Press, 2019), details the possibilities and challenges of intergenerational activism and social movements. It encourages readers to question the widely accepted beliefs that children should not work or participate in politics and is a provocative invitation to re-imagine childhood, power, and politics.

Dr. Taft has published numerous articles on a range of topics related to youth politics, including “girl power” discourses, girls’ organizations and ideas about the public sphere, peer-led political socialization amongst youth activists, and young activists’ ideas about what constitutes meaningful democratic participation (the last two with Hava R. Gordon). She co-edited (with Sandi K. Nenga) an edited volume that seeks to bring together research on a variety of forms of youth engagement activities in order to explore multiple approaches to and understandings of youth citizenship. Dr. Taft is also a series co-editor for the new NYU Press book series, Critical Perspectives on Youth.