Accepted paper:

Lazy youth and burdensome citizens: pandemics of 'problematised' youth in Panama


Bibiana Huggins (Lesotho College of Education)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the understanding of the Panamanian general public that Panamanian ninis’ (youth who don’t work or study) are lazy, idle and inactive. It suggests ninis actively rather than inactively participate in the moral economy through calculated decision-making about lifestyles and work.

Paper long abstract:

In an international context, the 'punitive turn' in youth surveillance has increasingly pitted youth idleness, joblessness and disengagement against a moralising neoliberal rhetoric of personal unrighteousness and responsibility (Wacquant 2009). Under this logic, the government of young subjects sees moral rationalities transformed so that inactive youth become identified as problematic for society. Drawing on 13 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Panama, this paper discusses the young Panamanian population known as ninis who do not work or study, instead preferring to pass their days playing computer games, sleeping, and acquiring brand name consumables. Ninis in Panama are often depicted as lazy and burdensome to a self-proclaimed modernising society whose new catch phrase was to seguir adelante (go forward, in Spanish). Viewed as 'parasites' and 'infantile', ninis' idleness was often met with anger and resentment from the general population and the media. Contrary to popular opinion however, ninis I interacted with exemplified a calculated decision making process and a high level of proactivity when choosing types of employment they preferred, the lifestyles they desired, and in measuring their own commitment to work. This paper ultimately argues that definitions of activity and inactivity with respect to employment are subjectively being shaped in Panama by a dominant neoliberal-centred ethos. I suggest Panamanian ninis do actively engage with the contemporary moral economy through their rejections of work, unsatisfactory employment conditions and 'lesser than' lifestyles.

panel Cit01
The moral economy of citizenship in late liberalism