Balancing Acts

Youth Culture, Immigration, and Education

coverBalancing Acts: Youth Culture in the Global City (University of California Press, 2011) examines the lives of teenaged children of immigrants in New York and London. Warikoo asks, is there a link between rap/hip-hop-influenced youth culture and motivation to succeed in school? She challenges teachers, administrators, and parents to look beneath the outward manifestations of youth culture — the clothing, music, and tough talk — to better understand the internal struggle faced by many minority students as they try to fit in with peers while working to lay the groundwork for successful lives. Using ethnographic, survey, and interview data in two racially diverse, low-achieving high schools, Warikoo analyzes seemingly oppositional styles, tastes in music, and school behaviors and finds that most teens try to find a balance between success with peers and success in school.

Balancing Acts won the Thomas and Znaniecki Best Book Award from the International Migration Section of the American Sociological Association. It has been reviewed in American Anthropologist, American Journal of Sociology, Comparative Education Review, Ethnic and Racial Studies, The European Legacy, Harvard Educational Review, Teachers College Record, and Youth Studies Australia. Click here to order.


“[A book that] pushes boundaries in ethnography on urban youths by examining culture beyond “values” and “codes.” This study represents the cultural turn in ethnography, where cultural orientations are taken seriously, brought front and center, and examined as fluid and dynamic.”—Victor Rios American Journal Of Sociology
“Readers are sure to walk away with a profound respect for the challenges of being a student, a peer, a friend, a child, and a second-generation youth, but perhaps they will also come away with a new or renewed energy to consider how to engage with these youth in and out of school.”—R.J.C.R. Harvard Educational Review
Balancing Acts is a must-read for social scientists, policy experts, and educators interested in addressing the achievement gap between minority and majority students. This unique comparative study of multi-racial schools in the US and the UK considers through a new lens the impact of peer status on educational achievement for whites, Indians, and blacks. Never has expertise on the second-generation, racial and ethnic boundaries, youth culture, cultural consumption, and education been so skillfully brought together. And best of all, this signal contribution offers practical and sensible policy recommendations for addressing some of the causes of low educational performance.”—Michele Lamont, author of The Dignity of Working Men: Morality and the Boundaries of Race, Class, and Immigration

“This important comparative study skillfully unpacks the concept of culture and demonstrates with considerable cogency the role played by youth culture in shaping immigrant children’s uneven educational achievement. Balancing Acts rightly highlights children’s agency in negotiating the pressures of different identities and offers several most valuable recommendations.”—Bhikhu Parekh, House of Lords, author ofRethinking Multiculturalism

“This important study breaks new empirical ground and brings much needed conceptual clarity to the sociological study of culture, identity, and the schooling of the children of immigrants in the two defining global cities of our era. It achieves a marvelous balance—between London and New York, between institutions, social structures, and human agency, and between various immigrant-origin groups on both sides of the Atlantic. It is a must read for anyone interested in learning what the best of sociological research has to offer to us to elucidate one of the most relevant issues of our times.”—Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ

“If this book doesn’t convince us that adolescents’ taste in music and style of dress have more to do with their quest for peer status than their attitudes toward school and achievement, I’m not sure what will. The second-generation immigrant youth in Balancing Acts add to the chorus of compelling young voices forcing us to reconsider how we think about the impact of youth cultures on student achievement. Warikoo’s careful attention to the meanings young people attach to contemporary urban music and style should be required reading for anyone interested in the world of adolescents.”-Karolyn Tyson, Sociology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“Warikoo does an excellent job describing peer culture and its complex role in the everyday lives of teenagers in London and New York City. This book is essential reading for educators, scholars, and, of course, students.”—Margaret M. Chin, author of Sewing Women: Immigrants and the New York City Garment Industry

“This provocative and timely book offers a refreshing perspective on the relationship of second-generation immigrants and youth culture. Warikoo makes a bold argument regarding peer culture, status and academic achievement that is sure to take current discourse into a whole new direction.”—Gilberto Q. Conchas, author of The Color of Success