Unspectacular Youth - Practicing the everyday in urban/rural Africa
Date and Start Time 01 July, 2017 at 14:00
The panel highlights everyday practices of youth in Africa. Rather than focusing on exceptional phenomena, which commonly leads to a depiction of youth as heroes or victims, we promote the value of research on routines. This might enable a better understanding of youths' everyday experiences.
The field of youth studies seeks to conceptualize "youth" and describe its practices. To do so, researchers have looked to experiences such as war, revolution, poverty, etc., and the discourse that emerges captures a tension in these spectacular circumstances to cast youth as danger or potential, victims or heroes, stuck or dynamic, excluded or included. The delineation of a distinct agency appropriated by young Africans is an important step towards a comprehensive understanding of the implications of youth. But what if researchers also inquired youths' everyday practices and experiences of the world? By looking at the unspectacular - that is routines and (possibly) ruptures of the everyday, we hope to get a different and deeper understanding of the experiences. We are interested in motives and ambitions of youth whose life-worlds are not structured by the spectacular phenomena that suspend the predictability of their environment. Therefore, we are further interested in the mutual influence of youths and their social environment, and in the way urban or rural contexts impact their repertoires and ambitions.
Instead of asking what youth is, this panel intends to discuss questions like:
What do young people do?
What constitutes their everyday and how do they experience it?
What motivates their actions?
What are the dynamics of the "unspectacular"?
We welcome papers based on ethnographic research.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Understanding life through everyday practices: an ethnography of a male youth in a rural town of eastern Uganda
This presentation draws on long-term ethnographic research to consider how the everyday practices of a male youth in a rural town in eastern Uganda inform us about youth aspirations, struggles, achievements, and attitudes. It also underlines the fluidity of the urban-rural nexus.
The topic of African youth tends to be discussed with an eye to the broader political implications of this rapidly growing population. That is, does the sheer number of youth in Africa (hence the oft-invoked term 'youth bulge') pose specific challenges to state stability, and how will underdeveloped economies absorb them? While far from inconsequential, this approach tends to overlook the highly variegated experiences of youth in Africa. These experiences are most accessible through ethnographic research methods, and this presentation draws on my ethnographic research in the rural town of Soroti in the Teso sub-region of eastern Uganda. Taking Michael, a young man who I have known since 2012, I consider how or whether his everyday practices inform us about youth attitudes, aspirations, achievements, and challenges, more generally. These everyday practices—characteristically unspectacular—range from preparing meals for lunch, to shopping for materials for a home he is constructing, to traveling to the village to visit his family, and to socializing in drinking joints in peri-urban areas of Soroti. While I refer to Soroti as a rural town, it is rapidly urbanizing; yet, as demonstrated by Michael, cultural, economic, and emotional linkages to the village remain prominent—even for someone who resides in town. Anthropologists have long recognized the fluidity of the urban-rural nexus in Africa, and Michael's life course, his social networks, and his motivations in life further enrich our appreciation of this dynamic.
Winning at a losing game: love, friendship and the everyday in Freetown, Sierra Leone
Through accompanying members of the ‘Eat as You Can’ social club in Freetown in their day-to-day lives, this paper focuses on love relationships and explores the interconnection between material, cultural and social conditions and daily romantic struggles which often erupt in violence.
For the 'EAT as You Can' (EAUC) social club and their (changing) partners sex, love and friendship take centre stage in their daily routines. They look sometimes with joking, sometimes with sarcastic clarity at the economic and social boundaries of their lives which they feel are not flexible, but rigid and, if not for a miracle, permanent. My interlocutors are not focused on hope, on longing for a different future, but on present reality. As self-ascribed idlers but well-off enough to cover their basic needs, relationships are the focus of their daily routines. I am interested in the ways in which relationships are lived among young people in Freetown in the everyday and explore the interconnection between material, cultural and social conditions and daily romantic struggles which often erupt in violence. EAUC members organize their days around being with their friends, chasing sexual partners, finding love and avoiding being trapped by it. They spend hours daily strategizing how to how to find the balance between the right portion of emotions to enjoy oneself and gain something without rendering oneself vulnerable. Friends are the centre of these negotiations. Underneath and above all these movements are ideals of woman- and manhood. Broken down into different life stages, local conceptions of masculinity and femininity have a huge influence on people's everyday lives. In this paper, I therefore examine what gendered expectations and ideals are 'doing' in young people's daily lives and in their (romantic) relationships and what happens when they are 'undone'?
What Politics? Youth and political engagements in contemporary Africa
The paper presents a book project that bridges the habitual spectacularization of youthful agency in Youth Studies and the research on everyday struggles of young people.
The suggested paper presents a book project that tries to bridge gap between the habitual spectacularization of youthful agency in Youth Studies and the research on everyday struggles of young people, by examining politics in both revolutions and bedrooms, and theorizing the divide. The book focuses on young people's political engagements in contemporary Africa, but explicitly wishes to expand the horizon to the political in less obvious ways, including apathy, consumption, dreams, desires, and material struggles. The book's conclusions will suggest that the dichotomous separation between spectacular/romanticized and mundane is an unhelpful distinction, and rather, we will advocate an expansion of the scholarly interest in youth research to include the contextual and political in any study of life-worlds.
The Associative Movement: the New Torch of Youth in Zinder city, Niger Republic
After years of violence, Zinder's youth in Niger comes out from shadow with a new face. This paper describes while analyzing how youth associations mobilize informal peer groups, called "fada and palais", to participate in the sociopolitical process and local development
Lately in Niger, Zinder city was associated with violent demonstrations which caused varied damages. Those events are generally charged to youth which, gained by unemployment and precariousness, acts from spaces of meeting of which the most active are "fada and palais" (UNICEF, 2012). The latter are indeed small peer groups whose members, aged from 15 to 25 years, are mainly males, who sit around the tea in different streets of Zinder for chatting. These groups are sadly famous for their antisocial intrigues at the point where the words of "fada and palais" mean, in Zinder, idleness and delinquency.
To tackle this situation, some youth leaders, supported by development partners and other actors, mobilize themselves to carry another message: making the youth to participate in the local development and sociopolical process. For this purpose, they create associations which federate those "fada and palais", previously informal and often antagonists. Structures resulting from this new dynamics gather nowadays hundreds of members around citizenship ideals. Thus, they initiate and organize forums and caravans to sensitize their members on non-violence, associative leadership and citizenship culture. In Zinder, henceforth these associations are formally recognized like development actors and members of the local civil society organizations.
Based on anthropological methods of collecting data, this contribution tries to react to the following questions :
Who are those youth associations? Which actions do they carry out in Zinder city? What agendas do they follow ? Which goals do they aim? How do they gather and mobilize "fada and palais"?
Waiting to Become a Man: "Youth", Waithood, and Daily Life in Tunisia
The paper analyzes the life stories of Tunisian youth living in the southern governorate of Gafsa. These youths are structurally prevented from becoming adults, and their daily life is shaped by routine and boredom. In this situation, little events can reshape their notions of time and future.
The so-called "Jasmine revolution" has seen the emergence in the scientific literature of the figure of youth as new actors in Tunisian public space. Bloggers, artists and unemployed graduates have been portrayed as the protagonists of a political change with strong generational connotations.
Scarce attention, however, has been payed to the analysis of the structural conditions that not only restrict the possibilities for young people's social realization, but that contribute to redefine the very concept of youth in Tunisia. It is defined not only by particular local conceptions about the passage to adulthood, but also by the structural conditions that restrict or favor it.
Especially for males, adult status is attained only when an individual is able to buy a house, marry a woman, and have children. In a situation of economic and social crisis as that experienced in the post-revolutionary context, the life paths of young people have become more and more subject to the condition of "waithood".
To define youth on a quantitative basis as cohort is thus very difficult, since it is possible to meet unemployed men in their thirties who have not made their transition to adulthood because they don't have the economic capital necessary to finance a wedding.
Based on Emma Murphy's concept of "generational narrative", the communication will outline the life stories of some "young" people in southern urban Tunisia in order to analyze how routine and little, unexpected events like a possible marriage can shape their daily life, and how time become a dimension of marginality.
"She's trans-generational": Digital boundary work and the figure of the 'analphabet'
This paper uses social networking sites, Facebook and Twitter, as terrains to explore youth as a contested cultural and symbolic category in Guinea.
This paper draws on ethnographic research to explore changing constructions of youth as mediated by the practice of social networking in Guinea. In recent years, having a page on Facebook or Twitter has emerged as a key 'marker' of youth in Guinea, and the practice is at heart of complex re-articulation of generational authority and what is means to be young today. For the purpose of this paper literacy, broadly conceived, provides a key lens through which to make sense of these changing mediations of youth. I begin with an exploration of the practice of young Guinean Internet-users to expose errors made in French in Guinean official documents. This leads to an interrogation of the figure of the analphabet in discussions and videos shared on Facebook and Twitter. In particular, here I am interested in how new knowledge forms associated with digital literacies are reconfiguring generational relations and authority in Guinea. I then turn to the porous movements between street knowledge that youth need to 'get by' in the Guinea and the technical skills that are necessary to operate on social networking sites. I conclude by reflecting on the role of social media as a key agent in the remaking of generation, youth and distributed agency in urban Guinea today
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.