YouCitizen is a comparative, multi-level ethnographic research project that examines the efforts of international organisations, civil society organisations, and states to foster citizenship for youth in divided societies. In their efforts, agents working in such organisations often engage in paradoxical, if not contradictory, acts to promote both cosmopolitanism within civil society and national identities, even when aspects of national identity have been a source of division. A central premise of the research is that the outcomes of these efforts are conditioned by the contexts in which programmes for youth are delivered and enacted. In these contexts – which include histories of division and marginalisation, societal and communal norms, family histories, and the spaces of daily life – youth interpret and experience citizenship. YouCitizen’s critical intervention is in extending the examination of citizenship formation to consider the ways in which youth interpret, experience, and potentially remake citizenship that is different to, and may actually challenge, the forms of citizenship that organisations and states attempt to instil.
The empirical foci of the study are the networks of organisations promoting citizenship and/or civic engagement, and youth, aged 15-24 in South Africa, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Lebanon who have been involved with those programmes. It explores the goals of those organisations, their funding sources and activities to understand both the vision of citizenship they promote and the traditions and influences from which they draw; particular attention is paid to ideals and values associated with cosmopolitanism vis-à-vis the nation and the ways in which they address social division. Interviews and participant observation with youth explore the ways in which their experiences and understanding of citizenship are influenced by those programmes, but are also entwined with daily life in their homes and communities.
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