Local & Global Connections: The role of public intellectuals in mobilizing research and raising awareness

The War on Youth Summer Institute brought together a global community of activists, students, and scholars to address challenges facing young people in the 21st century. This case illustrates how knowledge exchange through critical education can lead to personal and social transformation.


The War on Youth Summer Institute
McMaster Centre for Scholarship in the Public Interest:

Research Lead

Dr. Henry Giroux

Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest, Professor of English and Cultural Studies and Director of MCSPI

Case Contributor

Dr. Henry Giroux

Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest, Professor, English and Cultural Studies, Director of MCSPI

Jennifer Fisher

MCSPI Project Coordinator

Grace Pollock

MCSPI Research Associate


Humanities Media and Computing: http://hmc.humanities.mcmaster.ca/

Research funded by



Knowledge Exchange Strategy

Interpersonal interaction; new media


Engage the public and university students in an interdisciplinary discussion on “The War on Youth”


  • Two-week seminar with presentations, panels and discussion groups
  • Events filmed and made available online

Keys to making it work

  • Making knowledge a catalyst for self-reflection and collaboration
  • Being creative when reaching out to the public and other academics
  • Making knowledge accessible through technology & social media
  • Plan for possible challenges when collaborating internationally (e.g. visa delays or denials)


  • Funding: External and internal funding was necessary in order to keep participant costs at a reasonable level and to integrate graduate student support and training into the initiative
  • Staff support and media resources: This project required substantial time dedication from administrative and project assistants involved in planning the seminar program and organizing participants, as well as the expertise of a digital multimedia specialist from the Humanities Media and Computing department who directed the filming and video post-production work.

Overcoming boundaries between disciplines, academia and the public to share ideas and information is a central focus of the McMaster Centre for Scholarship in the Public Interest (MCSPI). For two weeks during the summer of 2013, with the support of doctoral student Jennifer Fisher, MCSPI Administrator Danielle Martak, and Research Assistant Tyler Pollard, Dr. Henry Giroux facilitated an intensive Summer Institute. Focusing on the theme “The War on Youth”, this event consisted of a total of 30 research presentations, workshops and group discussions for over 20 students and 20 facilitators, ranging from community members to undergraduate and graduate students as well as policy analysts, activists and international researchers known for engaging the public with their work.

A bridge between academic learning and personal identity

Youth studies as an area of academic research tackles complex cultural and social problems and how they intersect to impact young people, often limiting the voices, agency and social roles of youth in determining their own futures. The Summer Institute invited youth into dynamic conversations about social forces relevant to their daily lives and to combine the acquisition of knowledge with thoughtful self-expression involving tools like Facebook that already form part of their everyday practices. The Summer Institute expanded perspectives within the field of youth research, and mobilized this research by introducing youth themselves to discussions happening in the field. But it did more. Galvanized by the recent uprisings of millions of youth around the world in the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements, the Summer Institute provided a bridge between academic learning and personal identity such that young people could see themselves situated in broader social contexts and connected to other youth around the world.

There are many expressions of effect, some of which are not measurable in a precise sense.

Beyond knowledge exchange, the Summer Institute strategically encouraged the integration of learning and the skillful application of new technologies to support critical reflection and inspire action. Education that heightens the critical consciousness and changes the self through deeper levels of engagement and reflection is a precondition for broader social change.

It is an issue of connecting knowledge to everyday life, meaning to the act of persuasion, schools and universities to broader public spheres, and rigorous theoretical work to affective investments and pleasures that students use in mediating their relationship to others and the larger world (66)

Power of ideas

Offering diverse KE opportunities enabled Institute participants to tap into both traditional and innovative learning modes, through for example participation in cultural events and new media communication platforms. Youth attending the Summer Institute were encouraged to view themselves as agents actively engaged in the making of history – as emerging public intellectuals whose actions could raise awareness and spur collective resistance to social inequities and injustice.

A sense of personal empowerment works in tandem with nurturing people’s capacities for critical knowledge and communication, and the practical skills that enable learners to be knowledge mobilizers in their own right.

With a range of backgrounds facilitators needed to be aware and reflective in order to bridge knowledge differences, such as vocabulary or theoretical backgrounds. Academics are not routinely trained to be public intellectuals; striving to communicate with public audiences means fostering the skills needed to translate academic work into more accessible and plain language.

[Academics] have an enormous amount of trouble writing in an accessible language and they so limit their audience.

Both Jennifer Fisher and Dr. Henry Giroux noted that having the freedom to associate with controversial ideas or people is not universal, but one of the rights of academics that should be exercised at every opportunity. This includes working with many outside of academia who may lack political safety, employment protection, and social position, or who may face discrimination or hostility for attending overtly political/radical events.

[People] want to come, and they want to learn, but just the language of it and the politicized direction...There is a risk for participants.

Harnessing technology & social media

Employing diverse communication platforms for KE has value. It also helps provide a range of learning opportunities that make knowledge meaningful and have the potential to heighten learning about, as well as personal involvement, in a larger social issue. Giroux’s work is translated and shared via social media, with thousands of views on Youtube. Technology allows for quicker connections and working with like-minded people across the globe. Using the potential of social media as a site for resistance, building networks and making social issues known should be viewed as part of a broader effort ongoing efforts to engage public attention on important issues, spark dialogue and collaborative efforts to change in society.

“Technology allows people to be informed outside traditional modes of knowledge distribution and have an opportunity to use that technology to organize.”

Building alliances & communities

Aiming to challenge the impact of neoliberalism on academia and youth, Giroux and Fisher argue the importance of alliances for creating social change. The Summer Institute and Giroux’s public outreach engage with a “real community of people trying to make a dent here” (Giroux). Additionally, the university as a site for collaboration is key, as Giroux argues it is one of the last spaces where ideas can be challenged, where people can gather and organize to address controversial issues without fear of censorship or reprisal.

Events such as the Summer Institute help achieve the above goals, particularly due to the power of face-to-face meetings, which support a “feeling of intimate interaction” (Fisher), and facilitate relationship building and the open exchanges needed to address complex, thorny issues, while providing a framework for comparing different perspectives in real time. Collaborative learning can help place one’s experiences in larger contexts that legitimate and validate them as experiences shared with others, increasing attention for these mutual concerns and potential for action. These relationships benefit from the power of new communication avenues such as social media that can reinforce and extend established networks, but they often take root first in the structured group learning environments that provide opportunities for self- and social transformation.