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Vanguard or Vandals? The Politics of Youth in Africa

Youth under the age of 25 represent nearly two-thirds of Africa’s population and, by 2050, it is projected that one out of every four young people worldwide will be from Sub-Saharan Africa. Popular discourses concerning youth in Africa vacillate between celebratory narratives, which describe youth as the continent's “greatest asset,” and more alarmist narratives, which suggest that the rapidly growing population of under-educated and under-employed youth are a “ticking time bomb” and a threat to social and political stability. Vanguard or Vandals? The Politics of Youth in Africa critically examines these ambivalent perspectives on the promise and peril of youth in Africa, and offers a broad introduction to perspectives on young people’s experiences on the continent. Though “youth” is often understood as a category that is defined by biological constructions of “age” and cognitive frameworks of “human development,” this course treats “youth” as an inherently political category of lived experiences rooted in wide-ranging historical and cultural formations. We will examine how African youth cultures are produced and shaped by nation-states, social movements, media and technology, educational institutions, processes such as capitalism, nationalism, and globalization, and through social relationships associated with race, gender, nationality, class, and generation. Through close analysis of ethnographies, histories, and representational genres produced and popularized by young people themselves such as music, film, and social media, the course will also offer a broad, comparative perspective on how youth is given meaning across various cultural and institutional contexts. Moreover, in taking seriously youth as both political construct and youth as political actor, the course situates youth within a sociopolitical analysis of the present, and the promise and very possibility of the future.

Krystal Strong
Assistant Professor, Education, Culture, and Society
Graduate School of Education

Krystal Strong is Assistant Professor in Education, Culture, and Society at the Graduate School of Education at University of Pennsylvania. She received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Strong’s research and teaching combine anthropological approaches to formal and non-institutional educational processes, politics, youth, and new media in Africa and the African Diaspora. Her current research focuses on the political activisms and cultural practices of youth, and the intersections of these across transnationally and digitally networked spaces. She teaches courses on qualitative and ethnographic research methods, comparative youth cultures, activism and education, and the politics of education in the Global South. Her current book project, Political Training Grounds: Students and the Future of Post-Military Nigeria, examines the role of campus-based politics in preparing Nigerian students for aspired futures in national political leadership after the transition to democracy.