August 2019 Spotlight, Jessica McKenzie, Ph.D.

This month, we are delighted to introduce Dr. Jessica McKenzie ( as our member in spotlight. Dr. McKenzie is currently an Associate Professor of Child and Family Science at California State University, Fresno. Jessica bridges developmental and cultural perspectives to examine how people make sense of themselves across the life course, and the role of culture and cultural change in sense-making processes. Employing qualitative and quantitative methods, Jessica has studied the beliefs (about divinity, morality, self) and practices (religious, linguistic, dietary, media) of adolescents and parents in Thailand, and of children, adolescents, and adults in the United States. Her ongoing ethnographic fieldwork in northern Thailand has contributed to the developmental science of globalization, and her work in the U.S. has contributed to the scientific understanding of the cultural nature of moral development.

1) What drew you to do work on Asians, Asian American children and youth, or another topic that is important to you now? who was an important mentor to you in this work, or an influential particular study in the field or in a related field?

My interest in how youth psychologically negotiate cultural change can be traced back to my own youth. I became an accidental ethnographer while studying abroad in Rome my junior year of college, during which I spent much of my time documenting the lived realities of Romans and constructing a reflexive account of my experience there. Pairing this experience with my coursework in psychology, language, and religion, I developed an obsession with understanding how culture structures the human experience—an obsession that motivated my move to a village in central Thailand shortly after graduating from college. During the year I lived there, the rapid economic and sociocultural change this village underwent led me to seek, and ultimately to develop, frames for thinking about how cultural change shapes human development. The work of interdisciplinary scholars such as Hubert Hermans, Jeffrey Arnett, Lene Jensen, Patricia Greenfield, Richard Shweder, Verónica Benet-Martínez, and Ying-yi Hong inspired me to dedicate my professional career to studying the psychological implications of globalization.

2) A short paragraph describing a particular recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes you excited about it. 

Right now, I’m most excited about my guest edited special issue “Globalization as a Context for Youth Development” that was recently published in New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development. It was such a joy to pull together brilliant developmental scientists for this volume, which includes three articles on Asian/Asian American youth development in contexts of globalization: Jaran Shin’s article on how minority youth in South Korea employ multilingual and multicultural resources to construct their identities and navigate society, Jacqueline Nguyen and Gail Ferguson’s article on how Southeast Asian American youth navigate multicultural identities through hip hop, and my article on how Thai youth in variously globalized communities differently draw upon ethics of divinity to reason about their private moral experiences. These and other articles in the volume contribute to developmental science by identifying how global youth adapt to, resist against, and agentically draw upon globalization and multiculturalism to construct their developmental pathways.

3) Any upcoming talks or presentations?

I’m currently putting together two papers for the Society for Research on Adolescence conference in San Diego, CA in March 2020. One paper, to be presented as part of a symposium organized by Adriana Manago on social media, will address how Thai adolescent views of social media-based risks and opportunities relate to their social ecologies. The other paper, to be presented as part of a symposium I organized on religious beliefs and practices, will address how adolescent conceptions of divinity diverge across contexts of globalization in Thailand. I will also give a talk at California State University, Fresno as part of the Provost’s Award Lecture Series. This talk, which will focus on psychological continuity and change in a changing world, will take place during the 2019-20 academic year. Additional information about these, and other future, talks will be posted to

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