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YOUCITIZEN Report Summary

Project ID: 295392
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: United Kingdom

Final Report Summary - YOUCITIZEN (Youth Citizenship in Divided Societies: Between Cosmpolitanism, Nation, and Civil Society)

YouCitizen explores the ways that young people understand, experience, and enact citizenship in societies that are attempting to overcome division. The research was organized around ethnographic research in four contexts: the international actors and organizations that attempt to diffuse ideas about citizenship and how it should be practiced by young people, and organizations and young people in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Lebanon, and South Africa. The research was based on document searches, interviews, and 18 months of ethnographic research with NGOs and young people in the three case study countries.

1. Circulations of Citizenship. This portion of the research focused on the ideas and practices that developed in established democracies and then spread to divided, post-conflict societies. We identified a common pedagogy circulated by international organizations that provided activities for citizenship training programs. We also identified the intellectual and financial resources that were mobilized in these efforts and the networks that developed between agencies and organizations. As the pedagogy of citizenship was diffused, civil society and non-governmental organizations expressed concerns focused on: a) the ways that practices must be modified to meet specific conditions within their countries; b) strictures on the kinds of activities that could be funded; and c) reporting and audit requirements that seemed inconsistent with the ways they worked with youth. Of particular concern to some observers was the way that concepts and narratives that were presented as fundamental to the societies before ‘politics’ created division – e.g., ubuntu in South Africa, tolerance and multi-culturalism in Lebanon and Yugoslavia – were appropriated and reworked in citizenship promotion. A second concern was in the role of memory in healing and reconciliation, with some organizations believing it was best to smooth over previous conflicts and with others arguing it was necessary to confront memories of conflict directly.

2. Youth Politics, Identities and Citizenship. This portion of the research focused directly on young people and the way they understood, experienced, and worked to change their standing as citizens. Several conclusions emerge from our research including:
• The ways that young people refuse to be defined by conflict and/or division. This is not an expression of apathy, however, but is an act of defiance. Yet even as young people refused to be defined by division, they were incapable of completely escaping it. We have described this in terms of ‘future perfect citizenship’ in which the past and present are part of a grammatical/political construction that expresses the future.
• The importance of memory across generations. While young people – and often their families and their communities – did not want to be defined by conflict and division, the traces are all around them, and memories often surface at moments of stress. These memories are not solely of the youth’s making, but instead reflect the histories and spaces in which they are embedded. Yet they shape the sense of possibility and futurity for youth.
• Youth rejected ‘old ways’ of politics in favor of forms of action that do not seem obviously political. They mobilized ideas of fun, of care, and ways of being together that often seem inconsistent with norms in their communities and in government. Youth argued they enacted ways of being together that did not rest on the tired issues that gave rise to conflict and political stalemate.
• Youth accepted the mantle of ‘active citizenship’, arguing that the situation in their communities compelled them to act. But rather than accepting the political agenda of active citizenship, which is often associated with conformity and self-sufficiency, they used the tools they learned in training programs to promote agendas that sometimes threatened the very stability of the states in which they lived.

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United Kingdom
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