Accepted Paper:

Spaces of transition? Trajectories of juvenile assertion in urban Côte d'Ivoire  


Karel Arnaut (KULeuven)

Paper short abstract:

Youth groups in Abidjan (Côte d'Ivoire) have been repositioning themselves in society by reshaping public and semi-public sites. This paper asks whether these can best be seen as constituting a 'transitional public sphere' or as leading to novel socialities through enclavation or rescaling.

Paper long abstract:

Throughout the low intensity civil war which started in 2002, a rhetoric of youth affirmation and nationalist 'patriotic' defiance has invaded the Ivorian public sphere at least in urban centres such as Abidjan. The immensely popular people's parliaments are the most conspicuous sites where this rhetoric is flourishing. These self-styled 'spaces of free expression' partly replace and/or extend the conventional democratic infrastructure of political parties, national parliament, as well as the media. As such they constitute operational bases for gaining access to the regular civil and political society. In most of the current literature on this subject, people's parliaments are seen as part of a 'transitional public sphere' (Shukra) that connects subaltern and mainstream forms of activism.

This paper explores in what sense an approach in terms of 'spaces of transition' also applies to other newly emerging heterotopias in the Abidjanais public sphere. The ongoing conflict has seen patriotic youth groups of different sorts — ranging from cultural associations to armed militias — also occupying and transforming other public and semi-public sites such as hotels and cafés, schools, and even army camps. This paper tries to grasp what has been happening in these spaces by looking at how some of these youth organisations have given shape to them. While being based on ethnographic research in Abidjan since 2003, this paper analytically ties in with current research on (a) public sphere and civil society after the spatial turn and (b) non-state forms of governance and governmentality.

Panel W080
Diverse and shared publics: politics of entitlement and commemoration