The 2018 C. Wright Mills Award Committee selected Dr. Ranita Ray's book, The Making of A Teenage Service Class: Poverty and Mobility in an American City, University of California Press, as this year's winner.

Dr. Carla Shedd, Chair of the 2018 C. Wright Mills Award Committee, said of Ray’s work:

The Making of a Teenage Service Class points the way forward for parents, teachers, scholars and policy makers alike to understand and better contribute to the lives of young people who may be marginal to power, but are central to our society. 

The C. Wright Mills Award Committee was thoroughly impressed by Dr. Ranita Ray’s careful and rigorous scholarship that not only thoughtfully presented, but also richly analyzed the collision of structure and agency; inequality and opportunity, and setbacks and triumphs in the lives of Port City youth. Drawing on three years of fieldwork, Ray centers the voices and experiences of Black and Latinx youth and compellingly argues that targeting “at-risk behaviors” (e.g., drug use, gang membership, violence, teen parenthood, etc.) will fail to interrupt the cycle of racialized poverty. By focusing on risk behavior prevention in economically marginalized Black and Latinx communities, Dr. Ray reveals how policy makers, scholars, teachers, and non-profit workers are constructing youth as “social problems” while simultaneously creating further obstacles for them. Throughout The Making of a Teenage Service Class, we bear witness to how youth struggle to hold on to their dreams as they navigate various aspects of their everyday lives. Institutions of higher education and low-wage service work, for example, often function in predatory ways crafting an illusion that a better life is just around the corner if only the youth would put in enough hours at their low-wage job or take the right classes at the community college. Dr. Ray highlights the everyday exhaustion of balancing school, work, family, and long travels, the emotional trauma of failure within exploitative institutions of higher education, and the pains of hunger and untreated illnesses that young people must battle in their everyday life and quest for mobility. Ray also describes moments of resistance, and centers the power in the voices of the youth as they are forced to navigate predatory institutions. In the end, Dr. Ray questions the purpose of non-violence, drug, and pregnancy prevention programs in marginalized Black and Latinx communities while simultaneously critiquing the uncritical study of these same programs in social science research. Instead of perpetuating ideologies that marginalized youth are “at risk,” Dr. Ray argues we should turn our attention to fighting against low-wage jobs, exploitative education systems, and the racist construction of Black and Latinx youth as “social problems.”


Congratulations, Dr. Ray!

The 2018 award was presented at the 69th Annual Meeting in New York, at the Awards Ceremony on Saturday, August 10, 2019. Click here for a full listing of the 2018 finalists.

Click here for a list of past winners of the C. Wright Mills Award.