Doctoral Dissertation Research: Youth: Race, Citizenship, and School-to-Military Pipelines

  • Nelson, Lise Kirsten (PI)
  • Christian, Jenna (CoPI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


This research project examines military programming, recruitment, and enlistment decisions among youth in public high schools serving largely low-income Black and Latino/a communities. Amid growing public concern about the opportunities and obstacles youth of color face in their schools and communities, the project investigates how young people of color experience and make meaning of military enlistment and interrogates what the military accomplishes in their lives. It closely examines the relationship between youth pathways, or 'pipelines', into the military and pervasive yet often routine forms of economic, social, and political marginalization experienced by many potential recruits in their homes, schools, and communities. The project responds directly to recent calls by education scholars to examine the way that family, community, school policy, and military recruiting and military educational programing, like the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, work to produce a pipeline for youth into the military. In doing so, the project contributes to educational knowledge about the military in schools and also fosters a rare interdisciplinary conversation between geography and education about youth and education as subjects of geopolitical inquiry.

Through a case study of a public high school in Houston, Texas, the project investigates the following research questions: What educational, state, and military practices produce a school-to-military pipeline? How are recruitment practices and enlistment decisions shaped by race, gender, and class? How does a school-to-military pipeline relate to the production and operation of the school-to-prison pipeline? How do young people experience, actively navigate, and make meaning of the military among the futures that are available and desirable to them? The research employs multiple ethnographic methods: 1) participant observation of JROTC classes, school activities, and community events; 2) semi-structured interviews with each set of respondents; 3) youth working groups to discuss topics related to the military and collaboratively analyze data; 4) the shadowing of student volunteers in their daily lives to learn more about the everyday spaces and relationships that shape their ideas and feelings about military futures; and 5) analysis of secondary texts and news media. By drawing together the institutional and everyday factors shaping enlistment, the study elucidates the relationship between the military and the daily opportunities and obstacles in youth lives. Moreover, this project contributes to public and academic knowledge about relationships between youth and the military so as to foster a necessary discussion across the academy, the military, youth, educators, parents, policy makers, and activists about the meaning of diversity in the military, the role of the military in public schools, and the implications of military service for the futures of youth of color.

Effective start/end date7/15/154/30/17


  • National Science Foundation: $14,820.00


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