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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253219695
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 06/28/2008
Series: Tracking Globalization Series
Pages: 248
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Karen Tranberg Hansen is Professor of Anthropology at Northwestern University. Her books include Salaula: The World of Secondhand Clothing and Zambia.

Read an Excerpt

Youth and the City in the Global South

By Karen Tranberg Hansen

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2008 Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-21969-5


Introduction: Youth and the City

Karen Tranberg Hansen

The world's cities are growing at a tremendous rate, especially in the South, where young people form a huge proportion of the overall population. But in spite of the bearing that youth and the city have on each other, most recent scholarship is trapped in a gulf between youth studies and urban studies that complicates our understanding of ongoing transformations of young people's lives in the era of global capitalism. At issue are demographic and socioeconomic changes that are turning young people in the urban South into lead actors in shaping their countries' futures. For cities are where the action is. Young people make their imprint on them now and will do so in the future, even where life is hard and circumstances are difficult.

Young people in Recife in Brazil, Hanoi in Vietnam, and Lusaka in Zambia share many experiences with youth in the West. Their lives everywhere are associated with both freedom and constraints. The three cities we have studied do not assure their poorest inhabitants, many of whom are young, decent livelihoods. Yet as we demonstrate, the circumstances of the young differ vastly within cities and between countries. Consider 17-year-old Van, a young woman in Hanoi, who feels obligated to fulfill the expectations of her parents before following her own desires. Or Stephen, a 19-year-old carpentry trainee in Lusaka who intends to shelve his marriage plans for five years until he has established himself economically. Unlike Van, Stephen cannot call on support from his parents, but he lives with an older brother, who pays his school fees. There is also Marcelo, a young man, almost 18 years old, of middle-class background in Recife, who failed the university entrance exam and wonders how he will attain the kind of life he wants. Living in an apartment his father has rented, he dreams of becoming independent of his parents and getting married.

Bringing youth and the city together in a way not paralleled elsewhere, this book draws on interdisciplinary and in-depth observations in Recife, Hanoi, and Lusaka to examine the fluid meanings of youth as a life stage; aspirations for and pathways toward adulthood; class and gender differences among young urban people; and the specificity of urban life. In effect, the combination of youth and the city enables us to analyze the double dynamic of freedom and constraints, inclusion and exclusion, that is at the heart of youths' urban experiences. Such observations have relevance for policy directed to both youth matters and urban development issues, as we discuss in the concluding chapter.

The book makes four arguments that revolve around the importance of the city, comparative youth studies, globalization, and local practices. First, we argue that because cities matter hugely to young people's lives, they compel us to focus our research on youth. Although some recent works feature "urban" or "the city" in their titles (e.g., Chawla 2002; Tienda and Wilson 2002), they do not clarify the significance of "the urban" for young people's experiences: "the city" is taken for granted and serves merely as a setting or backdrop for explorations of a miscellany of youth-related topics. Yet throughout the world today, cities are significant places that will become ever more important in the developing world, not only for demographic reasons but also because cities are the gateways to the global world. We discuss both these issues shortly.

The second argument concerns comparative youth scholarship, in which studies in the West have set the agenda until recently. The transition from youth to adulthood as it has been experienced over the past century in the West is central to the United Nations definition of youth that has been widely accepted worldwide. When the United Nations General Assembly adopted the World Programme of Action for Youth in 1995, youth — defined as the period between ages 15 and 24 — became a globally circulating category. Other United Nations agencies, international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), human rights groups, and similar organizations also use this definition. Sue Ruddick has remarked on the irony of exporting this notion to places lacking the socioeconomic resources that helped produce the West's modern ideals of youth (2003, 335). The work we present here from Recife, Hanoi, and Lusaka supports her observation in many ways. We demonstrate that the lives of the young in these three cities do not always replicate past experiences in the West concerning demographic transition, adulthood, and mobility. What is more, we also note that in the West today, the situation of many young people differs from that of their parents' generation. We suggest that in fact the adverse effects of current economic practices on youth employment prospects everywhere may contribute to a convergence of global youth experiences.

The third argument revolves around widespread assumptions about globalization. In popular views, "global" entails uniformity and sameness, influenced by the norms and standards of the West. This deliberately exaggerated characterization of globalization privileges the West as the source of economic dynamism over other local and regional influences, for instance, from Southeast Asia and various parts of Africa. Such a view reduces youth responses to passive imitations, thus promoting the idea that globalization results in homogenization. There is no doubt that flows of popular culture, from music to fashion, are global in their reach and have a leveling effect, yet their consequences are variable. For the meanings of globalization are always filtered through local understandings of gender and power hierarchies. The results of this filtering are particularly marked in urban space, where globalization inspires both local adaptations of, and resistance to, the flows of images and values from across the world (Lewellen 2002).

The fourth argument concerns the role of the local in young people's engagements with global space in a material and physical sense as well as in their imagination. "Global," in this context, refers to increasing interconnections between youth across the world and their awareness of such connections (Schafer 2005, 1035). The media play a powerful role in shaping young people's global engagements. The significance of this role is captured in the notion of youthscapes, which draws attention to how local youth culture is embedded within both national and global contexts (Maira and Soep 2005). Such a perspective signals that global media practices are locally interpreted and their meanings are often reorganized. As actors in their own right in some domains of life (Amit-Talai and Wulff 1995), young people design scripts for new lives through consumption practices and popular culture, and those scripts localize global influences. Indeed, the young urban people we have come to know are well aware of being-in-the world and of what is out there, at the same time as they negotiate their everyday worlds through practices they craft from local resources.

Cities of Youth

With its focus on urban youth in the developing world, this book cuts across social science scholarship that different disciplinary conventions and topical preoccupations have tended to fragment. The recent florescence of studies concerning young people in the West and the developing world presents us with a global research field inhabited by children, adolescents, and youth whose structural positions are not always clarified (Aitken 2001; Ansell 2005; Brown, Larson, and Saraswathi 2002; Jeffrey and McDowell 2004). In fact, there is frequent slippage from one term to another, not only in academic writing, but especially in development policy documents that legitimate specifically targeted programmatic responses, for example to street children and child soldiers. We argue that the difference between these terms matters, and that a focus on youth is particularly compelling.

In more ways than one, Recife, Hanoi, and Lusaka are cities of youth. The combination of youth and the city demands our attention for demographic reasons that have cultural, socioeconomic, and political consequences. Forty-seven percent of the world's total population was urban in 2000. According to recent projections, that proportion will reach 60 percent by 2030. The South will experience the major share of that growth, with Asia and Africa projected to have a higher proportion of urban dwellers than other parts of the world. Already in 2000, Latin America was highly urbanized, with 75 percent of its population living in urban areas (United Nations 2002, 5–7). Three-quarters of the projected population growth will take place, not in great metropolises, but in smaller cities where there is little planning or services (UN-Habitat 2003, 3; 2005).

What these demographic observations reveal are marked shifts in the age composition of urban populations that are important to this book's concerns. While the elderly urban population is increasing in developed countries, it is the young urban population that is growing in developing countries. Young people constitute a growing proportion of the total population almost everywhere in such countries. Of the world's total population of six billion in 1999, young people under the age of 15 constituted one-third of the population in developing countries and nearly half the population in sub-Saharan Africa (Gelbard, Haub, and Kent 1999). Taken together, young people between 15 and 24 years of age comprise almost a quarter of the people in the developing world (World Bank 2005, 1). Most important, in many countries both in the West and in the developing world the interval between the end of childhood and the assumption of adult roles has increased, thus extending the experience of youth.

Scholarship and policy planning that target youth in the South face a problem. Most relevant research focuses either on the urban or on youth. The two concerns are only rarely brought together. While demographers have recently devoted attention to the urban transformation of the developing world, they have not addressed the ramifications of the youth bulge in the urban population (National Research Council 2003). For example, a major commissioned study of the changing transitions from youth to adulthood in developing countries makes no reference to urban settings as the chief stage for youth lives (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine 2005). And a recent overview ofyoung people and development barely engages with the urban dimension of this problematic (Ansell 2005). Conversely, research on the urban South rarely considers youth as important players. Already attracting widespread attention because of his influential work on cities in the United States, Mike Davis recently focused on the Third World's rapidly growing cities. His book Planet of Slums (2006) attributes the problems of rapid urbanization to lack of jobs and housing. Linking urban survival to the disproportionate labor efforts of women and children, Davis recognizes the youth bulge only in reference to criminalization. Nowhere does his study support an alternative future, to the creation of which young people in the developing world are actively contributing. As we demonstrate for Recife, Hanoi, and Lusaka, this simple demographic observation has complex implications for resource development, service provision, social organization, and everyday life. But above all, the combination of youth and the city gives rise to salient questions for scholarship and program policy in general about the role of youth in the social reproduction of the cities of tomorrow.

Perspectives on Youth

When does a child become a youth, and when is adolescence succeeded by adulthood? Answers to these questions differ across history and are ultimately cultural. Until the 1970s in much of the West, the notion of youth referred to a distinct stage between childhood and adulthood that emerged as a result of socioeconomic shifts and modernity, including the expansion of nuclear families, the development of educational institutions, and the creation of laws regulating the working age. But the circumstances of the post-1970 youth generation differ. A recent comparison of Italy, Sweden, Germany, and the United States reveals that adolescence no longer serves as a life stage in the passage to adulthood (Cook and Furstenberg 2002). In Australia, a large proportion of young people do not experience the transition that the previous generation took for granted when they left school and went straight into full-time jobs (Wyn and White 2000). The transition between home and work in Italy has become discontinuous, with many young people delineating the course of their own lives (Leccardi 2005, 124). What this means is that youth today has become a less clearly demarcated stage than in the past in the institutionalization of the life course. The uncertainty of the process compels young people to draw on diverse resources (economic, social, cultural, and political), depending on where and who they are in gender and class terms, as they negotiate their everyday lives and orient themselves toward the future. As a result, there are not one but many trajectories toward the future (Skelton 2002).

Definitions of youth are contextual and they shift. Regardless of whether our concern is with young people in the West or in a developing country, definitions of youth in terms of biological age are shaped by the cultural politics of their time and place, and by who defines them (Hall and Montgomery 2000). The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, for example, gives the age of 18 as the upper limit of childhood. Biological age has been used to define inclusion and exclusion, in such contexts as obligatory schooling and the right to vote, obtain a driving license, and drink alcohol. National legislation in many countries considers 18 the age of majority even when different age limits may apply in other areas, such as marriage and criminal responsibility. Despite legislation, many young people in both the developed and developing world work for wages, have sexual relations, and bear children before they reach 18 years of age. In both settings, many young people continue to live with relatives after the age of 18. Because of their educational situations or their casual, poorly remunerated jobs, they do not have the means to set up independent households. In other societies, the extended household is an important unit of production, reproduction, and consumption. For example, in urban Vietnam, young people do not necessarily seek to establish independent households either before or after marriage. Much like Van, whom we introduced earlier, they expect to remain with the extended family, not only for economic reasons, but also in order to perform culturally prescribed roles as daughters, sons, and in-laws.

Youth assumes its meanings culturally and relationally rather than chronologically. In cultural terms, children are often distinguished from young people by their dependence. This distinction attaches agency to youth, within the societal constraints under which they operate. Still, many young people are dependent, subject to hierarchical and authoritarian gender- and generation-based relationships with parents, guardians, and the larger society. Thus generation rather than age per se constitutes a major fault line (Cole and Durham 2007; Comaroff and Comaroff 2000). Some scholars have turned to Karl Mannheim's 1952 essay "The Problem of Generations" (Mannheim 1972; Pilcher 1994) to conceptualize such practices relationally with respect to both class and the life cycle. Advocating a sociological and historical approach to generational succession, Mannheim suggested that some young people in urban areas develop new interpretations and perspectives. Viewing such new perspectives as opening "fresh contact," Jennifer Cole argues that the structural liminality of youth, "the fact that they are less embedded than adults in older networks of patronage and exchange," gives them a unique opportunity to take advantage of new social and economic conditions (Cole 2004, 575–76).


Excerpted from Youth and the City in the Global South by Karen Tranberg Hansen. Copyright © 2008 Indiana University Press. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Table of Contents

Part 1. Situating Youth in the City
1. Introduction: Youth and the City Karen Tranberg Hansen
2. Youth across the Globe: Comparison, Interdisciplinarity, and Cross-National Collaboration Anne Line Dalsgaard and Karen Valentin
Part 2. Studying Youth in Cities
3. Dominant Ideas, Uncertain Lives: The Meaning of Youth in Recife Anne Line Dalsgaard, Mónica Franch, and Russell Parry Scott
4. Politicized Leisure in the Wake of Doi Moi: A Study of Youth in Hanoi Karen Valentin
5. Localities and Sites of Youth Agency in Lusaka Karen Tranberg Hansen
Part 3. Youth Making Meaning
6. Youth and the Home Katherine V. Gough
7. Toward Eduscapes: Youth and Schooling in a Global Era Ulla Ambrosius Madsen
8. The Work of the Imagination: Young People's Media Appropriation Norbert Wildermuth
9. Conclusion: Urban Youth in a Global World Karen Tranberg Hansen

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Indiana University - Bradley Levinson

Presents groundbreaking comparative research and makes a powerful, nuanced case for understanding the problems and dilemmas of youth in the global South.

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