Center for the Study of Youth & Political Conflict

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville


The Center for the Study of Youth and Political Conflict was established in 2005 with the aim of becoming an authoritative source and training agent for the potential joint role of scholarship, programming, practice, and policy in serving the needs of adolescents involved in political conflict around the world.

Hundreds of thousands of adolescents are exposed to and/or participate in political conflict across the world. The center was grounded with the belief that much can be done to both better understand youth experience in political conflict and to more fully integrate efforts to assist them in leading constructive lives. Several principles underlie the center’s approach to this task.


  1. First, the center recognizes that youth are involved in political conflict in a variety of different ways, including being passive witnesses, voluntary fighters, and coerced soldiers. Each of these forms of involvement, as well as others, suggests potential differences in youth conceptions about conflict, motivations for involvement in political conflict, coping during conflict, and adaptation after conflict.
  2. Second, the center believes that an understanding of youth experience with political conflict should be approached holistically. Specifically, it recognizes that prevailing historical, economic, cultural, ethnic, political, and religious contexts not only inform the origins and outcomes of conflict, but that they also shape individual and collective understanding of conflict, its meaning, relative legitimacy, and resolution. It follows that approaches to understanding and assisting youth must also carefully consider these contexts.
  3. Third, the center maintains that the effectiveness of programming, intervention, and policy initiatives designed for youth in zones of political conflict can be maximized by a comprehensive assessment of youth experience during and after conflict. Specifically, it maintains that the traditional focus on the individual psychological functioning of adolescents in conflict zones, although certainly important, does not permit an adequate assessment of overall functioning or need for assistance. Attention to the breadth of adolescent daily life is critical to this assessment, including the quality of their interpersonal relationships with family and friends, their performance in school and/or occupational endeavors, their adherence to cultural norms, and their access to resources and opportunities.
  4. Fourth, the center values the basic capacity of adolescents. It recognizes that they can be quite active in searching for the meaning of the political conflict they are experiencing—whether that might be to endorse it or refute it—and in identifying a role for themselves in it. Further, the center values adolescents as competent reporters of their own experiences, particularly in the extent to which they have sought and found such meaning.
  5. Finally, and critically, the center holds that effective and efficient service to youth who face political conflict can best be accomplished through deliberate integration among the several institutions and agencies who are concerned about them. A variety of domestic and international health, civic, government, religious, and academic groups are keenly interested in this important population of children and all such groups can benefit from planned collaboration and integration. A central purpose of the center is to facilitate such cooperation.


The center acknowledges with respect and gratitude the commitment and support of the University of Tennessee, particularly the offices of the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor; the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences; and the Department of Child and Family Studies.

Brian K. Barber
Founding Director
August 2005


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