ASA14: Anthropology and Enlightenment

(P53)

Educated youth in search of enlightenment in South Asia (and beyond)

Location Quincentenary Building, Wadsworth Room
Date and Start Time 22 June, 2014 at 09:00

Convenors

Jonathan Spencer (University of Edinburgh) email
Craig Jeffrey (Universtiy of Melbourne) email
Mail All Convenors

Summary

What are the political and cultural consequences of the rise of "educated unemployed youth" in the different regions of South Asia, and what can South Asia contribute to a comparative understanding of "youth" as an anthropological problem?

Long Abstract

An increase in individuals' investment in schooling combined with a shortage of salaried jobs has created a crisis of educated unemployment in the global South, as in many richer countries. The widespread rise of the "educated unemployed youth" raises pressing questions about politics, social change, and the role of education in situations of economic uncertainty. The panel will bring together a series of ethnographic examinations of educated unemployed young people's political practices in different parts of South Asia - a region especially affected by youth joblessness. The panel will also provide an opportunity for anthropologists working in other regions - most notably Africa - to contribute to a comparative understanding of the political and cultural work of young people in search of enlightenment.

Chair: David Gellner (Oxford)
Discussant: Dennis Rodgers (Glasgow)

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

The alienated graduate? Youth social action in India

Authors: Craig Jeffrey (Universtiy of Melbourne)  email
Jane Dyson (University of Oxford)  email

Summary

This paper draws upon field research in north India to examine the social actions of educated un/under-employed youth and emergence of a self-styled 'go-between generation' (beech ki pithi).

Long Abstract

This paper draws upon field research in north India to examine the social actions of educated un/under-employed youth and emergence of a self-styled 'go-between generation' (beech ki pithi). We argue on the basis of field research in rural Uttarakhand that educated un/under-employed youth, especially university graduates, are increasingly involved in explicitly social actions: practices that occur within social spheres, involve intense social networking, and are imagined as self-consciously 'social'. The social is a means to talk about everyday politics in India. Much of this social action involves young people in their twenties acting as intermediaries between parents, who have limited knowledge of rapidly shifting social fields, and children (6-16).

Positive thinking for postwar youth: the politics of leadership training in Sri Lanka

Authors: Jonathan Spencer (University of Edinburgh)  email
Harini Amarasuriya (Open University of Sri Lanka)  email

Summary

Our paper examines the controversial Leadership Training for University Entrants introduced by the Ministry of Higher Education in Sri Lanka in collaboration with the Ministry of Defence. This is explored in the context of the history of youth politics in Sri Lanka and post-war developments.

Long Abstract

The controversial Leadership Training for University Entrants (also called the Leadership Attitude and Positive Thinking Development Training) was introduced by the Ministry of Higher Education in Sri Lanka in collaboration with the Ministry of Defence. It provides university entrants with 3 weeks of "leadership training" at military camps across the country. It aims to address what are seen as failings of "discipline" on University campuses, and presumably, steer young people away from the radical politics of their processors. Our paper examines the content of this curious experiment, and contextualises it within the history of youth politics in Sri Lanka and the emerging authoritarian politics of post-war.

What is it all for? Educational distinction in Nepal's precarious labor market

Authors: Amanda Snellinger (University of Oxford)  email
David Gellner (University of Oxford)  email

Summary

Educational attainment is viewed as the key to a more secure life. But what happens when young people are unable to secure stable positions? This paper examines the meanings young Nepalis give to their education as they struggle to structure their lives amidst a grim employment environment.

Long Abstract

In the last twenty years, Nepal's literacy rate has increased by over thirty percent and the number of people earning their School Leaving Certificate has increased ten-fold. Families across socio-economic demographics have invested in their children's education in the hopes that it will yield salaried work (jagir), particularly in the government sector. Educational attainment is viewed as the key to a more secure life. But what happens when young people are unable to secure stable positions? How do they make meaning of their education after they fail to reach the end in which they initially invested? This paper examines the meanings young Nepalis give to their education as they struggle to structure their lives amidst a grim employment environment. The level of precarity in their lives may not differ much from what their parents have experienced, but yet they make sense of their possibilities and responsibilities differently. These young people see themselves as capable of moving beyond the local sphere of agricultural work and wage labour to pursue entrepreneurial and professional paths both in Nepal and abroad. Education has imbued them with the confidence to change their own lives and communities for the better. They draw distinctions between themselves and their less educated peers, claiming that their education allows them to "speak" on behalf of others. They frame their educational development within the context of the country's and their community's development and prioritize reinvesting in their families and communities to reciprocate the initial investment that was made in them.

Navigating educated youth unemployment in Sri Lanka

Author: Dhana Hughes (Durham University)  email

Summary

The proposed paper is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted with educated unemployed youth in Sri Lanka. It examines the perspectives and experiences of educated young Sri Lankans as they attempt to 'transition' from education to work in post-war Sri Lanka.

Long Abstract

The problem of educated youth unemployment in Sri Lanka has captured political and public attention in recent decades, not least because of the pivotal role played by educated unemployed young people in violent insurrections against the state. The provision of free education post-independence, has led to the rapid growth of an educated and aspirational youth population. However, there remain problems concerning the distribution and quality of education. Moreover, encroaching corruption and political patronage in the state employment sector, along with the failure of the socio-economic and political structures to provide decent employment opportunities on an equitable basis, have led to a disappointing gulf between aspirations and 'lived realities'. For many educated young Sri Lankans from marginalised backgrounds, the 'social goods' associated with 'adulthood', most importantly secure employment, appear to move further from their grasp. This paper examines how young Sri Lankans negotiate their social and political worlds as they attempt to move from education to work. The paper considers how 'youth' is experienced; the meaning attached to education; the navigation of politics in the arenas of education and work; and young people's hopes and aspirations for the future in post-war Sri Lanka.

What's at stake? Frustrations with achieving adulthood around the globe

Author: Deborah Durham (Sweet Briar College)  email

Summary

The paper examines frustrations with achieving adulthood around the globe.

Long Abstract

A long abstract will follow

Literacy activism and the politics of Enlightenment in Tamil India

Author: Francis Cody (University of Toronto)  email

Summary

This paper is about the contradictions that arise in youth literacy activism in southern India.

Long Abstract

Since the early 1990s hundreds of thousands of Tamil youth have participated in literacy lessons, science demonstrations, and other events designed to transform their fellow villagers into active citizens with access to state power. These efforts to spread enlightenment among the oppressed are part of a movement known as the Arivoli Iyakkam (the Enlightenment Movement), considered to be among the most successful mass literacy movements in recent history. In their endeavors to remake the Tamil countryside through literacy activism, Tamil youth found that their own understanding of the politics of writing and Enlightenment was often transformed as they encountered vastly different notions of language and imaginations of social order. While activists of the movement successfully mobilized large numbers of rural women, they did so through logics that often pushed against the very Enlightenment rationality they hoped to foster.

Escaping 'faltu': political practices of educated unemployed youth in Nepal

Author: Jeevan Sharma (University of Edinburgh)  email

Summary

This paper offers discussion on how these young men deal with uncertainties arising from shortage of salaried jobs in the country and struggle they go through in their attempt to find salaried employment (jagir).

Long Abstract

Given that formal education is increasingly valued as a part of young men's life course and key aspect of dominant masculinity across different caste and ethnic groups, failing to get its return in terms of salaried employment is a major challenge for them. The increasing number of saichik berojgar, as they are known in media and policy documents, in the context of widespread exodus of young men in search of job opportunities outside of Nepal is a major part of policy discourses. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork amongst educated youth in search of salaried employment in Nepal, this paper offers discussion on how these young men deal with uncertainties arising from shortage of and stiff competition for salaried jobs in the country and struggle they go through in their attempt to find salaried employment (jagir). While going abroad for employment (bidesh tira jane) offers a major source of escape for many, others may join political parties, work as activists or volunteers, open NGOs or work as fixers (dalas). In particular, this paper focuses on the participation of these youth in political activities in their communities, universities/colleges and beyond. Each of these strategies allows youth to escape being labelled as faltu, a label that signifies idleness and uselessness.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.