Separating families, recuperating the “nation-as-family”: Migrant youth and the cultural politics of shame




immigration, child, media, emotion, affect, policy, nation, tolerance, pedagogy


This study investigates the intersections of policy, affect, and the lives of migrant youth. We approach the Trump Administration’s contingent reversal of a “zero tolerance” family separation policy as an illustrative case for understanding how affect mediates policy-making processes. Combining Critical Policy Analysis (CPA) and affect studies, we analyze 184 print media texts between the declaration of zero tolerance (May 2018) and President Trump’s repeal of his executive order (June 2018). We argue that mainstream media invited publics to sympathize with migrant youth and shame zero tolerance policy and its defenders. While shame catalyzed nationwide #KeepFamiliesTogether protests, it also animated political actions that recuperated “America” as a tolerant nation (e.g., “Love, not hate, makes America great”). In doing so, shame suppressed structural critiques of U.S. state violence toward migrant as well as Black, Indigenous, and minoritized families and youth. We conclude by discussing how a “pedagogy of discomfort” offers one way to build toward more historically responsive and intersectional coalitions for migrant and education justice.


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Author Biographies

Ethan Chang, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa

Ethan Chang is a sociologist of education and assistant professor of educational leadership at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. He is a former middle and high school public teacher with prior teaching and research experiences in Hawai‘i, South Africa, and Palestine. His research broadly explores the intersections of policy, place, and race in struggles to redress inequities of educational opportunity.

Jill Koyama, University of Arizona

Jill Koyama is a sociocultural anthropologist and Associate Professor in Educational Leadership and Educational Policy Studies and Practice (EPSP) and Director of the Institute for LGBT Studies at the University of Arizona. Her work is situated across three integrated strands of inquiry: the productive social assemblage of policy, the controversies of globalizing educational policy, and the politics of education policy and newcomer education.

Julie Kasper, University of Arizona

Julie Kasper is a Graduate Fellow at the University of Arizona pursuing her doctorate in Educational Leadership while leading the Refugee Educator Academy at the Carey Institute for Global Good. A National Board Certified Teacher in English as a New Language and classroom teacher for over 16 years, her current work focuses on curriculum and program design, teacher professional learning, and teacher and youth leadership development, especially in relation to refugee education and work with culturally and linguistically diverse learners. Research interests include culturally responsive pedagogies and school leadership, learning design both within and outside formal education spaces, and theoretical imaginings around—and practical efforts toward—educational equity and social justice.




How to Cite

Chang, E., Koyama, J., & Kasper, J. (2020). Separating families, recuperating the “nation-as-family”: Migrant youth and the cultural politics of shame. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 28, 84.