W059


Political ruptures and political subjectivities: how do young generations make sense of their world in a context of uncertainty? 
Convenorss:
Judith Hayem (Université Lille CLERSE)
Molemo Moiloa (Market Photo Workshop)
Michael Neocosmos (University of South Africa)
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Format:
Workshops
Location:
V303
Sessions:
Friday 13 July, 11:30-13:15 (UTC+0)

Short Abstract:

How do generations born after a political rupture make sense of their uncertain present? Papers must combine ethnographic material with theoretical or epistemological reflection regarding ways to analyze political subjectivities in uncertain contexts beyond political ruptures.

Long Abstract

Mai 1968, the fall of the Berlin wall, the end of apartheid, etc. those political ruptures have often led to describing the following generations as being "post-evental". Although the youth did not experience the historical moments in relation to which their subjectivities have been accounted for, they are supposed to acknowledge that the world they belong to has been transformed by them in a positive or a negative way. Older generations in particular might expect young people to think positively of their present with regards to the past or to deplore today because yesterday is understood as a golden age. More often than not however, forms of thinking and political subjectivities of the "post-evental" generations are not in conformity with such chronologies. They do not see their world as a better one but as an uncertain one, although they hopefully might see some novel perspectives and possibilities in it. The workshop welcomes ethnographies and anthropological analyses in a comparative perspective. It will focus on various "post" generations in the world and will examine how their political subjectivities deal with the uncertainty of a present, beyond major political ruptures. The papers might either focus on youth perceptions of their uncertain present or on the possibilities they may see in it, in spite of or thanks to the previous rupture, or they could focus on the conflict of subjectivities between former and new generations. Papers must combine ethnographic material with epistemological reflection regarding ways to analyze political subjectivities in uncertain contexts beyond political ruptures.

Accepted papers:

Author:

Judith Hayem (Université Lille CLERSE)

Paper short abstract:

In South Africa nowadays, young people born after the end of apartheid are commonly called the "born free generations" . The paper examines how inhabitants of Daveyton, born after the end of apartheid, use the words "apartheid" and "free" when they consider their present situation and the opportunities or lack of it they enjoy.This analysis allows for a better understanding of their own rationalities and subjectivities wether they consider past times as a central reference or not.

Paper long abstract:

In the last few years, the idea that generations born after the end of apartheid were "born free" has become a common say in South Africa. Interviewed on this qualifier, young people often claim they are now "free" to do whatever they like and simultaneously complain that life does not offer them the "opportunities" they long for or the society they dream to live in. In the meantime, media and scholars tend to depict those new "born free" generations as politically unconscious and sometimes even "criminal" because they would not have a clear political and historical knowledge of the Struggle against apartheid. This would be one reason for their lack of orientation and, they say, their unruly behavior. Based on an ethnographic observation in the black township of Daveyton and interviews with over 40 young people aged 20 to 35 years old, the paper seeks to analyze in details the role and meaning of the word "apartheid" in the youth discourse, actions and forms of thinking in order to shed light on their conceptions of present times and possible futures. Is it a central issue for them to make sense of post-apartheid, a chronological dating? Is it seen as politics or facts or even something else and how does that impact the reasoning of the youth and their possible aspirations towards the future? In order to find out, I will analyze the meaning of the word as they use it. The word "free" will be questioned in a similar way.

Author:

Sara Lei Sparre (University of Copenhagen)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the role of fear, hope and uncertainty in the forms of thinking and political subjectivities of a particular group of young middle class Egyptians in relation to their parents’ generation.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores the role of fear, hope and uncertainty in the forms of thinking and political subjectivities of a particular group of young middle class Egyptians who are engaged in society through various religiously-motivated community service activities. I argue that their civic engagement reflects a 'fresh contact' (Mannheim 1952) with, and thus a reinterpretation of, experiences and feelings of fear, hope and uncertainty passed down from their parents.

The parents' formative years were during an earlier political rupture and thus a certain political subjectivity of fear was passed on to their children. In 1981, former president Sadat was assassinated by a militant Islamist, and Mubarak initiated a widespread crackdown on, and suspicion campaign against, all possible oppositional activists. Consequently, the older generation came to favor political stability over a quest for political influence and change, because it was equated with security and thus a prerequisite for realizing individual hopes and aspirations. For the young, in contrast, stability is seen as a continuation of hopelessness, injustice and insecurity, which is why they emphasize a broader social horizon and social engagement. It is a common assumption that Egypt's recent political rupture will lead to a new political subjectivity among the youth. This paper nuances this assumption by pointing to the importance of viewing the situation of youth after political rupture in the light of their situation before. Their political subjectivity is equally defined by the cultural material inherited from their parents as by whether they demonstrated at Tahrir Square or not.

Author:

Filipe Martins (CRIA/UMinho; CEDH - Catholic University of Portugal)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on ethnographic research in urban Cape, young people's uncertainty towards the future is analysed in generational perspective, both in its historical, social and interpersonal dimensions. Hope is argued as central category in the generational arena that produces local subjectivities.

Paper long abstract:

This paper draws on ethnographic research in urban Cape Verde, focused on social trajectories of poor young people in a rapidly changing context. Since the independence in 1975 Cape Verde was under a single party socialist regime until 1991, then followed by a neoliberal multipartidary system. These economical, political and social changes led contemporary youth to a paradoxical place between broadening and globalized social aspirations and a reduced field of possibilities locally available (work, housing, education, consumption) stressing youth's social vulnerability and uncertainty towards the future.

I suggest that this paradoxical place of youth is best understood if framed in generational perspective. Confronting adult's representations (about their own youth as well as about contemporary youth) with youths' own narratives (about their life courses and imagined futures), generations, both as historical landmarks of meaning and morality, as social fields of power and conflict, and as interpersonal networks of reciprocity and mobility, emerge as central locus of meaning and practice in youths' social trajectories. Ethnographic examples of all these aspects will be provided.

Of particular salience in the generational arena is the category o hope, often used by adults to symbolize their past youth and to describe/ascribe present youth social potential (and national expectations) as well as used by youths themselves to capture their uncertain futures, frequently asserting a positive but powerless attitude. These ambiguities of hope conflate local notions of time, morality and power central to the making of subjects and subjectivities in contemporary Cape Verde.

(EN)

Author:

Kinga Pozniak (University of Western Ontario)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the experiences, subjectivities, strategies and possibilities on the part of Poland’s post-socialist generation, focusing especially on the context of work. It also problematizes and interrogates the concepts of post-generation and uncertainty.

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines the experiences, subjectivities, strategies, and possibilities on the part of Poland's post-socialist generation, focusing especially on the context of work. In Poland, socialism's collapse constitutes a major rupture which delineates those who have substantial life experiences - and memories of them - from those who do not. Young Poles are popularly seen as having opportunities unparalleled to those of their elders, but also as facing new challenges such as lack of job security. These views are created and reinforced in part by narratives pertaining to the socialist past: while hegemonic accounts depict the socialist period as a time of repression, resistance and inefficiencies, alternative accounts highlight the stability and certainty of the social safety net which has since eroded. Nonetheless, young people's impressions of the socialist past are mostly negative, and they see little use for it in addressing current issues. This paper draws on the work of Abrams (1980), Reulecke (2008) and Kertzer (1982) to problematize and interrogate the category of post-generations. It argues that while watershed historical moments lead to the creation of new generations, generations are both constructed as well as reflected through their different characteristics. Furthermore, there are both overlaps between generations, as well as cohort differences within them. Lastly, the paper interrogates the concept of uncertainty, suggesting that young people who have grown up in what their elders deem to be a prolonged period of uncertainty may perceive this state of things as the norm, rather than an aberration from it (cf. Markowitz 2000, Roberts 2003).

Author:

Katrin Ullmann (Heinrich-Heine Universität Düsseldorf)

Paper short abstract:

Based on semi-structured interviews with young adults from Western and Southeast Europe, two different forms of "post-evental" generations are compared. Furthermore, common sorrows of these young generations are studied against the background of a glocalized present.

Paper long abstract:

Based on semi-structured interviews with young adults from different countries (20-30 years old), the question to what extent a global generation exists is studied. This question is of particular interest, given that up to now generations are widely assumed to be a concept of time, but their distribution in space is often ignored.

My paper focusses on information collected in interviews with young men and women from two European regions, both experiencing particular phases of the ‚post-evental':

One group is from Western Europe. They know war only from the media or from ‚authentic' narratives of their grandparents. In their interviews war only exists as a transmitted memory, though having an impact on the present. The other group is from Southeast Europe (i.e. former Yugoslavia). Compared to the former group, "post-evental" does not only refer to the Second World War and transmitted memories, but also to own experiences made during the war in former Yugoslavia. Thus, this group experienced two political ruptures, which (as shown in the interviews) is often reflected in a desire of the apolitical, including the retreat into private life and escapist dreams of getting away.

In contrast, in the interviews with young men and women from Western European countries the political is present in terms of political utopia referring to an upcoming, better Europe as a political and corporative unit.

However, in addition to these differences, the interviews also reveal similarities regarding the experience of the present in its global connections which is profoundly glocalized.

Author:

Cédric Masse (Research Centre on Political Action - University of Lausanne)

Paper short abstract:

We shall see in this paper the relationships between the formation of knowledge - notably the role of anthropology - and social actions within youth social movements from an ethnography carried out in the Portuguese context that remains marked by the Carnation Revolution.

Paper long abstract:

The "uncertainty" and "disquiet" conceptual dyad explains in an important way the phenomenon of youth social movements.

Notwithstanding, these feelings are often managed and overcome by ideal and material actions that emerge within movements and that can be subsumed under the notion of alter-politics. By ideal actions, movements' actors, inspired by philosophical and scientific theories - notably anthropology -, produce knowledge which question the current reality, identify its causes and build their identities. Similarly, activists generate axiological and normative collective beliefs, which define in a teleological way the future such as it must be. They think about themselves, that is, on who they are, where they come from and on who they should be. They follow a temporality in which the past (the memory of their social origins and of significant historical facts), the present (their current life) and, more significantly, the becoming (projections of invented and desired selves that can become possible and be concretised within forthcoming projects and actions) are intellectually and emotionally reworked but not necessarily in a linear way. By material actions, movements are public spheres, areas of life-world open to the (in)formation, communication and debates on public issues, notably via assemblies. Both ideal and material actions entail an intensive cognitive praxis.

Thus, we shall see in this paper more in detail the relationships between the formation of knowledge - notably the role of anthropology - and social actions within youth movements from an ethnography carried out in the Portuguese context that remains marked by the Carnation Revolution.