Accepted Paper:

Understanding life through everyday practices: an ethnography of a male youth in a rural town of eastern Uganda  


Matt Kandel (University of Southampton)

Paper short abstract:

This presentation draws on long-term ethnographic research to consider how the everyday practices of a male youth in a rural town in eastern Uganda inform us about youth aspirations, struggles, achievements, and attitudes. It also underlines the fluidity of the urban-rural nexus.

Paper long abstract:

The topic of African youth tends to be discussed with an eye to the broader political implications of this rapidly growing population. That is, does the sheer number of youth in Africa (hence the oft-invoked term 'youth bulge') pose specific challenges to state stability, and how will underdeveloped economies absorb them? While far from inconsequential, this approach tends to overlook the highly variegated experiences of youth in Africa. These experiences are most accessible through ethnographic research methods, and this presentation draws on my ethnographic research in the rural town of Soroti in the Teso sub-region of eastern Uganda. Taking Michael, a young man who I have known since 2012, I consider how or whether his everyday practices inform us about youth attitudes, aspirations, achievements, and challenges, more generally. These everyday practices—characteristically unspectacular—range from preparing meals for lunch, to shopping for materials for a home he is constructing, to traveling to the village to visit his family, and to socializing in drinking joints in peri-urban areas of Soroti. While I refer to Soroti as a rural town, it is rapidly urbanizing; yet, as demonstrated by Michael, cultural, economic, and emotional linkages to the village remain prominent—even for someone who resides in town. Anthropologists have long recognized the fluidity of the urban-rural nexus in Africa, and Michael's life course, his social networks, and his motivations in life further enrich our appreciation of this dynamic.

Panel P094
Unspectacular Youth - Practicing the everyday in urban/rural Africa