P193 – A Rebellious Youth? Ethnographic Perspectives
9 July, 14:00-15:30

Champy Muriel / LESC
Peatrik Anne-Marie / LESC


Studies of armed conflicts, local political claims or vast democratization movements on the African continent have often focused on the central role of youth in these contests, giving political mobilization in Africa a generational undertone. This literature generally seems to hesitate between the pessimism stirred by a “lost generation”, “temporary subversives, aspirant elitists” and the fascination for a fiery and creative “youth” yearning “to redress the wrongs of contemporary society and remake the world”. Here, the generation of the structural adjustment plans appears to be stuck in a paradox: facing a striking lack of opportunities, they represent the future.
This panel aims at giving a new impulse to the abundant literature aroused by “the African youth” by adopting a relational and dynamic approach, considerate of the particularities of each context and which does not presume the existence of “youth” as a distinct age group characterized by specific aspirations. Privileging a thorough ethnographic approach and attentive to the new questionings and objects this scale of observation can raise, this panel thus seeks to further develop a critical anthropology of “youth”.

Une jeunesse contestataire ? Approches ethnographiques

Qu’ils traitent de conflits armés, de violences localisées ou de vastes mobilisations démocratiques, les travaux sur les mouvements africains de contestation se sont largement focalisés sur le rôle central joué par la jeunesse, donnant à la mobilisation politique en Afrique la forme d’un phénomène générationnel. Les travaux sur la jeunesse semblent pourtant hésiter entre le pessimisme suscité par une « génération perdue », des « subversifs éphémères, aspirant à l’élite » et la fascination pour une « jeunesse » fougueuse et créative qui s’attacherait à « redresser les maux de la société contemporaine et à produire un monde meilleur». Les jeunes de la génération des plans d’ajustement structurels sont pris dans un paradoxe : se heurtant à un manque évident d’opportunités, ils représentent l’avenir.
En privilégiant une approche en termes de relations et de dynamiques, il s’agit de donner un souffle nouveau face à l’abondante littérature suscitée par « la jeunesse africaine », en revenant à une démarche ethnographique attentive aux particularités de chaque contexte et qui ne se contente pas de postuler l’existence de cette catégorie d’âge ni la spécificité de ses aspirations. Grâce à une approche ethnographique approfondie de ce niveau d’observation, en étant attentif aux nouveaux questionnements et objets d’études qu’elle peut susciter, il s’agit ainsi de poursuivre le développement d’une anthropologie critique de la « jeunesse ».

Paper 1

Rasmussen Susan / University of Houston

Contesting and Re-Situating the Experience of Youth: Intergenerational Themes in Tuareg (Kel Tamajaq) Verbal Art Performance

Valuable studies of youth in anthropology consider local concepts of what it means to be “youth” in relation to contested and changing intergenerational experiences and relationships. However, there is still the need to convey more nuanced concepts of age as relational, dynamic, and debated, rather than categorical or consensual. Similarly, what it means to “rebel” in local cultural perspective—what is being protected, being resisted, and by whom in relation to age, needs reconsideration. In northern Niger and Mali, Tuareg (Kel Tamajaq) rebellions, return of labor migrants from post-Ghadaffi Libya, and widened armed conflicts have prompted different generations in Tuareg communities to pursue dialogues with each other addressing both dangers and opportunities in these upheavals. The proposed paper will analyze local re-formulations of meanings and connections of “youth” and resistance in urban festival performances featuring verbal art with intergenerational themes, which address “the experience of youth”. The paper will explore age-related self-concepts and aspirations in these performances’ imagery, and analyze how this imagery reveals emergent perspectives on youth, age, and resistance. In these processes, are concepts of relationships among youth, age, tradition, and change reinforced or de-stabilized?

Paper 2

Iwilade Akin / University of Oxford

On centered marginality: everyday agency and the (dis)connections of youthful living in Nigeria’s Oil Delta

Drawing on the lived experiences of four young men currently enrolled in the 2009 Presidential Amnesty programme launched to resolve a decade of violence in Nigeria’s oil rich Delta, this paper raises questions about the notion of marginality and how it is articulated. It examines the ways in which ‘youth’ as a sociological category uses ‘marginality’ as a resource with which to construct meaning out of life in violent contexts. By focusing on the innovative ways through which young people express agency, the paper highlights both the disempowering and empowering features of youthful living in the Delta and notes that even the young people most deeply embedded in the networks of accumulation in the region- the youth militants- tend to instrumentalise ‘marginality’ as a social tactic to navigate the perverse incentives of the oil economy. These are ‘marginal’ young men circulating at the very center of accumulation, politics and social life in the region. In making these claims, the paper uses ethnographic data to demonstrate the utility of ‘marginality’ and to question how we frame power in uncertain contexts where key markers of stability –government, state, tradition, religion, gender, territory- are being intensely questioned. It uses the manipulation of ‘marginality’ by ex-militants in the oil rich Delta region of Nigeria to show the politics surrounding the very notion of youth and how this politics frames access to networks of accumulation and violence.

Paper 3

Montaz Léo / CEPED

Considérer la jeunesse comme catégorie sociale et groupe stratégique : un exemple ivoirien

Cette communication vise à donner une piste heuristique pour l’analyse de la « jeunesse » . Plutôt que de débattre sur la difficile délimitation de cette catégorie, nous souhaitons proposer une possibilité de l’appréhender à la fois dans ses dimensions sociales, culturelles, matérielles (la « culture jeune ») et à la fois comme un groupe social en « jeu » avec d’autres.
Pour cela, nous considérons la jeunesse comme une catégorie sociale particulière, que l’on pourrait rapprocher des « catégories de l’altérité », mais aussi comme un « groupe stratégique » au sens d’Olivier de Sardan, c’est à dire un groupe en jeu dans un « champ » au sens bourdieusien.
En analysant les attitudes et les interactions des jeunes ruraux ivoiriens pour l’accès à la terre dans un contexte conflictuel avec des étrangers et des aînés, nous souhaitons montrer comment cette démarche permet d’éviter certains écueils dans l’utilisation de la catégorie jeune. Elle permet à la fois d’enrichir le débat sur la « révolution générationnelle » de la jeunesse africaine et de préciser les aspects divers et contradictoires de la « catégorie jeune ». Nous analyserons les relations des jeunes dans le « champ foncier » selon trois axes : intragénérationnel, intergénérationnel et intercommunautaire. Nous mettrons en rapport ces relations entretenues localement avec des mobilisations plus larges dites « générationnelles ». Enfin, nous montrerons l’impact de la « culture jeune » sur ces relations.

Paper 4

Sackey-Martin Shirley / School of Oriental and African Studies

Present, but Absent: the Paradox of Ghanaian Diasporic Youth in Transnational Migrant Organizations

In this paper, I explore the paradox of the lack of participation of Ghanaian migrant youth in transnational organizations in New York City and London. Although I witnessed the desire of Ghanaian youth to make a place for themselves in the city by asserting their presence in numerous ways, at the meetings of migrant organizations, youth were notable by their absence, despite many references by the organizations themselves to encourage youth ‘participation’. I attempt to explain this absence. The organizations claim to have an open-door policy towards youth, and frequently cite wanting to encourage their ‘participation’ for ‘the preservation of Ghanaian culture’ Despite this, it seemed evident that young Ghanaians consciously avoid involvement in these local migrant organizations, as they perceived incompatible hierarchal and patriarchal relations, a high level of ethnic tension, divisive politics, and various regulations that make age and status a prerequisite for real participation and leadership. They appeared to find their structures restrictive, and to inadequately represent their concerns and reflect the realities of growing up and living in the city. Many youth further asserted that the popular desire to ‘preserve Ghanaian culture’ as a key organizational objective for many Ghanaian migrant organizations, has resulted in essentialist, static, monolithic, and idealistic policies that fail to account for the historical, spatial and conceptual changes that occur over time.

Paper 5

N’Guessan Konstanze / Mainz University

Doing being youth in Côte d’Ivoire: the fiftieth anniversary of independence and the post-electoral crisis from a memory perspective

In this paper I look at the imagination of a generation of youth as the vanguard force of an on-going struggle for independence and a new nation in Côte d’Ivoire. During the 2010/2011 post-electoral crisis, young men in Abidjan actually took up arms to fight against what they believed was the threatening ‘re-colonization’ of their nation via the installation of Alassane Ouattara as president. Instrumentalist explanations of youth being turned into militias and their moral and economic lack of perspectives being exploited by power greedy politicians fail to explain why young people who had no living memories of colonization and the decolonization process drew upon this era to construct genealogies of resistance and why this strategy of youth mobilization was so ‘successful’. I examine the process of how youth is made a meaningful marker and how and why political actors engage in performances of being youth. My analysis of expressions and performances of ‘doing being youth’ helps to understand how the label ‘youth’ is used to mark membership in or exclusion from a collective and highlights the interconnections between political discourses of renewal and the politics of commemoration. The paper is based on ethnographic research among young memory entrepreneurs in Côte d’Ivoire in 2010 and 2013 as well as archival research.

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