VIRTUAL ISSUE: YOUTH
EDITORIAL INTRODUCTION: ANTHROPOLOGY AND YOUTH
By Roseann Liu, Amanda Snellinger, and Elizabeth Lewis
This virtual issue of Cultural Anthropology engages longstanding anthropological themes such as politics, religion, and consumption through the prism of youth. By selecting articles that are meant to generate discussions of broad disciplinary interest and that speak to contemporary concerns, including media, popular culture, and migration, we also want to invite new interlocutors to participate in the conversation on youth.
In this current historical moment, political and economic unrest is sweeping through North Africa and the Middle East. As youth are positioned, both figuratively and literally, at the forefront of these debates and protests, a better conceptualization of youth is urgently needed. Our heuristics for understanding youth have come a long way from when Margaret Mead pioneered the earliest influential study of youth that examined what “coming of age” meant for Samoan girls (Mead, 1928). Like Mead, other anthropologists also conceptualized youth as a liminal transitional life stage—i.e., no longer a child, but not yet an adult—and thus focused on the process of socialization (Evans-Pritchard, 1969; Malinowski, 1929; Turner, 1995). Beginning in the 1930s sociologists were also interested in youth, but mainly in how they deviated from societal norms (Becker, 1997; Cohen, 1955). While these early studies brought attention to youth as social actors, they were viewed as social actors situated in relation to dominant values and practices. This created an analytic blind spot that prevented us from seeing how youth are creative cultural agents in their own right—a blind spot that was addressed in the 1970s and 1980s, most centrally in the work of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (or commonly referred to as the “Birmingham School”) (Hall & Jefferson, 1990; Mungham & Pearson, 1976; Willis, 1981). The Birmingham School’s interest in youth was catalyzed by significant social and economic transformations occurring in Britain at the time and this led to the creation of various youth subcultures. This approach to studying youth culture was heavily influenced by a Marxist framework that overdetermined the role of class, while giving less credence to other forms of identity such as race, ethnicity, gender, and religion (c.f., Blackman 2005, McRobbie & Garber, 1990, Maira 1999). Since then, youth studies gained theoretical currency because they addressed these concerns, and because youth figured prominently in timely issues including migration, media, consumption, and popular culture brought on by increased flows of communications and commodities throughout the world (Allison 2009; Chua 2011; Favero 2002; Jeffrey 2010; Katz 2004; Liechty 1995; Mains 2007; Masquelier 2005; Weiss 2009). [For review essays on the anthropology of youth see (Amit-Talai & Wulff, 1995; Amit, 2001; Bucholtz, 2002; and Cole and Durham 2008)]
We have assembled a thought-provoking collection of five articles that will shed light on these contemporary concerns. Originally published in Cultural Anthropology between 2002 and 2009, this virtual issue aims to invigorate the dialogue around youth. As in the case of Ewing’s (2006) essay, her study of Turkish Muslim immigrant youth in Germany critically reassesses the concept of hybridity—a concept that has been significantly mobilized in migration literature. While acknowledging that scholars have roundly critiqued the concept of hybridity, Ewing argues that the trope of the hybrid immigrant youth continues to pervade media images and popular discourse. Thus Ewing insightfully argues that although the analytic utility of hybridity has worn thin, the way in which this trope is deployed and its social consequences nevertheless remain important as an object of study.
Also related to the theme of youth and media, Luvaas (2009) follows the Indonesian indie band “Mocca” as they struggle to shed traditional understandings of placehood, replacing them with a reconstituted version of the local—a version that is remade through its connection to global pop culture. His novel analysis shows how global musical trends are localized in complex ways, and that in the Indonesian indie music scene, “local” always implies a relationship with the global. This relationship, Luvaas argues, places the “local” on a global map, which supplants older models of the local that are often associated with distinction and isolation.
Similarly, Weiss (2002) engages a discussion of youth as it relates to the global/local dynamic by demonstrating that through urban Tanzanian male youth’s practice of imaginary, the global becomes specifically local. He provides a compelling analysis of the barbershop as a place where the imaginary is both conceived and enacted through everyday interactions. Through use of the term “thug realism”—i.e., Tanzanian youth’s dual experience of inclusion in and exclusion from global production—Weiss provides a sobering reminder that the imaginary is simultaneously one of hope and potential on the one hand, and of circumscription and boundaries on the other.
Also dealing with the role of imagination, but taking a somewhat different tack, Shaw (2007) deftly examines how Pentecostal youth in Freetown, displaced by a decade of armed conflict in Sierra Leone, re-imagine the war through a Pentecostal ontology of spiritual warfare. Through participation in religious activities, including theatrical productions, these youth reshape the legacy of violence, transforming it into a discourse of power rather than victimhood.
Echoing the theme of youth as creative agents, Lukose (2005) examines how male college students in Kerala, India act as political agents. She makes an important contribution to our theorization of youth by demonstrating how “youth” in Kerala is a gender inflected category and associated with masculine political agency. She connects this with larger questions regarding emergent meanings of democratic citizenship—meanings that are rooted in two competing views of the public—a political public, and a civic public.
Complimenting each these five essays, this virtual issue also boasts supplemental pages that we think you will find extremely useful (Ewing; Luvaas; Weiss; Shaw; and Lukose). These supplemental pages are chock full of interesting images, further insight about the essay derived from interviews with the authors, questions for class discussion, and additional references, among other things, and are meant to provide you with the tools you need for deeper engagement with the essays.
Finally, we are privileged to have Deborah Durham serving as the discussant for this virtual issue. As an esteemed scholar of the anthropology of youth, she will engage you in a cross-essay discussion between her and the authors that draws out the theme of youth. Through the articles, supplemental pages, and cross-essay discussion, we invite you to participate in what is sure to be a lively conversation about the contemporary study of youth, and its future.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Between Cinema and Social Work: Diasporic Turkish Women and the (Dis)Pleasures of Hybridity
Katherine Pratt Ewing
Cultural Anthropology, May 2006, Vol. 21, No. 2:265-294.
Against a backdrop of increasingly vocal assertions that Germany's growing Muslim immigrant population is resisting integration through the development of a “parallel society,” this article demonstrates how German social policy literature, the news media, and cinema converge to naturalize assumptions of cultural difference through a mythological process that generates polarized stereotypes of the cultural practices of Turks in Germany. This discourse freezes the Muslim woman as an oppressed other to the liberated Western woman and generates scripts for the liberation of Turkish women that limit their options by posing multiculturalism, hybridity, or humanistic individualism as the only models for integration. This discourse reinforces the misrecognition of practicing Muslims who are involved in Islamic groups or wear headscarves. I propose an alternative approach that focuses on the practical effects of competing discourses by tracing out ethnographically the micropolitics of everyday life to foreground the multiple positionings and identities that immigrants and their families occupy and to identify how they negotiate the contradictions and inconsistencies they experience.
Dislocating Sounds: The Deterritorialization of Indonesian Indie Pop
Cultural Anthropology, May 2009, Vol. 24, No. 2:246-279
Anthropologists often read the localization or hybridization of cultural forms as a kind of default mode of resistance against the forces of global capitalism, a means through which marginalized ethnic groups maintain regional distinctiveness in the face of an emergent transnational order. But then what are we to make of musical acts like Mocca and The Upstairs, Indonesian “indie” groups who consciously delocalize their music, who go out of their way, in fact, to avoid any references to who they are or where they come from? In this essay, I argue that Indonesian “indie pop,” a self-consciously antimainstream genre drawing from a diverse range of international influences, constitutes a set of strategic practices of aesthetic deterritorialization for middle-class Indonesian youth. Such bands, I demonstrate, assemble sounds from a variety of international genres, creating linkages with international youth cultures in other places and times, while distancing themselves from those expressions associated with colonial and nationalist conceptions of ethnicity, working-class and rural sensibilities, and the hegemonic categorical schema of the international music industry. They are part of a new wave of Indonesian musicians stepping onto the global stage “on their own terms” and insisting on being taken seriously as international, not just Indonesian, artists, and in the process, they have made indie music into a powerful tool of reflexive place making, a means of redefining the very meaning of locality vis-à-vis the international youth cultural movements they witness from afar.
Thug Realism: Inhabiting Fantasy in Urban Tanzania
Cultural Anthropology, February 2002, Vol. 17, No. 1:93-124
This essay analyzes the intersection of the imaginary and the global through the lens of Arusha, Tanzania's vibrant barbershop scene. How do imagined spaces and moments incorporate distant actors and realities, while also encompassing specific aspects of local life? In what ways does the interplay of living in and imagining worlds unfold in the distinctive sphere of Arusha's kinyozi, or barberships? Weiss argues that imaginative forms are not merely representation of global connections, but that they are constitutive of globalization itself. He positions fantasy as a critical form of social practice that, in turn, produces social facts that are crucial for understanding cultural expressions in Arusha and beyond.
Displacing Violence: Making Pentecostal Memory in Postwar Sierra Leone
Cultural Anthropology, February 2007, Vol. 22, No. 1:66-93
In this article, I seek to locate the anthropology of social recovery within the work of memory. Following a decade of violent armed conflict in Sierra Leone, displaced youth in a Pentecostal church write and perform plays that are silent on the subject of the war, but renarrate it in the idiom of spiritual warfare against a subterranean demonic realm known as the Underworld. Ideas of the Underworld are part of a local retooling of the Pentecostal deliverance ministry to address Sierra Leone's years of war. Through their struggle against the Underworld, these Pentecostal youth reimagine Sierra Leone's war, reshaping experiences of violence that have shaped them and thereby transforming demonic memory into Pentecostal memory. Just as their own physical displacement is not an entirely negative condition, their displacement of violent memory is enabling rather than repressive. By “forgetting” the war as a direct realist account and reworking it through the lens of the Underworld, they use war itself to remember their lives. Although they do not lose their memories of terror and violence, they learn to transform these in ways that allow them to create a moral life course in which they are much more than weak dependents.
Empty Citizenship: Protesting Politics in the Era of Globalization
Cultural Anthropology, November 2005, Vol. 20, No. 4:506-533
Globalization is often indexed by the rise of a consumerist ethos and the expansion of the market economy at the expense of state-centric formulations of politics and citizenship. This article explores the politics and practices of gendered democratic citizenship in an educational setting when that setting is newly reconfigured as a commodity under neoliberal privatization efforts. This entails an attention to discourses of consumption as they intersect postcolonial cultural-ideological political fields. Focusing on the contemporary trajectory among politicized male college students of a historically important masculinist “political public” in Kerala, India, the article tracks an explicit discourse of “politics”(rashtriyam). This enables an exploration of a struggle over the meaning of democratic citizenship that opposes a political public rooted in a tradition of anticolonial struggle and postcolonial nationalist politics to that of a “civic public,” rooted in ideas about the freedom to consume through the logic of privatization.
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Chua, Jocelyn. (2011). "Making Time for the Children: Self-Temporalization and the Cultivation of the Antisuicidal Subject in South India." Cultural Anthropology 26 (1).
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Favero, Paolo. (2003). "Phantasms in a "Starry" Place: Space and Identification in a Central New Delhi Market." Cultural Anthropology 18(4): 551–584.
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Jeffrey, Craig. 2010. Timepass: Youth, Class, and the Politics of Waiting in India. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
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Mains, Daniel. (2007). "Neoliberal Times: Progress, Boredom, and Shame among Young Men in Urban Ethiopia." American Ethnologist 34(4):659–673.
Maira, Sunaina. (1999). "Identity Dub: The Paradoxes of an Indian American Youth Subculture (New York Mix)." Cultural Anthropology 14(1): 29-60.
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