Movements and Moments: Shifting theoretical paradigms through youth-led justice struggles in the Global South

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 17:45
Location: Hörsaal 10 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Sharlene SWARTZ, University of Cape Town, South Africa
Global youth studies has historically been described in terms of binaries that include assets-deficits, belonging-exclusion, prevention-agency, pathology-aspiration, and  resilience-resistance. Along with considerations of youth culture, identity, and shifting attitudes over generation, these debates have mainly emanated from the Global North. Despite the contemporary upsurge of global sociology, there remains a clear need for theory from the South to challenge or replace dominant Northern theory, whilst simultaneously complementing global sociology’s frequently inadequate gaze. Using the phenomenon of youth-led social protest in South Africa as a case study, this paper interrogates these binaries and the theories that underpin them, and evaluates the necessity for a paradigmatic shift that expounds and elevates ‘theory from the South’. Drawing on new empirical data and first-hand and (social) media accounts, it compares two moments - the 1976 Soweto Student Uprising and the 2015 ‘Hashtag Revolutions’ that included social movements such as #RhodesMustFall, #TransformWits, #OpenStellenbosch, #FeesMustFall, and shows how youth-led struggles and social movements have changed over the past 40 years. These changes include shifting location of actors across generations i.e. from perpetrator of injustice to beneficiary of past injustice; differences in desired forms of justice (e.g. from recognition to restitution and restored humanity); the contested place and forms of violence in struggle; the role of individual versus collection action; the need for resistance against intersecting oppressions; and how new forms of media have allowed for greater analysis, and the ability to act against the policies and practices of a globalised environment. Each of these shifts has paradigmatic implications for global youth studies, and has the potential to better operationalize its aims, showcase its strengths, and improve upon its weaknesses.