Youth Politics in Urban Asia
Sponsored by Geographies of Children, Youth and Families Research Group & Political Geographies Research Group
Session conveners: Sonia Lam-Knott (Asia Research Institute, NUS) and Yi’En Cheng (Yale-NUS College)
Recent scholarship within geography, anthropology, and wider social sciences have examined the relationship between the conceptual categories of ‘youth’ and ‘politics’, developing sophisticated theories accounting for the emergent practices, spatialities, and temporalities pertaining to youth engagement and performances of politics. Young people’s politics have been conceptualised through the notions of subcultural active citizenship and alter-activism (Juris and Pleyers, 2009), as driven by rhizomatic principles of multiplicity and non-collectivity (Funke, 2012; Graeber, 2013), or as prefigurative in which youth social action emphasises the now and the present (Jeffrey and Dyson, 2016). Youth political actions also manifest across a spectrum of visibility and tangibility, ranging from the more vernacular expressions of resilience and creative appropriation to somewhat spectacular mobilisations of youth resistance into streets, parks, campuses and public squares (Alexander, 2017). These different explorations demonstrate young people’s social action as spatially (re)configured across the collective and the individualistic, the spontaneous and the premeditated, as well as the enduring and the fleeting.
Yet, even though there is an implicit acceptance that young people (can and should) play a role in addressing social justice, inequalities, and pernicious power structures in and of cites, their social actions and politics continue to occupy the peripheries of urban scholarship. Much existing work focuses on the European and American contexts (Gordon, 2010; Kennelly, 2011) or on the Arab Spring (Foran, 2014; Hanafi, 2012). The lack of academic attention directed to youth politics within Asia presents a vast analytical oversight, especially with 60 percent of the world’s youth population residing in the region (United Nations 2013), Various Asian societies are currently negotiating how their youths should be positioned within their respective political domains. What it means for youths to be citizens-in-the-making between the governing bodies, wider society, and youths in Asia have produced political tensions and highly-visible outbursts in urban locales; this is exemplified by the longstanding youth-led anti-government, anti-corruption, and pro-democracy protests across India, Thailand, and Indonesia (Lee, 2016), along with the eruption of political uprisings marked by significant student presence such as the 2014 Sunflower Movement in Taiwan and the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong (Hsieh and Skelton, 2018).
In addition to an Asian-focused examination of how young people’s political geographies might be re-imagined and re-mapped, the session is also keen to explore the ways in which youth politics are shaped by and shaping the particularities of Asian urban contexts. Why is the ‘urban’ important? What influences does the ‘urban’ have on youth politics? We imagine ‘urban Asia’ to be geographically diverse but interconnected, and use the term to denote spatial contexts that cut across sites and scales, moving beyond dominant impressions, conjurings, and forms of cities. In particular, we are keen to examine how cities do not act as mere backdrops of young people’s politics but actively participate in the making of youthful civic actions, activisms, mobilisations, and protests. Even as we aim to catch a glimpse of the urban landscape of youth politics in Asia, we equally emphasise the importance of the nuances, complexities, flows, and interconnections within and across different Asian cities.
As such, this session draws attention to three central questions that we believe would further invigorate existing scholarship on youth politics in urban Asia:
- How do youth politics emerge and manifest in Asian cities, in both historical and/or contemporary contexts, and in relation to diverse forms and expressions of what constitutes the ‘political’ for the young?
- Acknowledging the capacity of urban contexts in actively (re)producing political action and life, what then is the role of cities in shaping, informing, and mediating ‘youth politics’ in Asia?
- Is it possible to conceive of a critical landscape and/or topography towards understanding youth politics in and across Asian cities, while still acknowledging the multiplicities and specificities of youth politics in the region?
We invite papers that offer theoretical and empirical insights specifically with reference to the above questions. Paper topics may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Youth political agency, identities, desires, and aspirations that inform their visions of socio-economic or political change in Asia
- The temporalities and (trans-national/local/urban) interconnectivities of young people’s political repertoires and expressions within and across Asia cities
- The variegated subject positions of youth (for example, within class, gender, and ethnic structures, and within friendship and/or familial networks) and the way in which such positionings inform young people’s politics
- (Dis)embodied forms of citizenships experienced by youths and the related geographies of morality, ethics, and actions
- Spatial registers of youth political engagements across the discursive, imaginative, emotional/affective, and (im)material dimensions
- The spatial rules, codes, or govern-mentalities imposed by the (im)material dimensions of urban environments that defines, mediates, hinders or enables youth politics
- ‘Youth’ as a discursive category appropriated by state and non-state actors to shape urban politics
Please submit a 250-word abstract with title and short author biography to Sonia Lam-Knott (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Yi’En Cheng (email@example.com), by 2 February 2018. Finalised list of session presenters are expected to submit a 4000-word working paper closer to the conference date.
Alexander, J. (2017). The drama of social life. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Foran, J. (2014). Global affinities: the new cultures of resistance behind the Arab Spring, in Kamrava, M. (ed.) Beyond the Arab Spring: the evolving ruling bargain in the Middle East. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 47-72.
Gordon, H. (2010). We fight to win: inequality and the politics of youth activism. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.
Graeber, D. (2013). The democracy project. a history. A crisis. A movement. London: Penguin Books.
Hanafi, S. (2012). The Arab Revolutions: the emergence of a new political subjectivity, Contemporary Arab Affairs 5(2): 198-213.
Jeffrey, C. and Dyson, J. (2016) Now: prefigurative politics through a north Indian lens, Economy and Society, 45(1): 77-100.
Juris, J. S. and Pleyers, G. H. (2009) Alter-activism: emerging cultures of participation among young global justice activists, Journal of Youth Studies, 12(1): 57-75.
Hsieh, Y. and Skelton, T. (2018) Sunflowers, youthful protestors, and political achievements: lessons from Taiwan, Children’s Geographies, 16(1): 105-113.
Kennelly, J. (2011) Understanding youth political engagement: youth citizenship as governance, in Citizen Youth: Culture, Activism, and Agency in a Neoliberal Era. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 19-31.
Lee, D. (2016). Activist archives: youth culture and the political past in Indonesia. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.
United Nations. (2013). Regional overview: youth in Asia and the Pacific. Available at: http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/documents/youth/fact-sheets/youth-regional-escap.pdf (Accessed 15 December 2017).