Accepted Paper:

Waiting to Become a Man: "Youth", Waithood, and Daily Life in Tunisia  


Stefano Pontiggia (Polytechnic University of Milan)

Paper short abstract:

The paper analyzes the life stories of Tunisian youth living in the southern governorate of Gafsa. These youths are structurally prevented from becoming adults, and their daily life is shaped by routine and boredom. In this situation, little events can reshape their notions of time and future.

Paper long abstract:

The so-called "Jasmine revolution" has seen the emergence in the scientific literature of the figure of youth as new actors in Tunisian public space. Bloggers, artists and unemployed graduates have been portrayed as the protagonists of a political change with strong generational connotations.

Scarce attention, however, has been payed to the analysis of the structural conditions that not only restrict the possibilities for young people's social realization, but that contribute to redefine the very concept of youth in Tunisia. It is defined not only by particular local conceptions about the passage to adulthood, but also by the structural conditions that restrict or favor it.

Especially for males, adult status is attained only when an individual is able to buy a house, marry a woman, and have children. In a situation of economic and social crisis as that experienced in the post-revolutionary context, the life paths of young people have become more and more subject to the condition of "waithood".

To define youth on a quantitative basis as cohort is thus very difficult, since it is possible to meet unemployed men in their thirties who have not made their transition to adulthood because they don't have the economic capital necessary to finance a wedding.

Based on Emma Murphy's concept of "generational narrative", the communication will outline the life stories of some "young" people in southern urban Tunisia in order to analyze how routine and little, unexpected events like a possible marriage can shape their daily life, and how time become a dimension of marginality.

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