In many ways, I am still a journalist who has been teaching and working in K-12 and higher education contexts. Narrative is at the core of how I approach sociology of education in studying the narratives undergirding social policies and normalizing societal structures. My approach is to study the relationship between narratives and material structures. Across concepts such as adolescence, migration and identity, I strive to ascertain how a concept has developed its materially lived shorthand, and when possible, work to adjust that imaginative reach. All of the projects below include components of collaborative knowledge building.

Social Location: Interrupting individualized frames of deficit

Inequality affects young people along the lines of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, economic status, migration, and ability. Inequalitly has its roots and maintenance in myriad socioeconomic, political, and historical factors. One salient pillar of inequity is that, across vectors of oppression, lived realities of limited opportunities are seen as merely natural and isolated unfortunate circumstances. We normalize structures that aggressively sequester well-being and life for some at the expense of others. This multi-partner design-based implementation study works to interrupt that normalization, across many vectors of oppression. It documents the affordances and limiations of an intervention designed to provide a dynamic learning space about the hinged nature of domination and oppression. The core of the project revolves around the idea that social location, a term first used by sociologist Bill Gamson, provides anaytic potential for address intersectional harm, that identity, with its individualistic associations, does not. This multi-partner project involves youth leaders and adults from rural and urban locales who engage in collaborative curriculum curation and participatory evaluation. This work has been supported by the Nellie Mae Foundation and the American Educational Research Association. 

Recently Immigrated Youth: Ethnography and action

In this long-term ethnography, the participants and focus were recently immigrated youth. Immigrant teens who are between the ages of 13 and 25, who have migrated from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia compose case studies and participants in a study that documents the ways in which opportunities and restrictions are structured for and upon immigrant youth.

This project included research into the daily lives of immigrant youth, including analysis of migration status, racialization and gendering processes and their manifestrations through work, school, family responsibilities, and aspirations for social mobility. Central analysis focused upon the ways in which society differentially structures opportunity through these institutions, particularly education.

This research also explored that ways that migrant populations offer opportunities for societal and cultural transformation. For example, undocumented youth are one of the most civically engaged yet liminally positioned populations in the U.S. What theories of change and resistance are used and what lessons can more mainstream educational projects learn from their practices? 

Patel & Sanchez Ares (2013). The politics of coming out undocumented. In E. Tuck & K. W. Yang (Eds). Youth resistance and theories of change. Routledge: New York, NY. 

Stevens, L. P. (2011). Literacy, capital, and education: A view from immigrant youth.
Theory into Practice. 

Youth in Transition:
PAR and critical consciousness

Building on the research in the long-term ethnography with immigrant youth, I worked with immigrant youth on a critical consciousness project. This participatory action research project began with the youth-led question: Why do some people in society do better and how do they get there? Building from that question and the group’s skills, a project was launched in which first generation immigrants in their final year high school are placed in internships. The internships have two crucial components: first, a one-month internship in a professional setting, and second, a weekly critical breakdown conversation with mentors from immigrant backgrounds. The goals of the project were four-fold: 1) to provide systematic adult and peer mentoring to recently arrived immigrant youth who are transitioning from high school, 2) to leverage the academic language tools of capital and critical race theory in making meaning of immigrant and mainstream cultural contexts, and 3) to facilitate systematic collaborations among immigrant youth, community based organizations, and researchers, and most broadly 4) to support immigrant youth to succeed within society without only assimilating. This work was supported by the Collaborative Fellows grant, provided by Boston College. 


Patel, L., & Gurn, A. with Dodd, M., Pai, S-J., Norvilus, V., Yang, E. J., & Sanchez Ares, R. (2013). Re/Imaging existing structures of schooling: Immigrant youth, community partners, and dynamic learning through internships. In K. Jocson (Ed.) Cultural transformations: Youth and pedagogies of possibility. Harvard Educational Press: Cambridge, MA.

Patel, L., & Sanchez Ares, R. (2014). Framing youth resistance: The politics of coming out undocumented. In E. Tuck & K. W. Yang (Eds.), Youth resistance and theories of change. Routledge: New York, NY.

Patel, L. (2012). Contact zones, problem zones, and critical consciousness. Pedagogies: An International Journal, 7(4), 333-346.

Critical Literacy

In my teaching as a college instructor, professional developer, and trainer of teachers, the central focus is on how societal inequities happen through language. Language is the conduit through which we love, learn, fight, think, and understand ourselves in the world. In working towards and for critical literacy, we constantly situate and create the word in the world, carrying on the legacies that Freire set forth more than 40 years ago in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I work with teachers to develop pedagogy and curriculum that seeks to equip youth with the critical code-switching skills and stances they need to survive extractive systems of schooling and society. I also work with teachers to engage them in critical analyses of policies that shape their professional lives.

• Stevens, L. P., & Stovall, D. (2010). Literacy for xenophobia: A wake-up call.
Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 48.
• Stevens, L. P. (2008). The framing of policies: ideologies, issues, and implications.
Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 46(4)
• Stevens, L. P. (2007). Para una alfabetización crítica en Australia.
Cuadernos de Pedagogía, 374, 54-58.
• Stevens, L. P., & Bean, T. W. (2007). Critical literacy: Context, research and practice
in the K-12 classroom.
New York: Sage.
• Stevens, L.P. (2003). Reading First: A critical policy analysis.
The Reading Teacher, 56, 662-668.

DeColonizing Educational Research

While thousands of educational researchers in post-industrial nations work (and are paid) to study, research, and document the work of education, much of this very work has echoes of colonial logics that seek to stratify well-being for some at the expense of others. In this teaching, writing, and knowledge building project, I document these pathways, ways to interrupt these patterns of coloniality and research in the interest of sovereignty over careerism and property rights.


Patel, L. (2016). Decolonizing educational research: From ownership to answerability. Routledge: New York. 

Patel, L. (2014). Anti-colonial educational research: From ownership to answerability. Educational Studies, 50(4), 357-377.

Patel Stevens, L.  (2009). Maps to interrupt a pathology: Immigrant populations and education.
Critical Inquiry in Language Studies,
6(1-2), 1-14.

Decolonizing Educational Research Blog

Cultural construction of adolescence

Since 2001, I have maintained an active inquiry and writing agenda on the ways that adolescence is cultural constructed as a biological stage and how that construct interacts with processes of racialization, gender formation, and sexuality norms. Weaving in data that includes youth documenting their own transitions through societal institut