Abstracts for

Young Lives, Changing Times:

Perspectives on Social Reproduction


8./9. June 2011, New Law School lecture theatre 104

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María Florencia Amigó

Institute of Early Childhood


Young Lives In A Foreign Land:

Experiences and roles of migrant school children in Australia

In 2010 about 30% of all school enrolments in NSW public schools were of children of language background other than English. Despite the significance of this population, little is known about the processes in the lives of these young individuals as the school system standardises their daily practices and their families attempt to hold on to their ethnic backgrounds.  Schools are the settings where migrant children first come into systematic contact with the new culture, and for many of these children it is in schools that they first immerse themselves in a foreign language and in a different socialising system. The experiences and knowledge migrant children acquire through school often enable them to become cultural brokers between the new cultural world and their families. During this process migrant children often transit a liminal terrain where their roles and identity become at the same time diverse and ambivalent.  How do migrant children –and their parents—experience this abrupt and culturally different enculturation process they go through as children start school in a new country? And, what are the outcomes and implications of this process for the children?  This paper will delve into the enculturation and acculturation processes that take place when newly-arrived migrant children start school in NSW.

Helen Berents

School of Political Science and International Studies

University of Queensland


“We Have Lost So Much In This Barrio”:

Recognising the intersubjective nature of violence in Colombia through the narratives of marginalised young people

In the context of the ongoing conflict in Colombia children are disproportionately affected by violence and its consequences–including displacement, threat, poverty and absence of basic resources—yet are rarely consulted about their experience. While normative conceptions of childhood are increasingly recognised as inadequate, young people affected by conflict continue to often appear only as passive objects upon which violence is inflicted (Boyden and de Berry, 2004).

This paper draws upon the work of anthropologist Michael Jackson (1998, 2002) and political theorist Hannah Arendt among others to argue that if it is the “presence of others who see and hear what we hear” (Arendt, 1958:50) that confirms our existence in the world then the abnegation of that responsibility to witness and recognise others, leaves those already vulnerable even more so. Young people are in many ways already on the margins of ‘selfhood’, and the consequences of violence and conflict pushes them even further to the fringes.

Violence, then, is not seen as linear  (enacted solely top-down) but rather as a cluster of deeply connected relationships. Experiences of the civil conflict, displacement, lack of State recognition of trauma and daily hardship, and gang violence, perpetuate and challenge each other through complicated “webs of relationships”. These experiences form both points of suffering and points of resistance as they are lived in relation to others.

Through interviews conducted by the author with young Colombian people living in a peri-urban barrio (community) south of the capital Bogotá, this paper challenges both the ways violence is theorised in the context of Colombia’s ongoing conflict, and the assumed illegitimacy of young people’s voices and experience. In doing this, this research rests on a phenomenological claim that experience can become part of collective consciousness. Additionally such an approach recognises that through narratives young people can speak for themselves rather than being spoken for and, consequently, the voices of young people play an important role in broader discussions of violence and its consequences.

Gillian Cowlishaw

Department of Anthropology

The University of Sydney


The Politics Of Childhood

It appears that several respected Australian anthropologists have accepted Peter Sutton’s assertion that the way Aboriginal children are socialised comprises a barrier to their life chances in the contemporary world. By examining the theoretical underpinnings, ethnographic evidence, and implicit politics of this populist assertion, I open up questions about Aboriginal childhoods in contemporary Australia. The puzzle of decreasing literacy among Aborigines in remote areas is raised as a matter of singular relevance. While the struggle for the control of indigenous childhood is a well-recognised element of colonial relations, it is being played out today in a context of a national anxiety, concern and portentous moralism. The inability of schools to educate Aboriginal children will be considered in terms of the historical, political and cultural specificities of the school as an institution.

Josie Douglas

CSIRO / Charles Darwin University


Indigenous Ecological Knowledge And The Younger Generation In Central Australia

Throughout the twentieth century, Aboriginal people in Central Australia have experienced profound and rapid change. A consequence of such sweeping change is disruption to the social practices, social relations and cultural forms underpinning the acquisition and use of ecological knowledge by the younger generation. This presents a complex situation for young adults who are tasked with carrying what is increasingly known as ‘Indigenous Ecological Knowledge’ forward for the benefit of future generations. While knowledge of plant, animal and natural resources continues to play an important role in older Aboriginal people’s lives in Central Australia, little is understood of the younger generation and their practices, motivations and attitudes in relation to Indigenous Ecological Knowledge. In this presentation, Josie Douglas who is at the beginning of her PhD will explore themes related to the acquisition and transmission of Indigenous Ecological Knowledge in contemporary contexts. She will draw on a sociocultural theory of learning to examine how young Aboriginal adults affirm, apply and extend Indigenous Ecological Knowledge in daily life.

Hae Seong Jang

University of Sydney


Social Identities Of Indigenous People in Their Twenties In Contemporary Australian Society

(based on the rural Indigenous community at Yarrabah in Queensland)

This paper explores the life-histories of young Indigenous people in Yarrabah, a rural community in Queensland established as a mission station in 1892. My central question is how young people in their twenties today forge their social identities in the context of both the institutions with which they interact and in everyday life, and with special consideration of the impact of diverse social discourses.

My analysis of the results of 17 interviews and their ethnographic context shows the enormous significance of the tension between cultural and familial continuity and discontinuity for the self-representation and life narratives of these young Indigenous people. It also provides new material for discussion of the ways in which Indigenous value systems, broadly understood by the participants to be based on collectivism, constantly come into conflict with Western values based on individualism. While the young Indigenous people of Yarrabah do continuously interact not only with multi-cultural Australia but also with global influences, they are constantly aware of their own distinctiveness in both contexts. And they remain vulnerable to the often invisible and broadly manipulative racist discourses promulgated around them; vulnerable especially by their modes of internalising stereotypical images of Indigeneity in contemporary Australian society but always conscious of that influence on their self-perception.

Meng Li

Department of Gender and Cultural Studies, University of Sydney


Cultural Anxiety And Yue Identity In Post-1980s China

Having witnessed China’s vicissitude of modernization and globalization throughout history, Guangzhou, the Southern metropolis is now experiencing what I would call retrospection of its local identity and orientation. The retrospection is manifested through series of pro-Yue (namely, Cantonese) cultural campaigns in which its post-1980s youth play significant role.

In 2010, Guangzhou government official Ji Keguang’s advocated in popularizing Putonghua (the official language in China) for the need of internationalization and globalization. In Ji’s speech, Putonghua, instead of Cantonese should be given priority in propaganda and institution. Ji’s speech ignited scathing and swelling criticism and dissents from the local people, accompanied with various campaigns for the maintenance of Cantonese culture among the youth (most of whom are 1980s born).

The paper studies documentaries, blogs and artistic representations on pro-Yue cultural campaigns around the year 2010, which has now become quintessential vehicle through which young people in Guangzhou manifest their agency. In this paper, I’ll firstly historicize the orientation of Guangzhou in China’s modernization and globalization, where as Cantonese culture, Yue wenhua(粤文化) as it is frequently coined and its interaction with the dominant culture from the Central Plain (Zhongyuan.中原) The paper then examines how, in the words of Arjun Appadurai “uncertainty” and cultural anxiety of the local Cantonese people being represented in the flows of internationalization and globalization, with a focus on the tension between Yue Culture and Central-Plain Culture. Following is the analysis over what I called Yue identity and prestige and their representation in different artistic forms. The essay works out how Cantonese youth voice their concern over local identities and how they function as the main force in maintaining local identities. This research over Cantonese youth and their efforts in maintaining local tradition and culture will provide a subverting image of the post-1980s Chinese youth who are constantly being gazed under not-so-sympathetic lens in popular context.

Key words: Yue identity, Yue culture, Post-1980s Youth, maintenance, globalization, Tradition

Laura Moran

The University of Queensland


Youth On The Move:

Building identities in multicultural Australia

The lives of young people from refugee backgrounds are surrounded by various binary discourses: as refugees they are perceived as survivors and as victims; as young people they are perceived as both vulnerable and in need of protection, and as dangerous, and in need of correction (Ngo 2010). Further to this, they have often lived at the borders of national identity for much of their lives. For these young people it is particularly evident that identity is a constant process. In Australia, one of the world’s most multicultural societies, issues surrounding race and racism have been controversial in its immigration history as well as in the context of the lives of people from, most recently, non-white, immigrant backgrounds. For young people from refugee backgrounds, whose cultural identities are in constant flux, their engagement with race, culture and ethnicity speaks to these broader issues in Australia today.

This paper explores the processes of identity making undertaken by young people from refugee backgrounds, predominantly Sudanese and Karen, living in Brisbane, Australia. Based on fieldwork carried out from 2009 to 2010, I explore the cultural and racial identity politics engaged by young people as they construct and perform identities based on hybridized and essentialized representations of self. In particular, I look at the ways young people in this social field chose friends and create spaces for interactions, and the ways which, in doing so, they construct and deconstruct categories of skin colour and creatively represent and engage experiences of racism. These processes of youth identity making are revealing, especially as they relate to globalization and social change, as young people in particular are “shaping and being shaped by all kinds of structure and meanings” (Wulff 1995: 10). For young people from refugee backgrounds, who are simultaneously constructing local, national and diasporic identities in the context of having undergone forced migration, this is particularly evident.

Yasmin Musharbash

Department of Anthropology

University of Sydney


“We Walk At Night”:

On the quest of Warlpiri youths for their place in the world

In a 2007 project, 36 Warlpiri youths from the remote Aboriginal settlement of Yuendumu in central Australia documented ‘what is important to them’ by taking photographs with disposable cameras. Analysis of these photographs (and accompanying interviews) in terms of age and gender differences and similarities serves to explore forms of personhood experienced and developed by contemporary Warlpiri. Analysis of the spatial and temporal parameters of the photographs reveals a striking pattern of sociality, which is interpreted as a response to the particular juncture (being citizens of a first world nation state, living in fourth world conditions) that contemporary youths find themselves in. In the conclusion, I draw parallels from the Yuendumu data to the troubling and ever-increasing news reports of night-time violence in the streets of Alice Springs, the centre of central Australia.

Thiago Oppermann

Department of Anthropology

The University of Sydney

Pipia Mangi:

Young Halia men between freedom and impotence.

In the classic stereotype of social change in Melanesia, young men come to be dislocated from traditional systems of authority, attracted by the possibility of freedom and self-directed accumulation opened up by capitalism. They then become embroiled in generational conflict with older men, whose strategies for legitimation come to be ever more dependent on the assertion of traditional enfranchisement. At first glance, the situation of young Halia men in Buka, Autonomous Region of Bougainville, supports this basically Weberian view. However, a more careful examination of how young men organize politically – or rather, the fact they are strikingly unable to do so – suggests a rather different picture. The construction of youth as devoid of tradition – the critical means by which Halia gerontocracy spins its aura of legitimacy – appears to make of young men an acculturated element seduced by a toxic mix of alcohol, bad dance music and sex, against which the reassertion of kaltsa (culture) and elder’s authority must be deployed. Young men largely accept this view, and elaborate their own counter-critique of the Oold way’ of thinking. Yet, ironically and to the dissatisfaction of everyone involved, the structural position of young men as without culture reproduces critical aspects of Halia political organization, and the very efforts of the young men to challenge the old order play into this reproduction more effectively than passivity in face of it.

Allison J. Pugh

University of Virginia

and the United States Study Centre / University of Sydney


To Raise The Flexible Child:

Lessons of commitment and betrayal in postindustrial insecurity

In postindustrial societies, the prevalence of both layoffs at work and divorce/breakups at home herald what we might consider a new “Age of Insecurity,” with ascendant values of flexibility, adaptability and resilience, all hinging on the questions of what is worth staying for, what we can expect from each other, and how we handle change. Based on in-depth interviews with 63 mothers (and 17 fathers) of teenagers, I present data showing that parents varied in their own approach to commitment, with many undertaking a variety of strategies to curtail their own obligations, including discursive innovations, emotional labor, and the use of what I term “detachment brokers” to minimize what they owe their children. Despite this variation, however, parents were nearly unanimous in one dimension: they were raising “flexible” children. Low-income and affluent parents encouraged children to move on from difficult friends, prioritized their development over their relationships with others, or warned them of the likelihood of betrayal in future relationships or jobs.  I consider the implications of these findings for the contemporary experience of childhood, for continued cultural space for dependency and care, and for policy.

Kathryn Robinson

Department of Anthropology

College of Asia and the Pacific,

Australian National University


Embracing Cosmopolitan Identities-Changing Youth Culture In An Indonesian Mining Town

After an inauspicious beginning, marked by the human rights abuses of the Suharto regime, the mining town of Sorowako is now a cosmoplitan urban enclave in the remote interior of Sulawesi (Indonesia). A compelling aspect of the modernity of this town is dramatic changes in intergenerational relations, and practices of youth culture amongst the indigenous people. Parents who had no or limited education have made great sacrifices to educate their children and this involves out migration to towns in Sulawesi and Java. Many of these young people return to Sorowaka and seek employment. This paper explores the different ways in which they express their indigenous identity, compared to their parents, for who claims to indigineity was focused on gaining recognition of land rights. Armed with new forms of social and cultural capital, many of these young people are exploring local history and cultural practices; indeed many of them are involved in a cultural revival. However, the power relations engaged by their embrace of identity involve an embrace of a cosmopolitan modernity and is in great contrast to the ways in which their parents express their identities.

Sonja van Wichelen

Centre for Cultural Research

University of Western Sydney


Moral Economies Of The Adoptee-Body In Globalization

The transnational circulation of child bodies for the purpose of family-making increasingly occurs alongside consumerist principles and market logic of supply and demand. In the institutional practices regulating these forms of reproduction, justifications are met to circumvent the mixing of money with love. But what happens when a crisis of legitimation takes place? Which ethical principles are adhered to and how do they correspond to moral frameworks on the ground? How does morality “work” or “translate” to assemblages of global practice that involve bodies and circuits of exchange? In my presentation I investigate such a crisis of legitimation by exploring moral responses within a Dutch adoption agency to an adoption scandal regarding stolen children in China.

Rosemary Wiss


Red Lights:

Sex tourism and trafficking discourse in a Philippines community

This paper explores the possibilities and perils of writing about a volatile topic—youth working in the international sex industry. In Puerto Galera, the Philippines, an intrinsic part of the commercial sex industry is the routine recruitment and marketing of teenage girls, indeed youth itself, to the desires of much older foreign men. In the Philippines the age of consent is 18. Commercial sex before this age can be penalised as child sex tourism and trafficking in minors. However, marriage before this age is both legal and common.  Foreigners purchase sex off these girls and some go on to marry them, an activity that is considered both legal and moral.

Amidst these understandings national and international trafficking discourse and anti-trafficking interventions are occurring. In 2008 the 11th conviction for trafficking in the Philippines involved a local case of two recruits who were minors. Their intended movement to an area dominated by commercial sex work satisfied the criterion for trafficking, and a female recruiter received the harshest penalty for trafficking to date, a life sentence. This case reflects a shift in focus of the regulating authorities (national and international) from the purchase of, to the supply of, minors in the industry. Further, the sentence was an assurance to the international community that the Philippines government would not tolerate the trafficking of minors into commercial sex. If it was also intended as a warning to those running the industry, the local (lack of) response, indicates that it failed, for reasons I want to identify. There was little local government attention to this trafficking case, and little talk in the bars about the risks of recruiting minors. Local responses to teenage bars girls are primarily based on moral disapproval in regards premarital sex while these girls move with ease between commercial and non-commercial sexual relations (one criminalised the other tolerated), as well as marrying and gaining respectability.

Kirk Zwangobani

Research School of Social Sciences

Australian National University


African Australian Youth And Dynamic Identity

In this paper I will draw on my sociological research into the formation of identity among a small group of young adult African Australians between the ages of 18 and 25 living in Canberra. These participants come from a cross section of the community, encompassing different genders, ethnicities, class, cultures and migratory patterns (diplomatic, humanitarian entrant, etc). I will expound upon how the participants in my study perceive themselves and one another and whether they act together as a cohesive group across the ‘boundaries’ that may be created by critical points of difference. What interests me in particular among such critical points of difference is the role that ‘belonging’ plays in determining the social cohesiveness among my participants. The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the complexities evident in black African Australian youths’ processes of identification and belonging and discuss three distinct frames or themes that occur in their identity construction: progressive individualisation, forced homogenization and transition to adulthood. I suggest that throughout these three frames a paradox has occurred in the identity formation, both individual and collective, of African Australian youth. It emerges when the ongoing ‘pull’ for an individual progressive identity encounters the ‘push’ of forced homogenization and racism when these youth are subjected to the larger hegemonic discourses that position Africans in Australia into a ‘multicultural minority’.