Symposium Proceedings

Young Lives, Changing Times

Perspectives on Social Reproduction


Symposium Proceedings

Ute Eickelkamp (ed.)


Introduction (1)

Ute Eickelkamp

This collection of essays grew out of the multidisciplinary symposium Young Lives, Changing Times: Perspectives on Social Reproduction, hosted by the Department of Anthropology at the University of Sydney 8–9 June 2011. It was the second in the annual event series, and a timely and lively meeting at which early career researchers and senior scholars from six Australian and two US universities portrayed the diverse pathways of growing up in the contemporary world. I thank Professor Linda Connor, Head of Department, for the invitation to co-convene the symposium, and Professor Gillian Cowlishaw for sharing this task with me and for lending support well beyond the event. Heartfelt thanks to Katarina Ferro, project manager and copyeditor, as well as to the student volunteers, two of who, Elise Warner and Jayden Spillane, wrote excellent commentaries that are posted on the symposium website. I wish to also acknowledge the support that several members of the department have lent by reviewing the papers herein. Each contribution to this online publication was originally presented as a symposium paper and subsequently anonymously reviewed and revised. Funds were received from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the School for Social and Political Sciences.

Half a century ago Margaret Mead could rightly say: “Children are newcomers as a subject of literature, newcomers in the study of human physiology and anatomy, newcomers in the social sciences” (1955: 3). Today, this is no longer so: children, infants and youth have become a focal issue in the self-understanding of Western societies, and their lives now attract the attention of scholars worldwide. Large child- and youth-focused research areas have flourished in sociology, anthropology, cultural studies and geography, and with these a plethora of dedicated journals, book series, organisations, alliances, websites and congresses. Cultural variations of the idea of childhood and young people’s roles have been amply documented, making plain that the ‘neontocracies’ – child-centred societies in which child-related issues have considerable political weight – of present day Europe and America are anything but the norm in human history (Lancy 2008). Changing economies, shrinking households, adjusting family structures and novel conjugal forms, new reproductive technologies and medical progress, an ever-longer lifespan, a growing middle class, the expanding privatisation of welfare and childcare services, digital social media, and concerns about a globally viable future are some of the factors that have contributed to the importance that young people now have in the Western cultural self-understanding. This is also reflected in and fuelled further by state interventions at national and international levels that are promoted as ‘investments’ into the future – in the forms of early childhood education, child protection and welfare legislation, health promotion and family support schemes. These investments are part and parcel of the measures through which Western nation-states seek to reproduce themselves. The moral economy of protective and/or supportive state interventions into childhood, youth and family life may be intrinsically progressive and necessary, especially for young people at the margins. However, it also bears the hallmark of cultural imperialism when forcibly grafted onto Indigenous minority groups in postcolonial countries like Australia. Moreover, interventions that lack cultural ‘fit’ are likely to be ineffective (Robinson et al. 2011), or worse, they may adversely affect their subjects to the extent of causing ill health (Burbank 2011: 126).

That young people are not static elements within social, political and economic structures but instead actively and courageously seek to bring about change is most visible in the contemporary protest movements in the UK, northern Africa and the Middle East. The extreme diversity of their political goals (from the abolition of global capitalism to the establishment of democratic Islam) notwithstanding, the motivated activism of the youth and young adults in these societies shows up the fault lines between the dynamic structural conditions of their life-worlds and experience. Looking towards less turbulent places, this collection aims to unravel the relationship between structure and agency (Giddens 1979, 1984) – its schisms, contradictions and affinities – from an ethnographic point of view. Our special concern is to examine how young people are engaged in this relationship that critically shapes the processes of social reproduction. Ethnography is coupled with social and political analysis in order to shed light on how young people in different cultural contexts fare at the interface of self-experience (including the formation of a personal and cultural identity, social affect, intergenerational dynamics) on the one hand, and collective/systemic forces (such as global politics, economic restructuring, social discourse) on the other. However, this contradistinction only goes so far: one wants to also take into account that ‘experience’ reaches into and is part of the inner life of the person in organised ways; it too constitutes a ‘system’ of sorts (a traumatic one, for instance), even if it may be argued that the experiencing self is more indeterminate, that is, more capable of free and spontaneous expression than collectively instituted systems.

The chapters herein explore young people’s creative yet culture and history-bound responses to their life circumstances. They critically reveal ideologies of parenting, of a ‘good’ childhood and state interventions, either in formal settings (the school, a therapeutic intervention program), or in the broader context of life and work.

In chapter 1, Gary Robinson offers a rare glimpse into the workings of an Indigenous family support program implemented in Australia’s north (Darwin and Tiwi Islands). Framed here in terms of the Frankfurt school’s ‘recognition and structures of communication’, the insights gained from his anthropology of intervention should prove extremely useful to those seeking to theorise and improve their practical work with Aboriginal children and families. This, like all of Robinson’s contributions, uniquely analyses the cross-over effects of extreme demographic change, socio-cultural transformation and interpersonal relationships across the generations. Such systemic analysis is offset by detailed ethnographic observations, for instance on the socialisation technique of withholding recognition, which in turn fuels desire to gain it by compliance. Robinson’s ethnography and epidemiological studies of Indigenous (and increasingly also non-Indigenous) parenting styles, young people’s aspirational behaviour, and social and emotional difficulties have set a new research agenda (e.g.,Eickelkamp 2011).

Indigenous Australians are also the theme of chapter 2, presenting Hae Seong Jang’s research in a rural community in Queensland. She effectively uses life history narratives to unpack the “identity-shaping influences of the diverse social discourses that are produced within certain institutions”. Her case study of one young woman powerfully demonstrates how racism and the legacies of colonialism are internalised and, as negative aspects of the self, act as barriers to a productive life. But she also identifies sources of resilience and capacity that may be specific to particular families (e.g., paternal pride in cultural traditions, or Christianity).

Chapters 3, 4 and 5 continue the theme of the impact of social discourse on identity, now in the case of refugees and first and second-generation migrants to Australia. Scrutinising the idea and policy of multiculturalism as these play out in Australian schools, these chapters show how young migrants deal with the mainstream society’s paradoxical orientation towards them – they are expected to rapidly integrate into ‘ordinary’ Australia, while their identities are also racialised and their cultural difference tolerated. Laura Moran’s ethnographic research with Karen (Burmese/Thai) and Sudanese youth in metropolitan Brisbane (chapter 3) teases out the lived experience of young people who are pressured to behave as ‘good’ refugees. She highlights their reliance on a hybridised and essentialised identity in interactions with one another, as in: “Vic teased Santino that she would ‘hit him up African style’ if he didn’t get out of her seat.”

Kirk Zwangobani delineates similar practices of identity by African migrant youth in chapter 4. However, his work with school students in Canberra makes transparent another dynamic, namely what happens when an established migrant identity becomes reframed through a new influx of refugee migrants. Settled with their achieved progressive identity as ‘African Australians’ (often from well-to-do families with fathers in the diplomatic service), these young people are suddenly faced with the “forced homogenization” as refuge black Africans. Their response is to distance themselves from and even reject the new arrivals, effectively ‘othering’ these in order to secure their own sense of belonging.

Chapter 5 by Maria Amigo brings into view the experiences of migrant children, who, perhaps less consciously than their older counterparts, act as cultural mediators between the two major socialising institutions, family and school. Her research with Spanish and Indonesian speaking migrants is significant as being among the first with those groups in Australia. The focus on the psychological and social challenges of school life (rather than academic achievement) as an intercultural transition – for both parents and children – makes this a special contribution to the understanding of the diverse processes of social reproduction in Australia.

Shifting the view towards insular Asia, the following two chapters analyse the interplay of internal migration and localized identities. Kathryn Robinson (chapter 6) offers a fascinating account of how, against the background of Indonesia’s political history, education has played a major role in the creation of indigenous expressions of modernity in a Sulawesi mining town. Based on her fieldwork since the 1970s, Robinson observes a generational change in the making of the local indigenous identity at Sorowako: a rights-based assertion of tradition and land ownership against economic migrants who were settling in the new mining town during Suharto’s New Order regime, has made way for a cosmopolitan yet localized identity that, still holding onto traditional values such as ‘dignity and recognition, is ‘located’ within the subject participating in global social networks, local cultural festivals and the job market. If the Sorowako nickel mine offered dispossessed families education for their children in recognition of cultural rights, these educated young people, many with a tertiary education, use their indigeneity to produce an inclusive local cultural style; it signals that migrants have become friends and locals are also global citizens. This particular history of cultural identity formation will be useful for studies of such intergenerational shifts in other places.

A different dynamic of the relationship between internal migrants and local community emerges from Rosemary Wiss’s (chapter 7) study of the sex tourism industry in a coastal town at Puerto Galera, the Phillipines: here, Filipina ‘bar-girls’ are exclusively non-locals and kept apart from the Catholic village and family life. Nonetheless, the village finances its conservative politics that protect its values through the bars, while commercial sex workers are seeking through their trade to become honorable women married to foreigners. Wiss places her ethnographic observations on the complementary opposites of ‘good locals’ versus ‘bad outsiders’ within a broader analysis of the international anti-trafficking discourse. She explores the political interests of the ‘rescue industry’ – local, national and international (specifically US-backed) NGOs that need to ‘find’ victims of exploitation in order to subsist ­ and how it is beginning to reframe the Phillipines sex tourism industry.

The interplay between the necessities – and insecurities – of working life and moral self-understanding is also the theme of the concluding chapter 8. Allison Pugh investigates how postindustrial conditions of employment are impacting on American families of different class background in Virginia. She asks how the demands of the new flexibility at work makes itself felt at home, specifically in the way parents seek to prepare their teenage children for a successful future. Pugh’s finding that “adults converged in their desire to raise ‘flexible’ children” while “their experience in the workforce shaped whether they viewed that flexibility as a road to opportunity or as a sort of armor against coming disaster”, invites ‘soul searching’ on the part of the reader – as parent and professional.


Burbank, V. K. 2011. An Ethnography of Stress: The Social Determinants of Health. In Aboriginal Australia. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Eickelkamp, U. (Ed.) 2011. Growing Up in Central Australia: New Anthropological Studies of Aboriginal Childhood and Adolescence. London and New York: Berghahn.

Giddens, A. 1979. Central Problems in Social Theory. Berkeley: University of California Press.

——            1984. The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration.

Lancy, D. F. 2008. The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mead. M. 1955. Theoretical Setting–1954. In M. Mead and M. Wolfenstein (eds). Childhood in Contemporary Cultures, pp. 3–20. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

Robinson, G., Tyler, W., Jones, Y., Silburn, S. and Zubrick, S. R. 2011. Context, Diversity and Engagement: Early Intervention with Australian Aboriginal Families in Urban and Remote Contexts. Children & Society. doi: 10.1111/j.1099-0860.2010.00353.x


(1) This text may be cited as: Eickelkamp, Ute 2012 ‘Introduction’ In: Online proceedings of the symposium ‘Young Lives, Changing Times: perspectives on social reproduction’, edited by Ute Eickelkamp. Sydney: University of Sydney 8 – 9 June 2011.


Peer Review Process

All papers had two reviews, either through members of the committee or one member of the committee and one external reviewer.

Review Committee

Gillian Cowlishaw, Gaynor Macdonald, Neil Maclean, Jadran Mimica.

Published papers

Below you can find a list of all papers and their abstracts (with the presentation date and time at the symposium). If you want to access the paper in full as pdf file just follow the link and click “abstract” or “full paper” after each title.

Papers from this online publication can be cited as:

[Author] 2012 [title] In: Online proceedings of the symposium ‘Young Lives, Changing Times: perspectives on social reproduction’, edited by Ute Eickelkamp. Sydney: University of Sydney 8 – 9 June 2011.


Chapter 1: Gary Robinson – symposium keynote speaker; Thu 9 June 2011

The State, Cultural Competence and Child Development: Perspectives on Intervention in the North of Australia

full text; abstract

Chapter 2: Hae Seong Jang – Panel 2: Negated Identities; Wed 8 June 2011

Social Identity Within Life History: A Portrait of Young Indigenous People in Australia’s Neo-colonial North

full text; abstract

Chapter 3: Laura Moran – Panel 2: Negated Identities; Wed 8 June 2012

Integration, Tolerance and Belonging in Multicultural Australia

full text; abstract

Chapter 4: Kirk Zwangobani – Panel 3: Emergent Identities in Multi-cultural Australia; Wed 8 June 2011

African Australian Youth: Homogenization and the Dynamics of Identity

full text; abstract

Chapter 5: María Florencia Amigó – Panel 3: Emergent Identities in Multi-cultural Australia; Wed 8 June 2011

Young Lives in a Foreign Land: Experiences and Roles of Migrant School Children in Australia

full text; abstract

Chapter 6: Kathryn Robinson –  Panel 4: Cultural Revivals; Thu 9 June 2011

Indigeneity, Locality and Recognition: Young People’s Shifting Engagements with Modernity in an Indonesian Mining Town (Sorowako South Sulawesi)

full text; abstract

Chapter 7: Rosemary Wiss – Panel 2: Negated Identities; Wed 8 June 2011

‘No Minors Allowed’: Outsider Bar-girls and Trafficking in a Philippines Sex Tourism Industry

full text; abstract

Chapter 8: Allison Pugh – Panel 1: Abandoned and Betrayed; Wed 8 June 2011

To Raise the Flexible Child: Lessons of Commitment and Betrayal in Postindustrial Insecurity

full text; abstract

Further links and information 

Please click on the following, to receive more information:

Symposium programme

Symposium time table

Symposium abstracts

author bios

Symposium Welcome message:

Welcome to the Sydney Anthropology Symposium 2011

Young people are pivotal in the making and breaking of societies, yet their place in the world is often fragile and contested. We are excited to bring together international and Australia-focused studies on childhood and youth as sites of cultural production and reproduction. We hope to show how anthropologists and their extended family members can uncover some of the complexities that children and young people face in various places and conditions today. The line up of speakers presents an intergenerational exchange in itself and we trust you will enjoy the event!