“A Bad Age for Citizenship” at the AAAs – 11/30 8am

This year, at the American Anthropological Association in Washington, DC, yours truly will be chairing a panel. The session is early (8am, Thursday, November 30, 2017), but I’ll be there with my coffee in hand and now that you’ve made it here to read the description, I hope you will, too. Let me try and convince you.

Every year, the closer I get to the November conference, the more my inner groupie flutters at the chance to exchange ideas with people I respect. But this year is extra special because I have all but guaranteed this by having some of those people on my own panel! Even better, everyone is talking about a topic I think is really important: age as citizenship.

The panel, titled “A Bad Age for Citizenship: Barriers to belonging in the school years,” has mePatrick AlexanderSally Bonet, and Cara M. Morgenson presenting papers and Caroline Bledsoe as the Discussant.

If you haven’t heard of Caroline Bledsoe, allow me to fangirl on you for a minute. Bledsoe’s book, Contingent Lives: Fertility, Time, and Aging in West Africa, totally changed how I thought about age. Reading it was the point at which I decided I wanted to make my anthropological career about theorizing the life course. And, yeah, that MIGHT have had a little to do with why I asked her to be our discussant. But another reason is that she came out with this great article in 2011 with Papa Sow that took the implications of cultural variation in aging to another level, and got me thinking about a lot of the themes we go into in this panel.

She’s not the only one on my panel I’m stoked to meet – we have a really great line up. And as excited as I am to hear their papers, I’m even more excited to get to talk to them face to face and ask them questions about their work.

Here’s the official abstract, and I hope you’ll come and say hi to me after!

AAA Session Abstract: Youth and families around the world face a dilemma when school is simultaneously a critical site for establishing youth as citizens and a site of social differentiation, exclusion, inequality, and danger. Responses to this dilemma are shaped by imagined futures of familial social mobility as well as histories of familial exclusion; these responses are both constrained and made possible by the intersections of local, national, global, and transnational age-based rights and responsibilities (Bledsoe and Sow 2011). This panel contributes to AAA 2017’s conference theme of anthropological engagement with contemporary crises of inequality by diagnosing barriers to social justice where they intersect with schooling (arguably the most important hybrid global and local institution for remedying national inequality). Using school-based ethnography as a methodological starting point, this panel discusses how youth and intergenerational age identities limit and produce possible solutions to the differentiation of school-based citizenships. The papers on this panel examine student citizenships set in uncertain futures and precarious presents, as well as the intergenerational and often transnational strategies for overcoming barriers that stretch across the life course. The research focuses on youth, parents, and educators in Ecuador, Britain, the U.S., as well as the transnational “betweens” occupied by refugees. Building on the anthropology of youth allows these papers to highlight the importance of youth cultural practices, thus centering variation and differentiation over a search for a generically acceptable boundary between youth and adult rights and responsibilities (Bucholtz 2002). Drawing on the anthropology of education has grounded our interrogations of school-based citizenship through ethnographic analyses of how global and national directives are locally implemented and contested (Levinson 2011). And making use of the theoretical contributions of life course anthropology has highlighted the importance of situating these questions within their temporal, intergenerational, and changing biocultural contexts (e.g., Johnson-Hanks 2006, Lynch and Danely 2013). Sitting at the intersection of the anthropologies of youth, education, and the life course, this panel examines the contested belonging that youth and their families must confront while engaged with schooling.

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