Personal profile

Research Interests

  • activism and social movements
  • race and inequality
  • citizenship and governance
  • critical youth studies
  • critical ethnic studies

Personal profile

Soo Ah Kwon is currently Associate Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and former Department Head. She holds faculty affiliations with the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory and Center for Global Studies.  She is an interdisciplinary scholar whose research interests include youth activism, youth culture, global governance and citizenship, and the institutionalization of race and diversity in higher education.

Her book Uncivil Youth: Race, Activism and Affirmative Governmentality (Duke University Press, 2013) examines the rise of social justice-oriented nonprofits which support youth of color activism as embedded within a logic of neoliberal governance to enable and manage potentially “at-risk” youth of color to become "good" self-empowered democratic subjects and deploys  civil society as a mode of affirmative governmentality.

Her current book project, Working the System: Youth Activism inside the United Nations is an ethnography of how youth and thier advocates are co-shaping and challenging key international policies around sustainable development and peace and security. 

She is co-editor of South Korea’s Education Exodus: The Life and Times of Study Abroad (University of Washington Press, 2015) that examines the considerable exodus of South Korean children to English speaking countries.  

She is also co-PI of The American University Meets the Pacific Century (with Nancy Abelmann, Tim Liao, and Adrienne Lo), a research project that is examined the University of Illinois as a contact zone in which rapid surge of international undergraduate students, particularly from China and South Korea, interact with American students, whose futures will be increasingly impacted by global transformation. We attended to how interactions among international and domestic students are changing the dynamics of race at the American university.

Office Address

Asian American Studies
1208 W. Nevada St, MC 142
Urbana, IL 61801

Office Phone

 (217) 244-9530


Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley


  • AAS 100: Introduction to Asian American Studies
  • AAS 215/AFRO 215/AIS 295/LLS 215/GWS 215: US Citizenship Comparatively
  • AAS 246: Asian American Youth in Film
  • AAS 346/HDFS 341: Asian American Youth
  • HCD 539/AAS 539: Youth, Culture, and Society
  • HCD 533: Communities in American Society

Honors & Awards

Distinctions / Awards

  • Conrad Humanities Scholar, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2017-2022
  • List of Teachers Ranked as Outstanding, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Fall 2006, Fall 2007, Spring 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2012, Spring 2012, Fall 2013, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Spring 2017
  • Arnold O. Beckman Research Award, “The Globalization of the University: International Undergraduate Students at the University of Illinois,” Scholars Research Board Grant, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 2011-2013
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Teachers College, Columbia University, 2005-2006


  • Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, The Call to Action to Address Racism & Social Injustice Research Program, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, “Combatting Anti-Asian Racism” with Co-PIs Susan Koshy and Junaid Rana. 2021-2022
  • Humanities Release Time Fellowship, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 2018
  • USDA HATCH Illinois Experiment Station, “Youth Participation and the Making of Global Citizens.” 2012-2016
  • Spencer Foundation, “The American University Meets the Pacific Century (AUPC)” with Co-PIs: Nancy Abelmann, Tim Liao, and Adrienne Lo. 2014-2015
  • “Immigrant and Second- Generation Youth Building Political Capital in their Families and Communities,” USDA HATCH Illinois Experiment Station, 2006-2011
  • Humanities Release Time Fellowship, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 2009-10
  • Center for Democracy in a Multiracial Society Institute Faculty Fellow, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2007-2008
  • The Center for Popular Education and Participatory Research (CPEPR) at UC Berkeley, Irvine Foundation, Waitt Foundation, Spencer Foundation, and the Berkeley School of Education.  Monies to Co-Found Research Center, Awarded total $250,000

Intellectual Property


  • Kwon, Soo Ah. Uncivil Youth: Race, Activism and Affirmative Governmentality. . Durham: Duke University Press, 2013.

Book Contributions

  • Kwon, Soo Ah. "Deporting Cambodian Refugees: Youth Activism, State Reform, and Imperial Statecraft." Ethnographies of Empire. . Comp. John Collins. Ed. Carole McGranahan. Durham: Duke University Press, 2018. 411-430.
  • Kwon, Soo Ah. "Introduction: South Korea's Education Exodus: History, Context, and Motivations." South Korea’s Educational Exodus: The Life and Times of Study Abroad. . Ed. Adrienne Lo, Nancy Abelmann, Soo Ah Kwon, and Sumie Okazaki. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2015. 1-21.
  • Kwon, Soo Ah. "Youth of color organizing for juvenile justice." Beyond Resistance: Youth Activism and Community Change: New Democratic Possibilities for Policy and Practice. . Ed. Shawn Ginwright, Pedro Noguera, and Julio Cammarota. New York: Routledge Press, 2006. 215-228.

Edited Books

  • Lo, Adrienne, Nancy Abelmann, Soo Ah Kwon, and Sumie Okazaki. South Korea’s Educational Exodus: The Life and Times of Study Abroad. . Seattle: Washington University Press, 2015.

Journal Articles

  • Kwon, Soo Ah. "The Politics of Global Youth Participation." Journal of Youth Studies 22.7 (2019): 926–40.
  • Kwon, Soo Ah, Xavier Hernandez, and Jillian Moga. "Racial Segregation and the Limits of International Undergraduate Student Diversity." Race Ethnicity and Education 22.1 (2019): 59-72.
  • Kwon, Soo Ah. "Notes on Illiberal Pedagogical Mode." American Quarterly 70.2 (2018): 173-177.
  • Kwon, Soo Ah and Mimi Thi Nguyen. 2016. “Nonprofits, NGOs, and ‘Community Engagement’: Refiguring the Project of Activism in Gender and Women’s Studies and Ethnic Studies.” Scholar & Feminist Online 13 (2)
  • Kwon, Soo Ah. "The Comforts and Discomforts of Race." Learning and Teaching: The International Journal of Higher Education in the Social Sciences (LATISS) 6.3 (2013): 39-50.
  • Kwon, Soo Ah. "The Politics and Institutionalization of Panethnic Identity." Journal of Asian American Studies 16.2 (2013): 137-157.
  • Kwon, Soo Ah. "Deporting Cambodian Refugees: Youth Activism, State Reform, and Imperial Statecraft." positions: asia cultural critique 20.3 (2012): 737-762.
  • Kwon, Soo Ah. "Moving from Complaints to Action: Oppositional Consciousness and Collective Action in a Political Community." Anthropology and Education Quarterly 39.1 (2008): 59-76.
  • Kwon, Soo Ah , Kysa Nygreen, and Patricia Sanchez. "Urban Youth Building Community: Social Change and Participatory Research in Schools, Homes, and Community-Based Organizations." Journal of Community Practice 14.1/2 (2006): 105- 122.
  • Kwon, Soo Ah. "Autoexoticizing: Asian American Youth and the Import Car Scene." Journal of Asian American Studies 7.1 (2004): 1-26.


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