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.
Complementing each of these five essays, this virtual issue also boasts supplemental pages that we think you will find extremely useful. 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.
Allison, Anne. "The Cool Brand, Affective Activism and Japanese Youth." Theory, Culture, Society 26.2-3(2009): 89-111.
Amit-Talai, V., & Wulff, H. Youth Cultures: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. Routledge, 1995.
Amit, V. "Youth Culture, Anthropology." In International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (pp. 16657-16660). Oxford: Pergamon, 2001. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B7MRM-4MT09VJ-3SB/2/4eb94eb10fab254a2f96ab18556f59f4
Blackman, S. "Youth Subcultural Theory: A Critical Engagement with the Concepts, Its Origins and Politics, from the Chicago School to Postmodernism." Journal of Youth Studies 8(2005): 1-20.
Becker, H. S. Outsiders: Studies In The Sociology Of Deviance. Free Press, 1997.
Bucholtz, M. "Youth and Cultural Practice." Annual Review of Anthropology, 31(2002): 525-552. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4132891
Chua, Jocelyn. "Making Time for the Children: Self-Temporalization and the Cultivation of the Antisuicidal Subject in South India." Cultural Anthropology 26.1(2011).
Cohen, A. K. Delinquent boys: the culture of the gang. Free Press, 1955.
Cole, Jennifer and Deborah Durham, eds. Generations and Globalization: Youth, Age, and Family in the New World Economy. Bloomington Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2008.
Evans-Pritchard, E. E. The Nuer: A Description of the Modes of Livelihood and Political Institutions of a Nilotic People (First American Edition.). Oxford University Press, 1969.
Favero, Paolo. "Phantasms in a "Starry" Place: Space and Identification in a Central New Delhi Market." Cultural Anthropology 18.4(2003): 551–584.
Hall, S., & Jefferson, T. Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain. Routledge, 1990.
Jeffrey, Craig. Timepass: Youth, Class, and the Politics of Waiting in India. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010.
Katz, Cindi. Growing Up Global: Economic Restructuring and Children’s Everyday Lives. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.
Liechty, Mark. "Media, Markets, and Modernization: Youth Identities and Experience of Modernity in Kathmandu , Nepal." In V. Amit-Talai and H. Wulff eds., Youth Cultures: A cross-cultural Perspective. Pp: 185-202. NY: Routledge, 1995.
Mains, Daniel. "Neoliberal Times: Progress, Boredom, and Shame among Young Men in Urban Ethiopia." American Ethnologist 34.4(2007):659–673.
Maira, Sunaina. "Identity Dub: The Paradoxes of an Indian American Youth Subculture (New York Mix)." Cultural Anthropology 14.1(1999): 29-60.
Malinowski, B. The Sexual Life of Savages (1st ed.). Beacon Press, 1929.
Masquelier, Adeline. "The Scorpion’s Sting: Youth, Marriage and the Struggle for Social Maturity in Niger." Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 11.1(2005):59–83.
McRobbie, A., & Garber, J. "Girls and subcultures." In S. Hall & T. Jefferson (Eds.), Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain (pp. 209-220). Routledge, 1990.
Mead, M. Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilisation (1st ed.). New York: HarperCollins, 1928.
Mungham, G., & Pearson, G. Working class youth culture. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976.
Turner, V. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Aldine Transaction, 1995.
Weiss, B. Street Dreams and Hip Hop Barbershops: Global Fantasy in Urban Tanzania. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.
Willis, P. Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs. New York: Columbia University Press, 1981.