Young women in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico are coming of age in an era of feminicides, drug wars, impunity, and fear. This ethnographic study examines the ways in which Preparatoria Altavista, a public high school, in one of the most marginalized areas of Juárez, attempts to empower subaltern young women through its critical and social justice philosophy of education.
The study draws from critical pedagogy, socio-cultural theory, and feminist scholarship to offer a unique analysis of how hegemonic ideas are resisted and/or inscribed pedagogically, politically, and institutionally at Altavista. Secondly, the study examines how the school's constructions of democratic and social justice education interact with the current dystopic context of Juárez and discourses about Juárez women to provide a framework with which a group of young women author their identities and practice forms of resistance.
The ethnographic fieldwork took place in the 2009-2010 academic year. The methods included unstructured ethnographic interviews with teachers, administrators, and numerous students, as well as semi-structured interviews and an auto-photography technique with nine girls.
The study identifies three interrelated aspects that characterize the transformative pedagogy of Preparatoria Altavista: freedom and autonomy, authentic caring relationships, and the cultivation of critical discourse and activism. Together, these core values promote the school's ultimate goal for its students – autogestión, or the ability to self-author empowered identities; read their world; and initiate and develop socially transformative projects. Considering the school's context, as well as the many challenges inherent in the dystopic Juárez of today, the study also identifies a typology of four different paths to the girls' identity and agency development: the Redirectors, the Reinventors, the Redefiners, and the Refugees. This typology is based on various ways and degrees to which the young women in this study authored the self as they negotiated the messages from the multiple figured worlds that they inhabit.
The study seeks to counter sensationalist, criminalizing, and dooming narratives about Juárez youth, as well as stereotypical and objectifying depictions of Juárez women by offering a nuanced analysis of their experiences, perspectives, identities, and forms of agency. The study also seeks to offer a language of possibility and hope for urban schools and contexts of civil unrest through critical pedagogy.