Throughout Africa, youth is seeking new paths towards an accomplished adulthood. Alternative modes of accomplishment find a foothold among the youth, through engagement in vigilante groups or in religious movements. How such changes modify the production of contemporary masculinity and femininity?
Throughout sub-Saharan Africa, as in other parts of the world, scholars recognize that the passage from youth into adulthood can provoke a crisis. In pre-colonial times, when one lacked the material resources needed for asserting their adult status (e.g. by paying bridewealth), such crises were often resolved through alternative modes of action (e.g. raiding wealth and women; conquering new lands). Today, however, in many places in Africa, it is increasingly harder to accomplish oneself following a traditional ethos of self-accomplishment. This is due both to practical reasons (e.g. exponential increase in bridewealth) and to changing social values. Indeed, fast-paced socio-economic transformations and multiple challenges (e.g. urban migration, joblessness, corruption, etc.), together with the demographic growth of a significant youth bulge, complicate what it means to become an adult woman or man, and the ways to reach this status. Many young people feel torn between value systems, as they find that old paths for self-accomplishment and social recognition are blocked even as new ones are just as unattainable.
This interdisciplinary panel will engage with the hypothesis that, throughout East Africa, young men and women are seeking new paths towards an accomplished adulthood. We will consider how alternative worlds of content and modes of social approval find a foothold among the frustrated youth, notably through engagement in vigilante groups or in new religious movements. We will consider how such changes weigh in on the definition and production of contemporary masculinity and femininity, as well as on household structures (e.g. growth of monoparental families).