For the past four decades, James Youniss has been studying the normal psychological development of children and adolescents. After investigating deaf children’s thought processes, through the perspective of Piaget, Youniss extended his own theoretical approach to social development with a focus on family relationships and friendship. His findings, published in Parents and Peers in Social Development (University of Chicago Press, 1980) and Adolescent Relations with Mothers, Fathers, and Friends, (University of Chicago Press, 1985) illustrated the significance of social interaction as a basis of knowledge and the role of interpersonal relationships in the construction of the self. The recipient of a Humbolt research award for a year’s study in Germany, Youniss was coeditor of three volumes describing German youth’s adaptations in the wake of the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.
For his Radcliffe project, Youniss will focus on the role of community service in adolescents’ political and moral development. With coauthor Miranda Yates, Youniss has published two books on this topic, Community Service and Social Responsibility in Youth (University of Chicago Press, 1997) and Roots of Civic Identity: International Perspectives on Community Service and Youth Activism (Cambridge University Press, 1999). Now he plans to summarize new data showing that contemporary youth are functioning quite well—as seen in rates of voluntary service, levels of academic achievement, adherence to traditional values, and avoidance of drugs, alcohol, and delinquency—despite media depictions to the contrary. His theoretical framework will provide analysis and the basis for social policy.