ASA06: Cosmopolitanism and Anthropology

Panel 9

Youth and Cosmopolitanism – Mattia Fumanti

Room: CBA 0.003x32

Panel abstract

In the past decade youth studies have made a fresh start across the social sciences. Moving away from a set of dichotomies which portrays youth at times as perpetrators and victims of unimaginable violence, at times as passive actors and leaders in political and religious movements, at times innovators and simple consumers in global popular culture, recent contributions now recognise the agentive role of youth for the making of public life across much of the globe and place youth at the cutting edge of societal and cultural change. In particular, current debates on cultural hybridity, migration, popular culture, transnationalism and globalisation often foreground youth agency and its central role for the understanding of wider social, economic and cultural transformations.

In this panel, we aim to build on these more recent contributions by placing youth in relational terms with cosmopolitanism. Here we take cosmopolitanism in a wider sense as a lived experience as much as an attitude and aspirational status and address two of the key themes of the conference, globalisation, cosmopolitanism and cultural hybridity, and cosmopolitan subjectivity and consciousness. By using ethnographic examples from different regions the panel critically reflect the way in which youth actively engage with cosmopolitanism in an increasingly globalised arena.

Topics for consideration might include:

  • Imagining cosmopolitanism and the making of the self
  • Cosmopolitanism and identity
  • Globalisation, popular culture and cultural hybridity
  • Youthful subjectivities, cosmopolitanism and generational consciousness

Convenor

Mattia Fumanti
Department of Social Anthropology
University of Manchester
Manchester M13 9PL
T: +44 (0)161 275 4000
E: mattia.fumanti@manchester.ac.uk

PAPERS

Cosmopolitan Dreams Among Young Rural Migrants in the City

Dorte Thorsen, The Nordic Africa Institute, Sweden

This paper focuses on young migrants and explores the kind of attitudes and markers of status they take up to position themselves at the destination and at home. The analysis is based on ethnographic research in Burkina Faso with young migrants in rural towns and the capital as well as with return migrants. While rural towns are a far cry from cosmopolitan sites, they are nevertheless an important step on the road to the capital in terms of earning money for the transport and also in terms of developing new ideas of modernity and urban attitudes. These ideas are shaped by youths’ actual experiences of urban life and of urban people’s attitudes towards them, and by their interpretations of return migrants’ status, attitudes and opportunities.

I argue that young migrants use migration to establish their maturity vis-à-vis their seniors and contemporaries and therefore pick up and negotiate particular social positions which in turn reveal their representations of cosmopolitanism. Despite the fact that the young migrants barely participate in civil society associations because they are preoccupied with earning a livelihood as itinerant shoe-shiners, kitchen- hands and petty- traders in the informal sector, they are key actors in stretching meanings of cosmopolitan ideas and meanings from urban centres to rural areas.

Cosmopolitan Khat: Youthful khat (miraa) consumption in the Kenyan town of Isiolo

Neil Carrier, St.Anthony's Oxford

This paper approaches cosmopolitanism through a case-study of khat (miraa) consumption amongst youth in the culturally diverse town of Isiolo in northern Kenya. While khat in Kenya is commonly associated with specific ethnic groups - for example, Somali and Meru - its consumption is now popular amongst youth in general, cross-cutting ethnicity. It has been incorporated into a youth culture constituted by a diverse mix of 'local' and 'global' elements, and into sheng, a linguistic hybrid of Kiswahili, English and other languages that is spoken widely by young people. The paper argues that youthful khat consumption in Isiolo, and the way it is spoken of, reflect the cosmopolitan make-up of the town, and help to mediate it: ethnically-diverse khat sessions ('fadigas') among the young provide occasions where many differences are creatively and humorously tamed through banter. In particular, the institution of 'kupiga start' (sheng for the offering of a few khat stems to friends to 'start' them off) will be highlighted in this mediation process. At times of tension in what is a volatile town, however, khat's more specific associations with ethnic groups can move into the foreground, and an example of this will be given.

Claiming Educational Rights: Citizenship, Youth, and Cultural Identities

Fazila Bhimjy, Central Lancaster University

The paper examines high school students’ civic participation as they struggle for their educational rights in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. In doing so, the study contributes to the debates that seek to expand the scope of citizenship whereby citizenship is understood not as a singular, bilateral relationship between the individual and the state but rather in multidimensional and plural terms. Hence, the notion of citizenship is recognized as a practice among varied groups who differ in terms of class, gender, race, and age and thus vary in terms of the democratic rights they claim.

This multi-sited study supports the idea that African-American, white, and Latino/a teenagers residing in the inner cities of the U.S. are not simply victims but rather active agents where they claim their citizenship rights as they struggle for educational justice and at the same time assert their youthful, cultural, and urban identities. These assertions of multiple identities are reflected in the youth’s self assertions of their identity as well as their linguistic and dress styles while they participate in the public sphere. For example, the young people in San Francisco at a city council meeting greeted the board of supervisor with an exuberant and informal “whazzup” and during the meeting many of the young men and women selected to use double negatives, and other speech forms characteristic of African American English and Hip-Hop English used in urban areas of the United States (e.g. Labov, 1972; Morgan 1994). Hence, the paper stresses the ways in which these young people assert their multi-layered identities such that they are civic, politicized, urban, and young while they simultaneously claim their rights to belong.

Young Indians: a never-ending search for a cultural dialogue

Maria de Lourdes Beldi de Alcantara (Post-PhD), Editor of Imagery Journal-University of Sao Paulo(USP), Head of Center of Imagery and Memory-USP

This work aims at presenting a case study where the cultural hybridism, resulting from a dialogue full of tensions and conflicts, is the only option of survival for the young Indians that live at the Reservation of Dourados in Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil. Living 10 km away from the second biggest exporter of soybean of Brazil - the city of Dourados -, the young Guarani and Aruak Indians wander about the city trying to do a rereading between their cultural codes and the western codes. Facing an extreme prejudice by the city-dwellers, for they are deemed dirty”, “thieves” and ‘primitive”, they try to survive at the margin of this society that is also populated by people excluded from the socio- economical system. So, they are expelled twice. How is it possible to negotiate the identities in this context of expelling and exclusion that features the cultural frontier? What are the indigenous cultural codes that are open to negotiation? The answers for those questions are the big challenge for this work.

Youth, Cosmopolitanism and the Reconfiguration of Morality and Kinship in post-apartheid Namibia

Mattia Fumanti, ESRC postdoctoral fellow, the University of Manchester

This paper aims to address the predicaments and dilemmas experienced by youth in Africa, as they actively engage with cosmopolitanism. While on the one hand cosmopolitanism, here taken both as lived experience and an attitude, appears to be fundamental in the process of self-fashioning and in the making of youthful subjectivities, on the other hand, it is often situated in a complex dialogue and/or opposition with localised idioms of respect, morality and good behaviour in the public space. Here I explore these predicaments by bringing to the fore the way in which a young urban elite in Namibia manages its relationship with their kin living in the countryside and the way in which they contribute to the making and unmaking of a moral community whose influence stretches in a continuum across the rural and urban divide. I will here foreground my argument through the ethnographic example of a youth elite wedding, and highlight the interplay between cosmopolitan aspirations and the complex reconfiguration of morality and kinship in post-apartheid Namibia. Yet contrary to recent generalisations in the literature, I show, at least for post-apartheid northern Namibia, how cosmopolitanism and localism in Africa, cannot be reduced to a set of strategic performances, but need to be situated within emerging discourses on the changing nature of morality and kinship.

Strategic hybridity and ethnic essentialism: Political movements and the emergence of a Latino counter-culture among second-generation Italians in Switzerland

Susanne Wessendorf, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford

"No pizza without migrants." This is the slogan used by a political movement in Switzerland, founded by members of second-generation immigrants. Its goal is to draw attention to different social, political and economic minorities’ issues. The so-called Secondo Movement has enjoyed a great deal of attention in the media, especially in the context of their political campaign to gain facilitated access to Swiss citizenship.

This form of politics of identity, or panethnic mobilization, based on shared experiences of political exclusion, has brought together a number of young people from various immigrant backgrounds who consciously celebrate their belonging to two or more cultures and who use the promotion of their multiple cultural competences for political goals.

Some descendants of post-war Italian labour migrants, the largest immigrant community in Switzerland, have played a key role in the Secondo Movement. However, many second-generation Italians are not politicised in any way, but express their ways of belonging by specific forms of consumption, fashion, cultural events and life-style. They have developed a pattern of identification and self-representation as ‘casual Latins’, which also includes other second-generation southern Europeans. They take up a counter-position to what they see as petit-bourgeois Swiss working-class values (such as cleanliness and order), and dissociate themselves from the Swiss by emphasizing a spontaneous and cordial Latin art of improvisation.

With the example of second-generation Italians in Switzerland, this paper discusses why and how such forms of political and cultural agency emerge among the second generation in a cosmopolitan and multicultural context.

The Dark Side of Cosmopolitanism: Contested notions of progress, marriage and propriety amongst young men and women in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Richard Sherrington, University of Cambridge

This paper contributes to recent attempts to provide historically and ethnographically nuanced accounts of cosmopolitanism. The paper addresses the notion of situatedness arguing that while cosmopolitanisms should be understood as thinking and feeling beyond any given locality, it is the locality which informs how one appropriates the non-local. This comes into sharp focus through an examination of how cosmopolitan practices and perspectives are differently appropriated by young men and women migrants living in Dar es Salaam, and how these feed into constructions of ideas about self-progress and gendered propriety as these youths contemplate marriage partners. It is through the distillation of cosmopolitan ideas through evolving discourses concerning gendered norms and progress that youths debate who and who is not marriage material. The articulation of local and cosmopolitan is evinced through a discussion of how young women who are seen by many as having an insatiable desire for imported consumer goods acquired through the pockets of men are identified as being unprogressive and asocial, arguments articulated through ‘local’ discourses redolent of witchcraft accusations. Contrary to much recent thinking which renders vernacular cosmopolitanisms as neutral projects, the paper suggests that cosmopolitan practices may be transgressive of local norms and therefore, should not be read as value-free.

Positioning "Youth," Being "Youth": a case study in North-Central Namibia

Sayumi Yamakawa, University of Manchester

In this paper, I explore the way in which young people in Oniipa area in north-central Namibia internalise the national discourse of youth and yet, at the same time, incorporate idioms of tradition and culture into the process of renegotiating their social positions and identities in their community and beyond. Specifically, I argue here the significance of a youth choir & cultural group, which was established through a music project by Finnish missionaries, and its members in Oniipa parish in terms of creating a space as a medium of local and cosmopolitan interactions. On the other hand, I suggest that one of the meanings of youth group is to make people, particularly young people themselves, self-conscious about their status as ‘youth’ that has a series of implications relating to social value and morality in a certain locality, in this case in Owambo communities. To this end, I analyse a space that appears to be an intersection of multi-layered status characteristics such as generation, gender, geographic location and ethnicity, by drawing an observation on a youth gathering at the parish church along with an illustration of regular practices and performances of the youth choir & cultural group.

This paper contributes to recent attempts to provide historically and ethnographically nuanced accounts of cosmopolitanism. The paper addresses the notion of situatedness arguing that while cosmopolitanisms should be understood as thinking and feeling beyond any given locality, it is the locality which informs how one appropriates the non-local. This comes into sharp focus through an examination of how cosmopolitan practices and perspectives are differently appropriated by young men and women migrants living in Dar es Salaam, and how these feed into constructions of ideas about self-progress and gendered propriety as these youths contemplate marriage partners. It is through the distillation of cosmopolitan ideas through evolving discourses concerning gendered norms and progress that youths debate who and who is not marriage material. The articulation of local and cosmopolitan is evinced through a discussion of how young women who are seen by many as having an insatiable desire for imported consumer goods acquired through the pockets of men are identified as being unprogressive and asocial, arguments articulated through ‘local discourses redolent of witchcraft accusations. Contrary to much recent thinking which renders vernacular cosmopolitanisms as neutral projects, the paper suggests that cosmopolitan practices may be transgressive of local norms and therefore, should not be read as value-free.

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