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The Paradox of Youth Violence

J. William Spencer
The Paradox of Youth Violence
ISBN: 978-1-58826-788-7
2011/211 pages/LC: 2011000084
Social Problems, Social Constructions
"Brilliantly illuminates a very old and vexing problem: the troublesome character of the young.... Spencer reveals the lack of congruity between images of youth crime and empirical realities, carefully considering the practical and theoretical implications."—Vincent Sacco, Queen's University   

"This book is important to understanding not only how youth violence has become a cultural issue, but also why the purported solutions to the problem have caused additional challenges and problems.... A comprehensive, interesting and accessible book."—Stephanie Howells, Journal of Asian Criminology


Winner of the Midwest Sociological Society Distinguished Book Award, 2013!

Is a teenage violent offender a dangerous predator—or a vulnerable innocent that we should rescue from a life of crime? J. William Spencer probes our ambivalent response to youth violence to show how deeply entwined issues of crime, age, race, and class distort our understanding of an important social problem.

Spencer's pointed yet nuanced analysis traces how misconceptions about youth violence—whether in the form of gangs, school violence, "superpredators," or cyberbullying—take root in our national consciousness and undercut our attempts to remedy the problem. Equally, it offers a new understanding both of the nature of juvenile delinquency and of the role of cultural politics in shaping criminal justice and social services policy.


J. William Spencer is associate professor of sociology at Purdue University.


  • The Problem of Youth Violence.
  • Constructing the Problem.
  • The Search for Explanations and Solutions.
  • The Drama of Iconic Narratives.
  • Lessons Learned.
  • Confronting Today's Challenges.