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The settler colonial roots and neoliberal afterlife of Problem Behavior Theory.

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Di Castri, Theo 


Problem Behavior Theory (PBT) is an influential psychosocial theory that has shaped-and continues to shape-much research on adolescent development in the United States and abroad. It is the product of over a half-century of research conducted by psychologists-cum-behavioral scientists Lee and Richard Jessor. This article engages two striking features of the history of PBT. First, it tracks how, and to what effect, a theory elaborated to explain the so-called "deviant behavior" of a group of Native Americans was extended to explain the "problem behavior" of white, middle-class, settler youth, before coming to circulate as a universal theory of adolescent behavior. Second, it explores how a theory that was meant to explain individual behaviors by connecting them to their larger social contexts came to be embraced by researchers who have been criticized for doing precisely the opposite. To do so, this article draws from Indigenous and Settler Colonial Studies scholarship and sheds light on how the logics of settler colonialism and neoliberalism have participated in the coproduction of PBT and its reception.


Funder: Gates Cambridge Trust; Id:


adolescent development, behavioral science, neoliberalism, prevention science, settler colonialism, Adolescent, Humans, United States, Social Environment, American Indian or Alaska Native, Adolescent Behavior, Colonialism

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J Hist Behav Sci

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