How do youth find their place in the world?

07 September 2017 | Story Yusuf Omar. Photo Supplied.
The South African and Japanese scholars hope that the research visit to the Japanese islands will be the start of a long and fruitful collaboration.
The South African and Japanese scholars hope that the research visit to the Japanese islands will be the start of a long and fruitful collaboration.

A UCT contingent’s July 2017 trip to Japan kick-started a research project that explores how citizenship is experienced and claimed by young people in South Africa and Japan.

In 21st century South Africa and Japan, young people have emerged as a significant community for analysing contemporary transformations, with their capacity to negotiate warmth and hospitality between social continuities and change in a globalised, interconnected world of local and global hierarchies.

The basic question relates to how South Africans and Japanese build on citizenship to deal with the many challenges that the weakness of the state, economy and the main aspects of the ongoing processes of globalisation provoke. The group, then, are exploring how South Africans and Japanese negotiate belonging and democratic participation, along with the tensions and possibilities of the competing demands of tradition and modernity.

This includes asking how young people develop new modes of citizenship that allow them to maintain an active attitude despite the permanent difficulties of finding a place in societies that may not have one for them.

In particular, the project will explore how they use information and communication technologies to enhance their agency and explore the possibilities and limitations of citizenship. Thus, the focus is on the strategies used by people to imagine possibilities and biographies as citizens.

Overall, the project will develop and establish a publication series on youth citizenship in collaboration with major publishers in Africa and Asia.

Rethinking citizenship

The delegation comprised Professor Nyamnjoh (anthropology), Professor Harry Garuba (African studies), Ayanda Manqoyi (anthropology) and Zuziwe Msomi (African studies).

On their travels, they visited Shitennoji University for a workshop. There, Nyamnjoh delivered a talk titled “Rethinking Citizenship in 21st Century Africa”.

He challenged the idea of the African citizen as an autonomous, rights bearing individual. Rather the African citizen often has intermediary solidarities and loyalties between themselves as an individual and the state. Often the ties are not by choice but by blood, and the state is caught betwixt and between corrupted cultural tradition and blighted modernity.

The lived experiences of the African citizen thus suggest that we rethink citizenship beyond limited and narrow ideas of freedom as provided by constitutions, and our relationship with the state, Nyamnjoh argued.

The team also visited residents, museums and shrines on Sado Island, where the interviews they conducted with locals delighted both the South African and Japanese scholars. In contrast to Sado’s quiet and feeling of closeness, a tour of Tokyo included markets, central shopping areas and business districts.

“Here a citizenship of an entirely different nature was explored through architecture and the embodiment of youth culture,” said Msomi. “Modernisation and traditional culture existed side by side from the yakuta – informal traditional Japanese dress – and accommodation in the small quarters of labourers who contributed towards the modernisation of Japan in the 1990s, to the modern, brightly lit shopping centres, and the culture of gaming literally spilling out into the street.

“It was on this last leg of the visit, as staff and students had a concluding meeting, that it became increasingly clear how important international collaborative work was to effectively and efficiently establishing links on the ground to do research.”

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