A Search for Social Justice: Finding Belonging in the Textured Lives of Young Migrants

Friday, 20 July 2018: 11:00
Oral Presentation
Thea SHAHROKH, Coventry University, Coventry, United Kingdom
Young people aged 16-25 with migration-related life experience in South Africa hold complex identities. Their identities are entangled with their past, present and their future and contingent on their gender, race, nationality, age, sexuality and more. These social markers position them in relation to others, within power relations that structure society and that entrench some people at the centre, and others at the margins. These systems constrain the freedom, agency and dignity of young people who have experienced displacement, relocation, and movement within their lives. These constraints are reflected in how these young people are included, or made ‘other’, in processes of belonging.

This paper draws on research in South Africa which employs a participatory and creative approach grounded in a critical ethnographic inquiry to allow young people to narrate their own identities and reflections on belonging. The creation of counter-narratives by diverse young people with migration-related experience disrupts assumptions about who they are and how belonging plays out in their lives. Significantly, belonging is articulated through everyday experiences that are textured with the multiple identities that these young people embody. Young people’s identities are found to be entangled with their sense of belonging, both are fluid, and both interact with unequal structures and distributions of power. This research shows that recognising complexity in the construction of belonging by and for young people can inform new pathways of change for social justice.

Hearing the multi-textured voices of disadvantaged young people sheds light on the infrastructures that construct boundaries of inclusion. Further research is needed to deepen this analysis and to build strategies to dismantle exclusionary systems. This includes exploring possibilities for new kinds of solidarities that recognise situated experience and work to identify shared struggles to address inequalities. In turn, new forms of belonging, across social divides, may become possible.