Accepted Paper:

From marginalisation to 'active' citizenship - NGOs representation of youth agency during the Ebola response in Sierra Leone  

Author:

Alice Chadwick (University of Bath)

Paper short abstract:

Looking at how NGOs represent youth agency during the Ebola response in Sierra Leone, I argue that a narrative of transformation from youthful marginalisation to 'active' citizenship obscures structural causes of poverty and shapes what forms of agency are deemed acceptable.

Paper long abstract:

Young people have long been considered a marginalised group within development. This is especially true of Sierra Leone where youth grievances are considered a key cause of civil conflict in the 1990s. Concerns surrounding youth marginalisation remain despite an extensive youth focused development programme in the country. Within this agenda young people have emerged as a group with agency, but arguably what this agency looks like has often been determined by the agendas of development NGOs. In this paper I consider youth marginalisation and agency in relation to the Ebola response 2014-16, looking at how NGOs represent youth agency during the 'crisis'. Through empirical analysis of interviews with NGO staff and policy documents, I argue that NGOs make sense of young people's involvement in the Ebola response through a narrative of transformation from marginalisation to 'active' citizenship. This is in-keeping with normative narratives in development which see responsible citizenship as a route out of poverty. However, this focus acts to obscure the structural causes of youth inequality and further entrenches ideas of acceptable and non-acceptable forms of youth agency, within which challenging structural causes of poverty becomes obscured. During the Ebola response this played out in the creation of acceptable forms of behaviour in the form of youthful volunteering and non-acceptable forms in terms of protest. Understanding how NGOs represent youth agency in times of 'crisis' enables us to argue for more nuanced understandings of youth agency, which take account of structural causes of poverty and inequality.

Panel L01
The dynamics of youth inequalities: aspirations, agency and multidimensional poverty (Paper)